What are the medical uses of the African pygeum tree? What are its effects?

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Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The African pygeum (Genus and species name Prunus Africana) is a type of evergreen tree found in the higher elevations of southern Africa. It is also known by the names “African plum tree,” “pygeum africcnuum,” or just “pygeum.” A member of the rose family, (“Rosacea”), the African pygeum grows to heights of up to one hundred and fifty feet (or 46 m). The bark from this tree has been found beneficial in treating men with prostate difficulties, especially the condition known as “prostatic hypertrophy,” (or BPH), a problem afflicting many men. BPH causes the prostate to enlarge, and, if left untreated, can obstruct the urinary tract, leading to urinary tract infections, urinary frequency, urinary retention, and often causes insomnia.

Some of the benefits of the pygeum oil is that it acts as an anti-inflammatory. In addition, it reduces the swelling causes by excess fluids (known as “edema”); it also reduces hormone prolactin levels. Moreover, it significantly “lowers and inhibits cholesterol activity within the prostate.” Cholesterol has been proven to increase of prostatic cells (“dihydrotestosterone” or “DHT”). Elevated BPH levels is linked to increased size and increased density of the prostate. The prostate causes the man to have frequent urges to urinate in small volumes, and an inability to completely empty the bladder. Elevated BPH also leads to bladder infections, edema, inflammation, and can lead to prostate cancer.

The oil found in the bark of the African pygeum contains oils that have a number of active ingredients, including fatty acids and waxes. It’s chief biological activity comes from a compound called “phystosterol,” Plant sterols, called “phytos,” are similar in construction to cholesterol, but most as effectively absorbed by the body through diet. The strength of phystosterols, however, is biologically akin to those of hormones, meaning that a tiny amount is all that is necessary to trigger a response. Studies on the use of pygeum have also found that both blood sugar levels and immune functions improve.

While medicinal use of pygeum is relatively new to the United States, it has been used in Europe since at least the 1700s. Today, it continues to be imported to the United Kingdom and to the United States for treatment of PBH. Some of the most enthusiastic users of pygeum are in France, were its use in treatment for BPH is reportedly 80%.

Pygeum is prescribed for men experiencing BPH as early as their forties and prescriptions become more common with age: thirty percent of fifty year olds, fifty percent of sixty year old, and nearly eighty percent of men seventy or older are in need of treatment. In addition to BPH, use of pygeum is also used to treat chronic prostatitis, which is related to BPH but also causes pelvic pain and sexual dysfunction. Both BPH and chronic prostatitis can lead to reduced fertility due to the inhibited amounts of prostatic secretions. Currently, pygeum is being studied for its possible use in treating hepatitis C and HIV.

Studies conducted on the effectiveness of pygeum yield positive results. Some sixty percent of men experiencing urinary tract infections (“UTIs”) showed improvement (eighty percent of those experiencing prostate problem without an accompanying UTI showed improvement). Both sets of patients were prescribed 100 mg of pygeum extract, to be taken for five to seven weeks. For those men suffering from chronic prostatitis leading to sexual dysfunction, a dose of 200 mg for sixty days is the typical course of action (there may also be an antibiotic prescribed in these cases). Although the studies for treatment of hepatitis C and HIV have been small and the clinical trials relatively short, the positive results have been statistically significant. More trials are currently being conducted in Africa.

Men experiencing prostate problems should not attempt to self-treat. Guidance of a healthcare professional is needed. The reason is that taking pygeum may result in hormonal shifts. Pygeum is not recommended for children. It should be noted that noticeable differences in urinary and sexual function may take between five and eight weeks.

Source: Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, ©2006 Gale Cengage. All Rights Reserved.

mathewww | Student

Extract of the barks of the pygeum tree (African palm, Pygium africanum) has been used since ancient times to treat problems with urination. Pygeum can reduce lower urinary symptoms such as nighttime urination, frequent urination and for patients having substantial volume of residual urine after urination. These are symptoms of benign prostate hyperplasia, a nonmalignant enlargement of the prostate glands in men, and pygeum constitutes one of the major phyto-therapeutic agents available for its treatment.

The active constituents of Pygeum extract include anti-inflammatory phytosterols (e.g., beta-sitosterol), antiedemic pentacyclic triterpenes (ursolic and oleanic acids) and ferulic acid n-esters (n-docosanol and tetracosanol) that reduce prolactin levels and block the accumulation of cholesterol in the prostate.

Pygeum has also been shown to modulate bladder contractility in men by reducing the sensitivity of the bladder to electrical or biochemical stimulants.

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