Are plant extracts effective in treating BPH?

Although plant extracts have a long history of use in treating benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), questions still remain about how they work and how effective they really are.

Important effects have been identified in laboratory studies that use high doses of plant extracts, but the clinical relevance of the effects for men with BPH is not well understood. For example, saw palmetto has been shown in lab studies to inhibit 5-alpha reductase -- an effect that is similar to the one produced by finasteride (Proscar). In theory, then, saw palmetto should decrease prostate size when tested in men; but this outcome has not been observed consistently.

The lack of long-term, placebo-controlled studies of saw palmetto also adds an element of uncertainty to the use of herbal therapies. Short-term trials show that plant extracts usually are more effective than placebo, but longer studies are needed to show whether the effect lasts longer than a placebo.

The lack of standardization among herbal products adds another element of uncertainty. You cannot have the same confidence that you are getting exactly what is stated on the label of an herbal product as you would with pharmaceutical products that are closely regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.