Author: Dr. Martin W. Banschbach
Source: Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients , Vol. 55 No. 7
Native American Indians gathered saw palmetto berries and ate them when they had urinary problems or poor urine stream flow. Many health claims have been made for these berries. In Germany, the saw palmetto berry is approved for the treatment of BPH and 80% of Germans use this and other natural treatments for BPH (prostate enlargement).
A large number of human clinical trials have been conducted with standardized extracts of saw palmetto berries. The active component(s) of the berry is (are) in a lipid extract of the berry. This extract has been show to inhibit dihydrotestosterone binding to androgen receptors in the prostate gland and it also inhibits 5-alpha-reductase action on testosterone and the conversion to dihydrotestosterone (DHT). DHT is thought to cause a significant increase in size of the human prostate gland.
Saw palmetto does this naturally and it also acts on other areas that cause prostate enlargement that the current class of prescription drugs can’t act on. Finasteride lowered DHT from an average of 4.9 ng/g to 1.0 ng/g in the prostate of 22 patients with BPH. Finasteride is a drug approved in the U.S. for treatment of both BPH and male pattern baldness. A saw palmetto extract (320 mg/day of a standardized extract) lowered DHT from an average of 6.49 ng/g to 4.40 ng/g in the prostate of 44 patients with BPH. The saw palmetto effect was significant. The lipid extract from saw palmetto can also inhibit lipoxygenase and further help decrease the symptoms of an enlarged prostate gland which are pain and inflammation.
Saw Palmetto has worked so well and with minimal or no side effects that it is now in the select list of herbals that equal or surpass pharmaceutical prescription medication treatments for specific human diseases.
Pygeum africanum is an evergreen tree (sometimes referred to as a plum tree because of its color) that grows to a height of 150 feet across the entire continent of Africa at altitudes of 3,000 feet or higher. Natives used the bark from this tree to make a mix with water that was ingested to soothe bladder discomfort. It was also apparently used for “old man’s disease” where the urine stream was impaired. It’s amazing that natives on two different continents turned to berries and bark for relief from an enlarged prostate. Europeans apparently learned about both saw palmetto berries and pygeum bark in the 1700’s as Europeans settled in various parts of the world.
Pygeum is used in Germany as a treatment for BPH. In a recent review of Pygeum africanum, it was pointed out that a total of 18 randomized controlled clinical trials involving 1,562 men have been published. 17 of these were double-blinded.
Herbal Medicines covers another ancient remedy for male prostate and urinary tract problems. This remedy involves the use of Uva ursi (commonly called bearberry). The leaf of this plant is used as a urinary antiseptic and for the treatment of cystitis. It has been routinely used for painful urination in both men and women. Herbal Medicines reports that about 70% of patients treated with uva ursi extracts report significant relief from pain during urination. Uva ursi was used on Goethe who almost died from urosepsis. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was perhaps Germany’s most famous poet. His masterpiece, Faust I and Faust II was written over a period of 60 years. Had he not been saved by Uva ursi, we would never have had the pleasure of reading Faust.
Another component of possible herbal remedy formulations for prostate enlargement that looks very good is pumpkin seeds. Pumpkin seed oil extract has very high gamma-tocopherol content. Pumpkin seed oil has been tested in a large number of patients with benign prostatic hyperplasia. This very large multi-center clinical trial showed that 1 to 2 capsules of pumpkin seed oil each day as the only treatment did provide some benefit. However, gamma-tocopherol is starting to be looked at very carefully in the area of prostate health. Lycopene is already known to be very important in prostate health.