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Pygeum is an extract from the bark of the African plum tree (Prunus africana). The tree is an evergreen belonging in the same family as the rose plant, grows up to 150 feet tall and is native to Africa. The bark has historically been used in the treatment of urinary tract disorders. Today, it is commonly used in European countries to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). In fact, the demand for it is so high that the tree is now listed as an endangered species.
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Benign prostatic hyperplasia is a noncancerous enlargement of the prostate gland. It affects about 50 percent of men between the ages of 51 and 60, and about 90 percent of men over the age of 80. The exact cause for the enlargement is not known, but it is believed to be a result of hormonal changes associated with aging. As men age, testosterone levels decrease which leaves a higher proportion of estrogen. According to animal studies, higher amounts of estrogen plays a part in promoting cell growth within the gland. It is also believed that a substance derived from testosterone, dihydrotestosterone (DHT), may encourage growth of the prostate. Despite the drop in testosterone, it appears that older men continue to produce high levels of DHT.
Much research has been done on pygeum, and numerous clinical trials have demonstrated it to be effective in reducing BPH symptoms, which include frequent urination (mostly at night), urinary urgency, weak urine stream and leaking. The bark contains phytosterols that exert anti-inflammatory effects by inhibiting the production of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins in the prostate. It also contains pentacyclic triterpenes that reduce swelling by inhibiting an enzyme involved in inflammation and ferulic esters that reduce prolactin levels, a gonadotropic hormone that promotes testosterone uptake in the prostate. It is believed that these constituents work together in relieving BPH symptoms.
According to one study involving 263 patients, 66 percent of the patients in the pygeum group who took 100 milligrams of the extract every day over a 60 day period had an improvement in symptoms compared to 31 percent of the patients in the placebo group.
In another study, pygeum was compared with saw palmetto, another herb that has shown positive effects in the treatment of BPH symptoms in numerous studies. Saw palmetto produced a greater reduction of symptoms than pygeum; however, there appears to be circumstances in which saw palmetto is less effective than pygeum so combining the two herbs may produce better effects.
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Treating Other Prostate Problems
Other benefits of pygeum African bark include the possible treatment of prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate) and sexual dysfunction in men due to BPH or chronic prostatitis. In one study, 88 percent of 47 men with chronic prostatitis had complete remission of symptoms after taking 100 milligrams of pygeum every day for five to seven weeks. In another study, men with sexual dysfunction due to chronic prostatitis or BPH had improved sexual function after taking 200 milligrams of pygeum every day for 60 days.
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Pygeum is considered generally safe if taken in appropriate amounts. Reported side effects include gastrointestinal irritation such as abdominal pain, nausea, constipation and diarrhea.
Consult your doctor before treating prostate problems with herbal remedies, especially if you have other medical conditions or are taking medications.
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Michael Murray, N.D. and Joseph Pizzorno, N.D. "Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine" Prima Publishing 1998
Photo by Marco Schmidt / Wikimedia
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