One look at how many men’s multivitamins we sell per month compared to women’s multis speaks volumes about men’s general attitude towards health. (We sell about twice as many women’s multis.) Maybe it’s machismo—men perceive that if they have to take herbs or supplements to maintain health and vitality, this is another way of saying they are not strong without them. In reality, taking herbs is a great way to take charge of your own health and enhance your ability to enjoy life. Of course, please consult with your health care professional before taking any new herb.
There are a number of herbs that are popular among our male shoppers for their vitality, energy, and stamina-enhancing properties. These herbs fall into the category of “adaptogens,” or herbs that help our bodies adapt to stress and function optimally. Maca root is one of the most popular of this group. Native to the high Andes of Peru, this vitality-enhancing plant is actually related to the much-maligned turnip. One source I came across noted Incas ate maca before battles. According to Ed Smith in the Therapeutic Herb Manual, maca is a “nutritive tonic which enhances overall physical energy, stamina, and endurance.” He also notesthat it is helpful in some cases of infertility in men (and women). The Co-op carries maca in three forms: powdered root (perfect for smoothies, morning cereal, baking, or even desserts!), tincture, or tablet.
Cordyceps mushroom is another stellar supplement in the adaptogen category. In the wild, the cordyceps fungus parasitizes caterpillar larvae. Luckily, cordyceps mushroom is now cultivated in the U.S., making it both an affordable and environmentally sound option. In his book, Mycomedicinals, world-famous mycologist Paul Stamets lists the following benefits of Cordyceps based on numerous scientific studies: anti-oxidant, anti-tumor, anti-viral, immune enhancer, kidney tonic, liver tonic, nerve tonic and stress reducer, among many others. Cordyceps is also prized for its cardiovascular benefits. Athletes can reap substantial performance gains with regular use of cordyceps, as evidenced by nine Chinese women runners who shattered nine world records, breaking the record for the 10,000 meter run by an unprecedented 42 seconds. Stamets writes that, “[The runners] gave credit to their intense training regimen and the use of cordyceps.” A study on long-distance runners found that use of the mushroom “resulted in significant improvement in 71 percent of the subjects, due, in part, to increased respiratory activity and the metabolism of lactic acid.” Whether you are an athlete, an asthma sufferer, or both, cordyceps is likely to benefit you.
A top health issue for many men over 40 is prostate enlargement. The prostate is a walnut-sized gland that surrounds the urethra, the canal through which urine passes out of the body. According to the website of the National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse, “It is common for the prostate gland to become enlarged as a man ages. Doctors call this condition benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), or benign prostatic hypertrophy. As a man matures, the prostate goes through two main periods of growth. The first occurs early in puberty, when the prostate doubles in size. At around age 25, the gland begins to grow again. This second growth phase often results, years later, in BPH.” BPH can cause the prostate to enlarge to the point where urination becomes difficult. Symptoms include needing to go to the bathroom often or taking a while to get started. If the prostate grows too large it may constrict the urethra and impede the flow of urine, making urination difficult and painful and in extreme cases completely impossible.
Saw palmetto is one of the most popular herbs for treating BPH. According to Prescription for Herbal Healing by Phyllis A. Balch, CNC, saw palmetto is known “for its ability to strengthen the neck of the bladder and to reduce enlargement of the prostate, allowing for the free passage of urine. Saw palmetto’s action in this regard has been demonstrated by research. A study of 110 men by British researchers found that 320 milligrams of saw palmetto extract daily was five times more effective than placebo in improving bladder emptying.” Furthermore, “the men did not have as much difficulty, discomfort, or pain in urinating as they had before taking the herb, and reported that they did not have to get up at night to urinate as often.”
Pygeum is another herb that can be very useful in the treatment of BPH. Pygeum is native to Africa, and has been used by the men of that continent for centuries. According to the Desk Reference of Nature’s Medicine by Steven Foster and Rebecca L. Johnson, “ many clinical trials indicate pygeum’s effectiveness for treating BPH, including reducing symptoms of urinary frequency, volume, and flow, as well as the reduction of secondary symptoms like headache and gastrointestinal discomfort.” Indeed, it is “the most common natural remedy for enlarged prostate in France and has been widely used in Italy and Germany for more than 30 years.” Foster and Johnson also note that preliminary animal research suggests pygeum’s potential for increasing hair growth.
The Willy Street Co-op offers a wide variety of prostate health products, including a combination of Pygeum and Saw Palmetto made by Solaray, which also features Cranberry extract, and a product called Prostate 5lx by New Chapter. Prostate 5lx includes Saw Palmetto extract, Nettle, and Ginger, and other herbs. It also includes a probiotic (predigested by friendly bacteria) form of the mineral Selenium which is “critical to tissue detoxification and long term prostate health.”
If you are experiencing symptoms commonly associated with BPH, be sure to get a proper medical evaluation to rule out the possibility of prostate cancer. Prostate cancer survival rates are very good if it is caught early enough.
taking charge of our own health, we men can help close the gap in life expectancy between men and women. And if we still put off visiting the doctor or forget to take our vitamins, keep reminding us. We’re just a little stubborn sometimes.