Extracts from the African prune tree (Pygeum africanum) may be able to help relieve urinary symptoms caused by enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia)

Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), enlargement of the prostate gland, is common in older men. An enlarged prostate can interfere with urination, increasing the frequency and urge, or causing problems emptying the bladder. Both surgery and drugs are used to try to treat BPH. However, using herbal medicines to try to relieve the symptoms of BPH is becoming common. Pygeum africanum is one of several popular herbal remedies for BPH. The review found that pygeum africanum is well tolerated, cheaper than many prescription medicines used for BPH, and provides moderate relief from the urinary problems caused by an enlarged prostate.

Authors' conclusions: 

A standardized preparation of Pygeum africanum may be a useful treatment option for men with lower urinary symptoms consistent with benign prostatic hyperplasia. However, the reviewed studies were small in size, were of short duration, used varied doses and preparations and rarely reported outcomes using standardized validated measures of efficacy. Additional placebo-controlled trials are needed as well as studies that compare Pygeum africanum to active controls that have been convincingly demonstrated to have beneficial effects on lower urinary tract symptoms related to BPH. These trials should be of sufficient size and duration to detect important differences in clinically relevant endpoints and use standardized urologic symptom scale scores.

Read the full abstract...

Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), nonmalignant enlargement of the prostate, can lead to obstructive and irritative lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS). The pharmacologic use of plants and herbs (phytotherapy) for the treatment of LUTS associated with BPH has been growing steadily. The extract of the African prune tree, Pygeum africanum, is one of the several phytotherapeutic agents available for the treatment of BPH.


To investigate the evidence whether extracts of Pygeum africanum (1) are more effective than placebo in the treatment of Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH), (2) are as effective as standard pharmacologic BPH treatments, and (3) have less side effects compared to standard BPH drugs.

Search strategy: 

Trials were searched in computerized general and specialized databases (MEDLINE (1966 to 2000), EMBASE, Cochrane Library, Phytodok), by checking bibliographies, and by contacting relevant manufacturers and researchers.

Selection criteria: 

Trials were eligible if they (1) were randomized (2) included men with BPH (3) compared preparations of Pygeum africanum (alone or in combination) with placebo or other BPH medications (4) included clinical outcomes such as urologic symptom scales, symptoms, or urodynamic measurements. Eligibility was assessed by at least two independent observers.

Data collection and analysis: 

Information on patients, interventions, and outcomes were extracted by at least two independent reviewers using a standard form. The main outcome measure for comparing the effectiveness of Pygeum africanum with placebo and standard BPH medications was the change in urologic symptoms scale scores. Secondary outcomes included change in urologic symptoms including nocturia and urodynamic measures (peak and mean urine flow, prostate size). The main outcome measure for adverse effects was the number of men reporting adverse effects.

Main results: 

A total of 18 randomized controlled trials involving 1562 men met inclusion criteria and were analyzed. Only one of the studies reported a method of treatment allocation concealment, though 17 were double blinded. There were no studies comparing Pygeum africanum to standard pharmacologic interventions such as alpha-adrenergic blockers or 5-alpha reductase inhibitors. The mean study duration was 64 days (range, 30 to 122 days). Many studies did not report results in a method that permitted meta-analysis. Compared to men receiving placebo, Pygeum africanum provided a moderately large improvement in the combined outcome of urologic symptoms and flow measures as assessed by an effect size defined by the difference of the mean change for each outcome divided by the pooled standard deviation for each outcome (-0.8 SD [95% confidence interval (CI), -1.4 to -0.3 (n = 6 studies)]). Men using Pygeum africanum were more than twice as likely to report an improvement in overall symptoms (RR=2.1, 95% CI = 1.4 to 3.1). Nocturia was reduced by 19%, residual urine volume by 24% and peak urine flow was increased by 23%. Adverse effects due to Pygeum Africanum were mild and comparable to placebo. The overall dropout rate was 12% and was similar between Pygeum Africanum (13%), placebo (11%) and other controls (8%).