Prostate supplements use herbal extracts and trace minerals to improve your prostate health. Many men over 50 take a prostate supplement to help with symptoms of an enlarged prostate, which can include trouble urinating or frequent urination at night.
Some research indicates that prostate supplements containing herbal extracts from beta sitosterol and saw palmetto could help shrink your prostate and relieve these symptoms.
Want to know more about what the scientific evidence says about the benefits of prostate supplements? Read on for our research team’s findings.
Prostate supplement benefits
1. Prostate supplements can help with an enlarged prostate, which affects many older men
An enlarged prostate, which causes problems with urination, is the most common cause of urinary problems in older men.
Men with an enlarged prostate find themselves urinating often, unable to empty their bladder, and waking up often at night to go to the bathroom.
While there are prescription drugs that can help with an enlarged prostate, there’s a large body of emerging scientific research that suggests that prostate supplements can help too. Here’s what we know about the science of prostate supplements.
2. Saw palmetto can help shrink your prostate
Saw palmetto is an herbal extract that’s been consistently found useful in clinical trials investigating its effect on prostate function.
One such study was published in 2000 in the Journal of Urology by researchers at the University of California Los Angeles School of Medicine (1).
In this study, 44 men with an enlarged prostate received either a saw palmetto supplement (318 mg per day) or a placebo pill.
The researchers tracked the prostate symptoms and function of the men over the course of six months. The results showed that the supplement was associated with a decrease in the size of the epithelium in the prostate, an area of the gland that is associated with the urinary symptoms caused by prostate enlargement.
The group that received the prostate supplement had slightly better improvements in urinary function, though these results did not reach statistical significance, perhaps due to the small sample size.
3. Many studies have found that saw palmetto directly improves urinary symptoms
Though the UCLA study did not find a direct benefit to saw palmetto in terms of symptom improvement, many other studies have.
A scientific paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association pooled the results of 18 different studies, with a total number of participants exceeding 2,000 men with an enlarged prostate—termed benign prostatic hyperplasia in the medical literature (2).
After analyzing the pooled results, the researchers found that saw palmetto resulted in better urinary relief compared to placebo, and similar results to finasteride, the standard pharmaceutical treatment.
4. Prostate supplements may have fewer side effects than prescription medication
The same meta-analysis found that prostate supplements containing saw palmetto compared favorably to finasteride, the standard pharmaceutical treatment.
While the symptomatic relief was similar in both the prostate supplements and the prescription medication, side effects were less common with a supplement.
The effect was particularly notable for erectile dysfunction: prostate supplements were about five times less likely to be associated with this side effect compared to finasteride.
5. Beta sitosterol has powerful prostate-shrinking effects
Beta sitosterol is a steroid-like compound that is synthesized by plants, and it appears to have powerful effects on enlarged prostates.
A clinical trial conducted by researchers in Germany followed a group of men randomly selected to receive either a beta sitosterol supplement or a placebo for six months (3).
After six months of follow-up, the researchers reviewed the results and determined that the beta sitosterol supplement was effective at reducing symptoms compared to a placebo. The researchers then followed a subset of these subjects for another twelve months.
They then “unblinded” the study participants, giving those on the placebo the opportunity to switch to the beta sitosterol group.
Those who did experienced the same improvement in urinary symptoms as those in the first phase of the study, and those who ceased taking the supplement experienced a slight worsening in symptoms.
6. Trace minerals like zinc and selenium can also help prostate symptoms
While you may not pay much attention to the amount of minerals like zinc or selenium in your diet, they may play a role in benign prostatic hyperplasia.
Research published in the Indian Journal of Urology suggests that levels of zinc in prostate tissue go down when the prostate is enlarged (4).
This suggest that zinc deficiency, which is rather common among older men, might be related to prostate problems. The same may be true of selenium, another trace element. Research out of Brazil found that a prostate supplement that provided saw palmetto alongside selenium decreased prostate symptoms compared to a placebo (5).
The researchers proposed that the supplement had anti-inflammatory effects, which reduced the size of the prostate and improved urinary symptoms.
7. Over half of all men will have an enlarged prostate by age 55
The prevalence of benign prostate hyperplasia, the technical medical term for an enlarged prostate, is known to increase over time.
A study published in the journal The Prostate details exactly how likely you are to have an enlarged prostate at any given time in your life.
Using data from a longitudinal study of men, a group of scientists at the National Institute of Aging looked at the emergence of prostate enlargement in two ways: first, on autopsy, and second, based on clinical symptoms indicative of prostate enlargement (6).
The authors showed that both methods resulted in very similar estimates of the prevalence of prostate enlargement over time, and they both told the same story: at age 40, fewer than 10% of men had an enlarged prostate. By 50, this number had climbed to 35%, and by age 60, it was over 50%.
Rates of prostate enlargement flattened somewhat in older age, but still climbed: by age 75, over 80% of men have an enlarged prostate.
The findings from this study underscore the importance of men in their 40s and 50s paying attention to any difficulties with urination that they encounter, so they can identify prostate enlargement when it happens.
