Bark tipped to help prostate problems
The bark of an endangered African tree might prove a salvation for men with enlarged prostates. Bermudian Quincy Burgess has certainly bought into the theory. He started shipping the herbal remedy pygeum to the island from Africa two months ago.
He said there's nothing controversial about the substance, which has been widely used in Europe for years.
“The French have been using pygeum in a number of different ways,” said Mr Burgess, who lives in Kenya. “In countries where alternative medicine is a way forward, there have been a number of studies on it.
“Prostate cancer patients often have difficulty getting a good night's rest because of the need for frequent urination.
“An enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia) puts pressure on the urethra, making it difficult for men to empty their bladders. This remedy reduces the size of the prostate gland, making urination easier.
“Based on research, pygeum is a definite solution for benign prostatic hyperplasia and there are elements in research that have been proven since 2012 to solve prostate cancer.”
Mr Burgess had never heard of the African plum tree before he moved to Nairobi five years ago to teach and work on sustainable farming projects.
“It does not grow in Bermuda and I don't think the remedy is widely available,” he said.
“I'm not a doctor, so I can't say for sure, but doctors should be incorporating it into their prostate cancer treatment regimens. It's natural, so there are no side effects. The hardest thing about this has been raising awareness.”
The 35-year-old said he thought the pygeum capsules might eliminate the need for chemotherapy.
Medications from the African plum tree are so popular in Europe that the species has been over-harvested, and put on the endangered list. In 2000, worldwide exports of the bark were estimated at between 1,350 and 1,525 metric tonnes.
According to Mr Burgess, that does not mean you cannot harvest from the tree.
“You have to harvest responsibly,” he said. “We have to harvest the bark in such a way that it does not kill the tree and we have to monitor the tree to make sure it stays healthy. At one time it was being harvested irresponsibly and if not monitored, it could be eradicated.”
At the moment, Mr Burgess is working with one farmer to harvest about two kilograms each month.
“If this really gets going, we may look at planting trees and expanding to more farmers,” he said. “Selling it in Bermuda helps men with prostate cancer and also helps the farmers here in Kenya.”
Already he has had positive feedback from users here.
“One man with stage four prostate cancer told me he was getting up four times a night to go to the bathroom,” he said. “After just a week of taking the capsules he was getting up only once. His doctor was shocked.”
Mr Burgess's company, Bonsai Global, already sells moringa powder in Bermuda. Ground moringa leaves are thought to be an alternative treatment for high blood pressure and diabetes. Mr Burgess said: “We should look for natural solutions, not just for prostate cancer, but also other things like energy and overall wellness.”
Through Bonsai Global, he is also working on a project to encourage the planting of breadfruit trees, a staple food in many tropical regions. One breadfruit tree can feed a family of four.
“So far, we have planted 300 trees,” he said.
Pygeum is sold at the Farmer's Market in the Botanical Gardens on Saturdays from 7.30am to 12pm. Mr Burgess is also looking at distributing it through local health stores.
• For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or see www.bonsaiglobal.co.ke
Facts about prostate cancer
The prostate is a gland in the male reproductive system that makes the semen that carries sperm.
The walnut-sized gland is located beneath the bladder and surrounds the upper part of the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder.
It is a major health concern for men and is one of the most common male cancers other than skin cancer.
It is rare before the age of 50, but experts believe that most elderly men have traces of it. Black men or men who eat a lot of fatty foods or have a family history are at a greater risk of prostate cancer.
It is usually a very slow-growing cancer, often causing no symptoms until it is in an advanced stage.
Most men with prostate cancer die of other causes and many never know that they have the disease. But once prostate cancer begins to grow quickly or spreads outside the prostate, it is dangerous.
Prostate cancer in its early stages (when it is only found in the prostate gland) can be treated with very good chances for survival, and most men have the condition diagnosed in the early stages.
Cancer that has spread beyond the prostate is not curable but it may be controlled for many years. Because of the many advances in available treatments, most men whose prostate cancer becomes widespread can expect to live five years or more. Some men with advanced prostate cancer live a normal life and die of another cause, such as heart disease.
Urinary symptoms are a common symptom of prostate cancer and can include little or no urine output, difficulty starting (straining) or stopping the urine stream, frequent urination, dribbling, pain or burning during urination.
Other symptoms include erectile dysfunction, painful ejaculation, blood in urine or semen and/or deep back, hip, pelvic or abdominal pain, weight loss, bone pain and lower extremity swelling.
Warning signs can be found through a rectal exam, ultrasound and by monitoring prostate-specific antigen levels, but it is definitively diagnosed through a tissue biopsy.
Treatments for prostate cancer may include surveillance, surgery, radiation therapy, and hormone therapy.
• For more information about prostate cancer, contact Bermuda Cancer and Health at 236-1001 or see www.cancer.bm