The bark of an African tree, belonging to the botanical family Rosaceae is marketed as the herbal remedy called pygeum. The remedy called pygeum is derived from the Prunus africana plant, the common name pygeum is actually an older name of the plant, the tree used to be called by the botanical name Pygeum africanum, this name is now obsolete and no longer used. The mountain type forest in the highlands of Africa and the Island of Madagascar are places where this tree is found in the wild. This tree is found in the Afromontane forest "islands" from 4,500 to 6,000 feet elevations, the tree prefers higher altitude slopes for optimal growth. Currently, wild populations of the tree are in decline as the forests surrounding such elevated areas have been clear cut for the extraction of forest products such a timber and converted into arable agricultural land, such factors and the environmental degradation have severely limiting the tree prime habitat and led to a steep decline in wild populations. In addition to such factors, wild populations of the tree have also been affected by the commercial demand for the harvested bark, the tree species is in decline in the wild in countries such as Cameroon, the Kenya, the highlands of Tanzania, the island of Madagascar, as well as in the Democratic Republic of Congo - formerly the Zaire - wild populations of the tree are threatened due to unregulated harvesting of the bark in these countries. Conservation issues have arisen in response to the over exploitation of this single natural resource, the situation eventually led to an attempt to monitor the trade in this tree species by including it in the Appendix II of CITES - expanded as Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. The chances of this tree species surviving in the wild without strong conservation measures are bleak indeed.
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Some parts of the tree are characterized by having an almond like flavor, this flavor is particularly evident in the fresh bark on the trunk, in the leaves, and in the fruits - all of these contain the compound called amygalin, which yields hydrocyanic acid when crushed - essentially the same acid found in almonds. This almond like flavor possessed by the tree has often been used commercially in Africa, where a substitute for almond milk is produced from the fresh crushed leaves mixed with milk. Traditional healers and tribal folk medicine practitioners in most African countries have also made wide use of the tree bark in the treatment of disorders such as inflammation, in the treatment of kidney disease, in fighting back malaria, in curing a stomachache, and in treating a fever and in different herbal medicines. Difficulties with urination are treated in the province of Natal, South Africa using a drink made by infusing the tree bark in some milk. An aphrodisiac effect is also attributed locally to the bark of the tree in the Cameroon, where it is also used to treat the symptoms of fever, as well as in the treatment of madness. Many cultures in southern, eastern, and central areas of Africa have made traditional use of the root and bark of the tree in the treatment of inflammation affecting the prostate gland; these cultures have also treated any kidney disease using the bark and roots of the tree.
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European plant researchers were initially attracted to the tree due to the intense utilization of the tree in many folk medicine systems in Africa. As investigations on the property of the tree progressed, the pygeum bark extract came into its own when it was patented in 1966 for use in the treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia - BPH, which was the first time the scientific community recognized the power of the bark. Chemical analysis of the tree bark reveals that the tree contains a lot of pentacyclic terpenes, including such compounds as ursolic, oleanolic, and crataegolic acids, it also contains the compounds called n-docosanol and n-teracosanol - these compounds are the main active constituents of the pygeum plant. Biologically significant extracts from the chemical analysis include the phytosterols, such as the compound beta-sitosterol, the compound called beta-sitosterone, and the compound campesterol. The majority of pygeum products which are available as remedies in the market are all standardized to possess fourteen percent of the triterpenes and about 0.5 percent of n-docosanol for optimal activity in the body.
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European phytotherapy values the pygeum bark as it has very similar properties to the saw palmetto berry and the stinging nettle root; it is used in the treatment of benign prostatic hypertrophy like the other herbal remedies. Pygeum bark extracts are used extensively in France and Italy, and most of the research and utilization experience of the pygeum in a clinical setting are from these two countries, clinics in other European countries like Germany prefer using the palmetto extracts for BPH phytotherapy and such herbal extracts dominate the market in Germany. An anti-inflammatory activity has also been detected in the extract of the pygeum bark as seen in the results from pharmacological studies, the bark extract possesses this beneficial action by inhibiting the production and action of the enzymes which work in the depolymerization of proteoglycans present in the connective tissues of the prostate gland, the pygeum bark also aids in brining about a reduction in the levels of cholesterol found in the prostate gland - it achieves this by limiting the synthesis of androgens. The pygeum bark is also useful in inhibiting the synthesis of prostaglandins in the human body. Under testing conditions, in both rats as well as humans, the pygeum bark has also been shown to be capable of increasing the prostatic secretions; it also fine tunes the chemical composition of seminal fluid by affecting the prostate gland.
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Pygeum extracts have been subjected to careful analysis in at least twenty six well documented clinical trials during the past two decades; at least half of these trials were double blind studies with a dose of 100 to 200 mg given to test subjects every day, while the rest were administered placebos. The symptoms associated with BPH were positively affected by the administration of the extracts during the tests, and results show that symptoms such as difficulty in passing urine, the frequent urge to urinate in the night, and the reduction of residual urine volume were all affected positively. Some of the test patients were affected by temporary side effects from taking the extracts, one such effect was gastrointestinal irritation -typically manifesting as nausea and pain in the abdominal region. These were the only slight side effects reported from the use of pygeum extracts in the clinical trials and they can be considered to be very minor side effects.
It is highly advisable to use pygeum only under medical supervision, because of the nature of BPH, which is not a self-limiting or self-diagnosable disorder in any event. Consumers are also advised to be environmentally minded when choosing to use pygeum based products due to the huge environmental impact the bark harvest generates in Africa.
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The treatment of an enlarged prostate gland even in the conventional medicine of France, is carried out mostly using the fat soluble extract of the pygeum bark - this herbal remedy is usually the initial treatment offered to all patients affected by an enlarged prostate gland in this country. Prostate gland inflammation of the severe and chronic type can be reduced in intensity using an herbal pygeum bark decoction; this bark decoction may also be useful in reversing male sterility if the condition arises due to inadequate secretions from the prostate gland. Even prostatic cancer may possibly be treatable using the pygeum combined with other beneficial herbs.
The pygeum plant is an indigenous plant species from Africa, and it was originally found only in that continent. Though harvesting of the pygeum from the wild stock does occur, the populations of the plant in the wild has dropped steadily and this has resulted in the commercial plantations growing pygeum specifically aimed at the herbal market.
The beneficial effects of the extract of pygeum on the prostate gland were initially established during the course of a series of French clinical trials carried out in the 1960s. The prostate gland is positively benefited in some specific ways, glandular secretions are increased by the pygeum extract, at the same time, and the cholesterol levels in the organ are also reduced at the same time. The enlargement of the prostate gland in men, leads to a need for surgery in the majority of Western countries, while pygeum is prescribed in 81% of such cases in France, instead of resorting to surgery, this initial treatment is usually the first things French doctors suggest to their patients.
A lipophilic standardized extract at 13% of total sterols - usually calculated as beta sitosterol - is the accepted form of pygeum utilized throughout much of Europe for treating BPH. Dosages of this form of pygeum given to patients are usually about 50 to 100 mg dose given twice daily. To determine the efficiency of the pygeum remedy in the body of the patient, the patient must be monitored over a minimum six to nine month period of the regular dosage regimen. The importance of close and personal medical supervision cannot be overemphasized similar to all other types of BPH treatments.
The incidences of side effects arising as a result of using the lipophilic extract of pygeum are very rare and the majority of people are not affected in any way. Some patients reportedly had gastrointestinal irritation from the extract according to the results from some clinical studies, these cases are very rare and are caused more by individual intolerances rather than anything induced as a side effect.