8. Lycopene may help slow the progress of prostate enlargement
Some new research suggests that lycopene, a powerful antioxidant found in tomatoes, watermelon, grapefruit, papaya, and other orange or red fruits, may help slow the progress of prostate enlargement.
A study published in 2008 in the Journal of Nutrition demonstrated the efficacy of lycopene supplementation among people with BPH (7).
In the study, 40 people with benign prostate hyperplasia were randomly assigned to take either a lycopene supplement or a placebo supplement for six months.
Prostate size was assessed at the conclusion of the study using both ultrasonic imaging and a manual exam.
The results showed that, while the placebo group’s prostates continued to enlarge, progress was halted in the lycopene group. While the direct mechanism of action is unclear, it may be related to the anti-inflammatory properties of lycopene.
Alternatively, there might be other direct biochemical effects of lycopene on prostate tissue—other research has found that greater lycopene intake may reduce the risk of prostate cancer, which suggests that lycopene may directly prevent tissue abnormalities in prostate cells.
Prostate supplement side effects
One of the most attractive aspects of prostate supplements is that they offer a less intimidating side effect profile than the standard prescription medications used to treat an enlarged prostate.
Saw palmetto can cause mild gastrointestinal side effects. According to a meta-analysis of saw palmetto studies, supplements in this category are associated with a lower rate of erectile dysfunction, but a slightly higher rate of gastrointestinal symptoms, when compared to finasteride (8).
Still, side effects were described as “mild and infrequent.”
Most side effects for prostate supplements are rare. Adverse effects can include gastrointestinal symptoms like bloating or gas, but these are rare—less than one percent of men in clinical trials for prostate supplements experienced these effects, and these rates are only a fraction of a percentage point higher than what men on traditional pharmaceutical therapy experienced.
Prostate supplement dosage
Since saw palmetto and beta sitosterol are the two best-researched prostate supplement ingredients, it’s important to make sure the dosage of these ingredients is in line with the clinical trials that have been successful.
Aim for at least 300 mg of saw palmetto. Saw palmetto seems to be effective when taken in doses of at least 300 mg daily, typically split up into three separate doses.
For beta sitosterol, shoot for at least 20 mg. Beta sitosterol seems to work best when taken in doses of at least 20 mg daily.
With other ingredients, like trace elements (zinc, copper, selenium, etc.), a good prostate supplement will have at least 100% of your recommended daily intake for these key ingredients.
Prostate supplement benefits FAQ
Q: What is an enlarged prostate?
A: Prostate enlargement (termed benign prostate hyperplasia or BPH) is the root cause of many prostate-related complaints, like problems urinating.
The condition is termed “benign” only to distinguish it from prostate cancer, which is malignant—despite the name, BPH can be anything but harmless.
Q: What is the best thing to drink for your prostate?
A: If you are looking for a beverage to improve the health of your prostate, try a green drink: there’s not a whole lot your diet can do for your prostate, but increasing your intake of vitamin C and zinc may help, according to the Mayo Clinic (9).
Since you can find both vitamin C and zinc in green leafy vegetables like kale, broccoli, and cauliflower, a green drink is a great way to get the benefits of these nutrients. Many green drinks also contain lycopene, which can help with prostate health as well.
Q: What foods are good at shrinking the prostate?
A: According to Harvard Medical School, you should strive to eat more fruits and vegetables, less sugar and refined carbohydrates, and less red meat (10).
These are all basic dietary guidelines, but they track pretty well with prostate health. Researchers at Harvard also emphasize the importance of physical activity, pointing to three separate studies that show that more exercise helps with prostate health, even if you don’t lose weight.
Q: Can you naturally shrink your prostate?
A: Supplements like saw palmetto and lycopene are natural compounds that are thought to help shrink the prostate, or at least prevent it from getting larger (often men who have benign prostate hyperplasia experience increased prostate growth over time).
People often elect to take natural prostate supplements to shrink their prostate with fewer side effects, though prostate supplementation is not the right call for everyone.
Q: Can vitamin supplements cause prostate cancer?
A: The evidence connecting any vitamin supplement to prostate cancer is scarce; there is some weak evidence that high intake of zinc (supplementing in excess of 100 mg per day) may be linked to the development of prostate cancer (11), and there is also some weak evidence that consuming lycopene could be protective against prostate cancer (12).
However, it’s very hard to draw firm conclusions from these observational studies, because it is hard to control for the fact that people who take certain kinds of supplements tend to be very different from those who do not.
For example, prostate cancer shares many symptoms with benign prostate hyperplasia, and both zinc and lycopene may be taken as prostate supplements.
It’s not hard to see how this could cause some spurious associations in the data. Other research, for example, has found that zinc is protective against prostate cancer (13).
Related: Our best prostate supplement picks
Prostate supplements are designed to improve prostate health by using natural herbal and mineral compounds to shrink the size of your prostate.
They’re best-suited for men over 50 who have problems with urination, like poor urine flow or frequent urination at night.
The best prostate supplements contain potent herbal compounds like saw palmetto and beta sitosterol, both of which have been researched for their prostate health benefits. Side effects are rare, but might include gastrointestinal complaints and erectile dysfunction, though at lower rates than some prescription prostate medications.