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Herbal Remedies Can Aid Prostate Health

A Review of Supplements Finds Pros and Cons
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WebMD Health News

Feb. 4, 2003 -- There's a third inevitability to "death" and "taxes" for most American men -- an enlarged prostate.

Medically known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), this condition eventually affects at least 80% of men and is most common after age 50. As the usually walnut-sized prostate grows, sometimes as big as a grapefruit, it presses on the urethra (the outflow tract from the bladder), causing incomplete emptying of the bladder, a weakened urine stream, the need to urinate frequently and urgently, and most notably, frequent bathroom breaks -- especially at night. While BPH is often more bothersome than dangerous, it can result in bladder and urinary tract infections or even kidney damage.

One in three men are treated for BPH with surgery or, more commonly, prescription drugs such as Flomax or Proscar. But growing research suggests that some symptoms may be treated as effectively with over-the-counter herbal remedies -- sometimes less expensively and thus far, with no reported side effects. What's more, some of these treatments claim they may help prevent prostate cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death in men.

"I don't want to give the impression that herbal solutions are better than traditional medications, but they definitely do have their place," says Aaron Katz, MD, director of The Center for Holistic Urology at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center. "In the past, the role of these herbal remedies has been overlooked by many. But there is now enough laboratory and clinical evidence to recommend their use in many patients with BPH and to maintain good overall prostate health."

Katz recently reviewed dozens of recent studies on various herbs used to treat BPH for a report in the December 2002 issue of The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. "While I would generally recommend pharmaceuticals to patients with more severe symptoms, these herbs can definitely improve mild to moderate BPH symptoms in many men," he tells WebMD.

Saw palmetto is the leading herbal treatment for BPH and among the best selling of all herbal products, with annual U.S. sales of more than $25 million, according to the American Botanical Council.

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