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If you search the internet for prostate health supplements, you will find dozens of options that claim to shrink your prostate, improve urine flow, or reduce your risk of prostate cancer. They have names like Ultra Prostate Formula, Prostate Complete, and Prostate Support. Most supplements range from twenty to fifty dollars for 60 to 90 pills.
Many men take these supplements to reduce symptoms of benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH). Men with a family history of prostate cancer may take supplements to reduce their risk. BPH symptoms include a weak urine stream, frequent urination, and an urgent need to urinate. BPH is very common and increases every year after age 40. By age 60, about 60 percent of men will have some symptoms of BPH. Prostate cancer affects about 11 percent of men. Having BPH does not increase your risk of prostate cancer.
It would be great if supplements improved prostate health, and many supplements have been studied, but the results are mixed. According to Harvard Medical School, the most common supplements are saw palmetto, selenium, zinc, and beta-sitosterol. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) adds lycopene, African plum tree, and stinging nettle as supplements that have been studied for prostate health.
What’s the Best Prostate Supplement?
Without more and better studies, it is not possible to say which supplement is best for prostate health. Probably the most common and most studied is saw palmetto. Saw palmetto is an extract from the fruit of a palm shrub. Some studies have supported this supplement for reducing BPH symptoms. However, in 2012 a review of 32 studies in over 5,000 men concluded that saw palmetto was not effective. On the other hand, a 2020 review of studies involving over 1,000 men found that after 6 months, saw palmetto improved BPH symptoms as much as a prescription medication. Other common supplements include:
- There is some evidence that this mineral may reduce the risk or slow the growth pf prostate cancer, but other studies have found no benefit. More studies will be needed.
- Prostate cells have more zinc than other cells of the body. Some lab studies suggest that zinc may play a role in prostate health and that zinc deficiency may increase the risk of BPH. However, human studies have not shown that zinc supplements help BPH and high doses of zinc may increase the risk of prostate cancer.
- Beta-sitosterol. This supplement is a chemical called a plant sterol. A 2020 study found that combining beta-sitosterol with saw palmetto for 12 weeks improved BPH symptoms, but this was a small trial with only 33 men taking the supplement combination.
- Lycopene is an antioxidant similar to vitamin A. In lab studies it seems to protect prostate cells from cancer. There is little evidence to support this supplement for prostate health in humans. A review of eight trials concludes that there was not enough evidence to support or recommend against Lycopene for prostate health. Lycopene may cause side effects that include low blood pressure, and an increased risk of bleeding.
- African plum tree (Pygeum africanum). Extracts from the bark of this tree have been used to reduce inflammation in traditional medicine, and it may reduce symptoms of BPH. A recent review of studies in 2015 found this supplement may help BPH symptoms, but cautions that the studies were short and small.
- Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica). Extract from the roots of this plant may reduce BPH symptoms. A trial of 620 men with BPH found that this supplement worked better than a placebo and another trial of 257 men found that this supplement was effective when combined with saw palmetto. Neither of these studies is recent and both called for more research
Prostate Supplement Cautions
Supplements are regulated by the FDA as a subcategory of food, not as medicines. The FDA does not check for safety, effectiveness, or accuracy of the claims or the ingredients on the labels. All these supplements qualify their claims by printing somewhere on the label that the product is not intended to treat or prevent any disease.
A 2017 review of prostate health supplements in the journal Urology, analyzed 27 herbal supplements advertised for prostate health on Amazon to see what active ingredients they had. They found a total of 58 active ingredients. The average product had between 8 and 9 ingredients. Although about 70 percent had at least one ingredient with some scientific support, all the products contained at least one ingredient with no science to support or evaluate effectiveness or safety.
The Harvard Medical School review notes that studies on supplements in general consistently show a healthy diet gives better results than any supplement. The best diet for prostate health is one with plenty of whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, olive oil and more fish than red meat.
If you have symptoms of BPH or you are concerned about your risk for prostate cancer, talk to your healthcare provider. Ask your provider if he or she recommends any supplements. Your provider may also suggest a prescription medication.
Two medications that have been consistently effective in studies are hormone blocking medications called alpha blockers and alpha inhibitors. A common brand of alpha blocker is Flomax. This drug relaxes muscles in the urinary tract to increase urine flow. A common alpha inhibitor is Proscar. This medication shrinks your prostate, and reduces the risk of prostate cancer by 25 percent.