What Is Pygeum?


Pygeum africanum, commonly known as the African plum tree, is an evergreen tree found in southern and central Africa. Its bark has been used for thousands of years by African healers to help with urinary conditions, especially for those related to benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH), which is an enlargement of the prostate gland in males. This is quite common in elderly men, and therefore pygeum has found its way into the mainstream of alternative treatments aimed at alleviating the symptoms of BPH. While there are many modern methods of treating BPH, including pharmaceutical drugs and surgical procedures, some men will first seek alternative treatments in attempting to alleviate their symptoms. As discussed in The National Institutes of Health’s MedlinePlus, pygeum is a natural remedy that reduces the symptoms of BPH by halting or reducing the growth of the prostate gland.

What is BPH?

The prostate is a small gland, present only in males, which surrounds the urethra and is located between the bladder and the penis. Its two lobes are responsible for releasing a fluid which is added to the male ejaculation, causing sperm to become more mobile and reducing the acidity of the vaginal canal during intercourse. As men age, the cells in the prostate tend to enlarge, causing the gland to put pressure on the urethra and reducing the flow of urine. This leads to the common symptoms of BPH, which are a weak urine stream, increased urgency and frequency of urination, and incomplete emptying of the bladder. If untreated, more severe cases of BPH can lead to other symptoms, such as urinary tract infections, acute urinary retention and incontinence. According to the National Institutes of Health, as many as 90 percent of males aged seventy or above have symptoms caused by BPH, so this is a condition for which many men will seek treatment at some point in their lives.

How Pygeum Works

The cause of BPH is not well understood; however there is a correlation between the growth of the prostate and the production of androgens, which are steroid hormones responsible for the growth and development of male characteristics. As described by the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Society, pygeum contains constituents called phytosterols which block androgens from binding to the cells of the prostate, causing a reduction in its growth. The bark also decreases the amount of cholesterol in the prostate, which reduces the production of androgens. In addition, pygeum has chemicals which reduce inflammation in the prostate by inhibiting the body’s ability to produce prostaglandins, which are compounds created in the body that can promote inflammation and contribute to the swelling of the prostate gland.

Usage and Safety

Originally, pygeum bark was ground into a powder and then taken as a tea. It can still be taken this way, but a more convenient and consistent method is to take pygeum extract in a capsule form. A typical dosage is 100 mg to 200 mg per day of standardized pygeum extract, taken in two divided doses. Pygeum is generally considered to be a safe herb, with side effects similar to those of a placebo. The most common health complaints when taking pygeum include mild stomach upset, diarrhea, constipation and nausea.

Endangered Status

Due to the high demand for pygeum bark for medicinal purposes, the tree has become endangered in its native Africa. Some companies are making attempts to harvest pygeum in a sustainable way; however, at this time supplies are still limited and prices have risen because of the shortage. For this reason, and because there are other natural remedies that can treat BPH, pygeum is often used in smaller amounts as a part of natural medicinal formulas.

Other Natural Remedies for BPH

There are a number of natural medicines and treatments used to treat BPH. Perhaps the most well-known natural remedy for BPH is saw palmetto; according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, studies have shown that it provides effective relief for BPH. Other natural remedies include pumpkin seeds, lycopene, stinging nettle, fish oil and antioxidants. Used in conjunction with pygeum, these remedies, as well as others, may work effectively in reducing the symptoms of BPH.

Natural or Conventional Treatment?

Whether to treat BPH naturally or conventionally depends on the severity of the symptoms. Mild cases of BPH may be reduced or halted through natural remedies alone; however, if cases are more severe pharmaceutical drugs or surgical procedures may be warranted. Though it has not been thoroughly researched, according to the National Institutes of Health it is believed that the use of pygeum in conjunction with traditional medication for BPH can help reduce prostate size. It is important, however, to consult with your physician before combining natural medicines and pharmaceutical drugs.

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