Review the structure and function of the male genitalia looking at prostate, penis, scrotum, and general plumbing. What herbs would you use to support prostate health in later life and general fertility?
The main prostate problem encountered by men in later life is Benign Prostate Hyperplasia (BPH) where the prostate becomes enlarged so I have looked at herbs for this problem. Fertility problems can be due to many reasons, I have focused mainly on sperm production and quality and erectile dysfunction which can also have many causes.
Structure and Function of Male Genitalia
The male reproductive organs and urinary tract are interlinked.
For reproduction sperm are produced in the testes inside the scrotum. The scrotum hangs down so as to be slightly cooler than body temperature as is required form sperm production. Sperm travel up a tube called the Vas Deferens to the urethra. Surrounding the urethra is the prostate gland that produces the fluid semen for the sperm to travel in; it is usually about the size of a walnut. The sperm are ejaculated through the penis via the urethra.
Urine is produced by the kidneys and is stored in the bladder until the urge to pass urine is felt. The urine is also passed through the penis via the urethra.
Later in life the prostate gland tends to enlarge, although it is part of the reproductive system causes problems with urination due to its location. After 40 testosterone declines and other hormones such as prolactin increase which leads to an increase in dihydrotesterone which is responsible for prostate overgrowth. Non-cancerous enlargement in older gentlemen is known as Benign Prostate Hyperplasia (BPH). As it surrounds the urethra it can cause it to narrow and can give the following symptoms:
· Difficulty in starting to urinate
· Not being able to urinate (that needs urgent medical attention)
· Weak flow of urine
· Dribbling after urinating
· Incomplete emptying of the bladder – the man may not be aware that this is happening but bacteria can live in the urine so not emptying the bladder properly can cause a urinary tract infection, in bad cases it backs up to cause kidney infections.
· Frequency of urination during the night
· Pain on urination
· Raised urea in the blood can lead to confusion if kidneys are affected.
Conventional medicine can offer medication to improve urine flow such as Tamsulosin or to shrink the prostate such as Finasteride; antibiotics for infections; surgery in severe cases so as to widen the urethra again and if someone is unable to pass urine, a urinary catheter could be required for a time.
Ryan Drum says that before herbs are used, life style needs to be looked at such as posture, excessive sitting, constipation, abdominal fat, irritating cola drinks and spices in the diet. He finds that softer stools, increasing water intake and walking at least 2 miles a day often relieves symptoms.
Herbs to Support Prostate Health in Later Life
Burdock (Arctium spp.)
Burdock is used to relieve an enlarged prostate. In Matthew Wood’s Book of Herbal Wisdom he says that burdock “acts strongly on the prostate”, it goes to the core and permanently cures. He finds it better than Saw Palmetto which palliates and he sees as a “fad herb for this complaint”.
Julie Bruton Seal & Matthew Seal call couch grass a “urinary formula all in one herb” for cystitis, enlarged prostate, kidney stones, prostatitis and irritable bladder”.
The action of Gravel Root on the male sexual system is not well documented but Wood has used it with good effect.
Horsetail (Equisetum Arvense)
Horsetail can be used to help with issues of prostate enlargement in a syrup or a tea.
Liquorice (Glycrrhiza glabra)
Liquorice prevents conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone.
Nettle (Urtica Dioica)
Nettle root slows down the growth of the prostate, it is said to increase the volume of urine passed and reduce nocturia. The German Commission E endorses nettle root for BPH.
Pellitory of the Wall (Parietaria Judacia syn. P. Diffusa, P. Officinalis)
A tea of Pellitory of the Wall is soothing to the urinary tract, reduces inflammation and increases urine flow.
Pumpkin (Cucurbita Pepo)
Pumpkin seeds contain zinc and a male hormone like component that both benefit the prostate gland, Matthew Wood recommends eating a handful each day.
Pygeum (Prunus Africana)
Studies show that Pygeum decreases nocturia (passing urine at night), improves flow and reduces the residual volume of urine that remains in the bladder.
Rosebay willow herb (chamerion angustifolium)Rosebay leaf tea is recommended for prostate problems.
Saw Palmetto (Serenoa Repens)
Saw Palmetto is said to have been the “old man’s friend” to Native Americans as they found it decreased prostate size and increased urine flow. Studies show it relieves frequency of urine and pain on urination. Anne McIntyre says it is the best herb for long term shrinking of the prostate. Castleman says that in one study Saw Palmetto was as effective as the drug Finasteride. Other studies have seen it reduce symptoms and to have less side effects. It is said to inhibit 5-alpha-reductase, an enzyme that plays a key role in the overgrowth of prostate tissue.
Wood is not so convinced and believes Saw Palmetto to be a fad herb for this complaint. Ryan Drum says it “seems to have a distinctly erosive feminising effect on the male body” and he does not use it unless he thinks it absolutely necessary.
For prostate shrinking I have also seen mentions of golden seal, red clover, dandelion, Siberian Ginseng, red grape seed extract, evening primrose oil, borage seed oil, Chinese angelica, Echinacea and golden rod.
To ease the pain from inflammation try Guelder rose (Cramp bark), Chamomile and Chinese Angelica.
There are many herbs to support prostate health; holistically there are generally aspects of lifestyle to look at as well. A healthy, high protein diet can help to maintain testosterone levels. Lycopene in tomatoes has been shown to help the prostate; there is a higher level in cooked tomatoes.
Herbs for Male Fertility
There are many different reasons for reduced fertility in men including genetics; the immune system; medication such as steroids, antidepressants, antihypertensives and cancer drugs; chronic infection; hormone problems; surgery; diabetes; mumps; stress; smoking; toxic metals; nutritional deficiencies or physical problems such as a blocked sperm duct.
