HEADLINE: Research indicates herbals make sense; herbal medicine
BODY: Clinical studies play a key role in the continued growth of individual herbal remedies.
NEW YORK – The herbal supplement segment is emerging, and it still has some hurdles to overcome. However, a growing body of scientific evidence is boosting the category’s standing among consumers and the medical establishment, and continued research promises to accentuate that trend.
A skeptical stow in U.S. News & World Report last spring questioned the ability of the majority of pharmacists to provide meaningful information to their patients regarding such products, although the article did not address the broad-based initiatives currently under way by drag chains and their suppliers in the area of pharmacist education. It also raised questions about the efficacy of some herbal formulations. Still, the report acknowledged herbal products’ widespread acceptance in the European medical community, even citing the fact that 70% of physicians in Germany prescribe herbal remedies for their patients.
All that underlines the fact that clinical studies affirming the effectiveness of individual herbal remedies play a key role in the continued growth of the segment. Herbs that are backed by such research are likely to enjoy the greatest acceptance, says Herb Research Foundation president Rob McCaleb.
One such product is saw palmetto berry. “Studies have actually shown saw palmetto to be more effective for the relief of symptoms related to enlarged prostate than conventional therapies, and it is considerably safer,” he says.
During the first half of this century saw palmetto was widely used in the United States for a variety of ailments, especially those of the urogenital type, but it receded into near oblivion following World War II. However, European scientists continued to study saw palmetto and documented its effectiveness in relieving symptoms related to benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH).
BPH is an abnormal but nonmalignant proliferation of cells and tissues in the prostate gland and is common in men over 45. Left untreated, the resulting urethral obstruction can lead to urinary retention, kidney damage and infection. PAGE 16 Chain Drug Review October 6, 1997
Saw palmetto works by reducing the uptake of testosterone and the more potent androgen dihydrotestosterone (DHT), and by reducing the conversion of less-active testosterone to the more active DHT form. However, it does not induce changes in the level of testosterone or other hormones, a fact that contributes to its stellar safety record.
A number of suppliers now offer saw palmetto supplements, often fortified with other herbs and nutrients. Amerifit Inc., for example, includes zinc, folic acid and lycopene in its product. “Men with BPH often have low levels of zinc in their prostatic fluids. Supplementing the essential mineral can raise those levels to further support a healthy prostate,” a company spokesman notes.
Folic acid is included for its reported role in aiding heart health by reducing the body’s levels of homocysteine, a chemical that can damage the organ. Lycopene is the red carotene found in tomatoes and other vegetables and fruits. Many scientists now believe it can help play a key role in maintaining good health, says the Amerifit spokesman.
Real Health Laboratories Inc. markets a saw palmetto product called The Prostate Supplement. Along with saw palmetto, it contains a variety of such other substances as stinging nettle, pumpkin seed powder, zinc, l-lysine, l-glutamic acid, glycine, and vitamins [B.sub.6], D and E. The product was developed by company founder and president Thomas Gillette for his own use several years ago.
“What’s unique about our product is that we are positioning it as an O-T-C to deal with a specific men’s health issue,” comments vice president of operations Lincoln Fish. “When we started this company we did so with the idea that we were targeting people with prostate issues, not the natural supplements market. We are trying to get a more proprietary positioning for The Prostate Supplement.”
The product has been sold through direct-mail pieces and direct-response ads in consumer magazines for about four years, and it has just entered retail distribution. The Prostate Supplement is sold in Longs Drug Stores in Hawaii and will soon be offered in that chain’s West Coast outlets. It is also available at U.S. military exchanges, and the company is in discussions with a number of other drug chains to gain additional retail exposure.
While saw palmetto is the most widely recommended herbal remedy for BPH, a number of other herbs have also been indicated as possibly playing a helpful role. In Prescription for Nutritional Healing, for example, James Balch, a physician, and coauthor Phyllis Balch recommend Chinese ginseng as beneficial for prostate health and sexual vitality. They also suggest teas made from the diuretic herbs buchu and corn silk, juniper berries, parsley, slippery elm bark and uva ursi.
Pygeum africanum, an ingredient included in The Prostate Supplement, is another herb that has been proven effective in treatment and prevention of BPH and prostatitis in many worldwide studies. It has become a primary therapy for treatment of those conditions in Europe. Siberian ginseng, cayenne and false unicorn root may also be beneficial, as may horsetail (especially combined with hydrangea root), goldenseal and sea holly, according to Balch.