Effects of Herbs for Enlarged Prostate

Just the other day I posted a formula for a tincture to help relieve the symptoms of enlarged prostate.  Here is the low down on the herbs used. I regularly use the Natural Standards Data Base for scientifically based evidence and to provide me with the real story on herbs and  supplements for how well they work and what their effects are.  In addition I acquaint myself with scientific research studies to help round out the picture.   These are not the only herbs that may be beneficial for prostate health there are others that are backed by research too, such as pygeum and red clover and dandelion.  If any of the herbs below looks like something you might want to avoid then you might consider replacing it with a different herb.

Saw Palmetto: Saw Palmetto is one of the best known herbs to treat prostate problems. The main constituent is beta-sitosterol.  There have been multiple studies which confirm the use of saw palmetto for prostate health.  The natural standards data base is fairly conservative in its praise of herbal remedies and therefore when it says that saw palmetto provides mild to moderate relief from frequent and or painful urination, urgency or hesitancy, night time peeing, and better flow; and an improvement in emptying the bladder – and improvements in perineal heaviness – or literally pain in the buttocks– then I believe them and so should you.  Why? Because they are very careful in what they say.  I have discussed in several previous posts the discrepancies of studies and why scientific studies are almost never conclusive.  So, if multiple studies show an effect that I am looking for – I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt and for sure I’m going to include it in my tincture.  Saw palmetto effects the androgen hormones, helps to prevent overgrowth of prostate cells, is anti-inflammatory and acts a bit like the drugs that inhibit 5 alpha-reductase so that testosterone doesn’t get converted to dihydrotestosterone (DHT).   The natural standard data base reports Saw palmetto to be likely safe, and adverse effects may include dizziness, headache, stomach upset, low pressure  The adverse effect are reported to be mild.  There is one report of bleeding during an operation, so you might not want to take it if you have an operation coming up.  At least tell your doctor that you are taking it (as with all herbs).

Stinging nettle can interact with drugs that lower blood sugar and blood pressure and causing low blood sugar and low blood pressure and it also might interact with warfarin to interfere with its anti blood clotting mechanism – it contains vitamin K.  So just be aware.  Its mechanism of action also is to block androgen action and also to prevent overgrowth of prostate cells. It has been used successfully in studies along with saw palmetto but the natural standards data base reports that it isn’t clear whether the effects are because of  Saw palmetto alone.  There are studies that support the use of Stinging nettle and it is used in Europe to treat enlarged prostate.

Horsetail adds dieresis to our potion.  It is used in traditional medicine for bladder and kidney disturbances and urinary incontinence and other conditions too.  It provides antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. It may also relax blood vessels and have an analgesic effect as well as sedative and anticonvulsant properties.    Aside from its uses for the prostate it contains high amounts of silica which is important in osteoporosis prevention.

There are some concerns about horsetail for its ability to degrade the important nutrient thiamine.  It contains thiaminase which is poisons horses when they eat it by depleting thiamine stores.  However thiaminase is destroyed by alcohol and by heat, so if you put your horsetail into an alcohol tincture the thiaminase won’t be a problem – or if you boil it then that will work too.   If you gather horsetail yourself then take care to gather the right kind.  There is a related plant called Equisetum palustre and may be toxic.   The kind you want is Equisetum arvense.

Interactions for horsetail include lowering blood sugar, and lowering potassium levels because it may flush potassium out.  We are using low amounts of horsetail in our recipe but if you are concerned then include potassium rich foods in your diet like banana, oranges and tomatoes. It may also interact with lithium causing a build up of this drug.  If you take lithium you need to let your doctor know – your dosage may need to be reduced.

Corn silk is used to alleviate symptoms of urinary frequency. It’s well used in the Amish community for this purpose. And just as an aside here, I have seen the Amish do amazing things with burns – I do respect their alternative medicinal practices.   Corn silk has detoxifying and diuretic properties.  Because of its diuretic action it could potentially
cause loss potassium if used long term – again eat more potassium rich foods.  If you take diuretics that are potassium wasting, you might want to monitor your potassium levels over the long term.   In theory corn silk might interact with blood pressure drugs and cause low pressure.   As with horsetail, cornsilk contains vitamin K and might interfere with warfarin or other blood thinners.

Buchu leaf contains quite a varied amount of active constituents but it is diosphenol which is thought to be the main active compound. It acts as a diuretic and anti-inflammatory and antiseptic effect and has been used extensively to treat prostate conditions.  The natural standards data base rates it as likely safe when used in amounts commonly found in food, and the FDA considers it GRAS (generally recognized as safe). However the cautions are that it has the potential to cause liver damage and people should have their liver function monitored.  This is true of many herbs, including Black Cohosh.  And don’t forget I’m giving you all the cautions.  Pharmaceuticals can cause liver damage too.   Adverse reactions for men are stomach and kidney irritations.  Buchu could interact with other herbal supplements that are used for blood thinners and anticoagulants and increase risk of bleeding.

Kava root. Now Kava is a pretty controversial herb.  I include it here because it is in the recipe and Kava has been used safely for thousands of years with traditional people on pacific islands.  If there was one herb in this concoction that I would be careful about – its Kava.  It has been banned in certain countries because of the number of liver related events that have occurred with it- at least 100. Liver damage has occurred in as little as 3 -4 weeks with typical doses available commercially – but it is usually associated with long term use at high doses.  Our recipe uses one ounce in 32 ounces of solute, with one tablespoon of total mixture being taken daily.  It might be poor quality Kava which is to blame for the toxicity and there is a recent study which reports on the need for quality control. That study reports on the benefits of kava as well as the toxicity and suggests a six point plan for the preparation of commercial kava products. That plan  includes obtaining the extract from a water soluble process, not an alcohol solute so I don’t know where that leaves us with our home made extract-perhaps it’s wise to buy the water based extract and just take a little bit with your daily dose.   I’d also like to suggest that there might be a genetic component in the ability to metabolize kava safely.  I don’t have any evidence of this but it doesn’t hurt to remember that different races metabolize differently and what works for one person may not work for another.  That being said, lets talk about Kava.  It’s has sedative and anti anxiety properties and in relation to prostate health it appears to be a powerful anticancer agent and has potential for cancer treatments.  Kava contains a compound called flavokawane which inhibits non hormone dependent prostate cancer cells and causes rapid death in prostate cancer cells while not hurting healthy cells.  I did a bit of research and if you decide to use this, then go for Kava which is of the noble variety.  There are a couple of places I found on the net which are worth looking at.  Start here for a  good guide on kava

Licorice:  is used as a flavoring in this recipe and you can leave it out without effecting the beneficial properties.  It can interact with blood pressure and you might want to avoid it if you are prone to high blood pressure.  In men it can also cause deacreased libido and and testosterone levels.  Probably not at the amounts we are using but you might want to use mint instead, or just leave it out.

Mint: As with licorice the purpose of adding this is really as a flavoring because Saw palmetto has an undesirable flavor.  If you are going to get an adverse reaction  it is likely to be heartburn, nausea or vomiting.  Has that ever happened when you’ve had a cup of peppermint tea?

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