It takes 100 days for sperm to develop, so the benefit of any herbs or healthy regime could not be expected to be seen until then.
Conventional treatment for male infertility can consist of:
• Drugs, e.g. antibiotics for an infection.
• Hormones for low testosterone.
• Surgery for problems such as a tumour or anything causing a blockage.
Herbs for Healthy Sperm
Astralagus (Astralagus Membranaceus)Astralagus enhances sperm motility so as they can get all the way to the female’s egg.
Eleuthero (Elleutherococcus senticosus)Siberian Ginseng for stress related infertility with extracts that help sperm motility.
Ginseng (Panax Ginseng)
The University of Rome found that infertile men taking 4,000mg of ginseng extract every day for 3 months rose 93%. In men without a problem it increased by 9%.
Gojiberry (Lyceum Barbarum, L. Chinenense)Gojiberry is used for impotence, sexual debility and improving sperm quality and quantity.
Maritime PineAn antioxidant, Pycnogenol, from the bark of the Maritime pine has been found to increase the quality and function of sperm after 90 days in a trial in the October 2002 Journal of Reproductive Medicine.
I was just reading a review on the internet about which breakfast cereals are the healthiest & came across this mention. “Oats are also great for male fertility as they contain Argenine which helps raise male sperm count and make it swim faster!”
Pumpkin (Cucurbita Pepo)
Pumpkin seeds are rich in zinc which acts on the prostate but it is also a constituent of sperm and many diets are low in zinc these days. Chew the seeds well as zinc is absorbed through the mouth and gums.
Impotence or low sex drive can be caused by a hormone imbalance, stress, depression, pain, high blood pressure (hypertension), circulatory problems, side effects of drugs, smoking, environmental toxins, oestrogenic effects of plastics, pesticides and hormones in animal rearing.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) male sexual dysfunction is seen as a loss of yang or the primary life force stored in the kidneys and warming herbs are required to restore yang such as scisandra cinensis and epimedium sagittatum. Western herbalists would use warming cinnamon and clove to boost circulation.
Many plants contain phytoestrogens that are chemically similar to the oestrogen estradiol which is involved in sexual functioning in men.
There are 3 types of phytoestrogen:
1. Isoflavones, most well-known is found in soy.
2. Lignans found in flax seeds (linum usitatissimum).3. Coumestans found in red clover (trifolium pratense) & alfalfa (medicago sativa).
Studies show that a diet with phytoestrogens is associated with lower prostate cancer although another study says that soy lowers the sperm count (Schindler Connors).
Herbs for Erectile Dysfunction (ED), Ejaculation Problems and Low Libido
Burdock (Arctium Lappa)Burdock is good to detox, it will help the liver to clear drugs and their side effects.
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum Zeylanicum, C. Cassia, C. Saigonicum)Cinnamon is a warming spice for the circulation.
DamianaDamiana supports male hormone production.
Ginger (Zingiber Officinale)Warming ginger will boost the circulation.
Gingko improves the circulation; contains the amino acid arginine that can help relieve impotence and can reduce the sexual side effects of antidepressants.
Ginseng (Panax Ginseng)Studies show Ginseng improved ED. Korean and Siberian Ginseng are both adaptogens and will balance hormones and increase sexual energy.
Gotu Kola (Centella Asiatica or Hydrocotyle Asiatica)Supports the circulation and is used as a relaxant.
Hawthorn is known to help the heart and circulation.
Kava (Piper Methysticum)
Kava is used to increase sex drive. It affects the brain chemistry to help with anxiety about sexual dysfunction.
Maca (Lepidium Mayenii)Maca from Peru has been shown to increase sex drive in men.
Maritime Pine (Pinus Pinaster)Bark extracts of Maritime pine are used for ED.
Milk Thistle (Silybum Marianum)
Milk thistle is a friend of the liver; it will assist it to detox and to clear drugs and their side effects from the system.
Nettle (Urtica Dioica)Nettle can be used to detox, it will help the liver to clear drugs and their side effects.
RoseRose is used as a relaxant if stress is a problem.
Sarsaparilla (Smilax Officinalis)Sarsaparilla supports male hormones.
Saw Palmetto (Serenoa Repens)Saw Palmetto can be used to support male hormones.
Skullcap (Scutellaria Lateriflora)
Skullcap is for relieving stress.
Vervain (Verbena Officinalis)Vervain is used as a relaxant.
Wild oats are used as a relaxant if stressed.
Yellow dock is another detox herb; it will help the liver to clear drugs and their side effects.
A combination of herbs can be useful to help with all of the causes or symptoms.
Bruton-Seal, J. and Seal, M. (2008) Hedgerow Medicine: Harvest and Make Your Own Herbal Remedies, Merlin Unwin Books: Ludlow
Bruton-Seal, J. and Seal, M. (2010) Kitchen Medicine: Household Remedies for Common Ailments and Domestic Emergencies, Merlin Unwin Books: Ludlow
Castleman, M. (2003) The New Healing Herbs: The Classic Guide to Natures Best Medicine, HinklerBooks Pty Ltd: Dingley
Drum, R. (13.1.11) Herbs and Men’s Health: Some Notes and Thoughts http://www.ryandrum.com/menshealth.html accessed 3.3.2012
McIntyre, A. (2010) The complete Herbal Tutor, Gaia: London
Schindler Connors, M. with Altshuler, MD. (2009) The Everything Guide To Herbal Remedies, Adams Media: Avon MA
Wood, M. (1997) The Book of Herbal Wisdom, North Atlantic Books: Berkeley
Wood, M. (2008) The Earthwise Herbal, North Atlantic Books: Berkeley