Stinging Nettle: An Ancient Remedy for Prostate and Arthritis Pain
It’s known for its painful, spiky leaves. In ancient Ireland, it was referred to as “The Devil’s Apron”. Its very name suggests its needle-like appearance.
Sounds pretty dangerous, right?
So why on earth would you want to add this prickly plant to your supplement regimen?
Well, what if I told you that people have been relying on this herb since ancient times for its healing properties?
It doesn’t sound quite so menacing anymore. In fact, this supplement sounds like it could be downright beneficial.
But what does the science say?
A Spiky Solution…
At first glance, stinging nettle hardly seems like a health-giving herb. The leaves of this perennial flowering plant are covered in hollow hairs that impart a sting to anyone who touches them.
Yet stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) has long been revered for its health benefits. See, the plant – which grows in the countryside throughout Europe, Asia, and parts of the United States – has been a valuable part of herbalists’ repertoire since at least the fourth century BC.
Back then, the physician Hippocrates recorded 61 uses for this humble herb. By Medieval times, it was recommended as a treatment for a variety of ailments, including muscle and joint aches, gout, arthritis, and anemia. Some people even flogged themselves with nettles in an attempt to ease arthritis! In a less dramatic approach, according to Irish tradition, consuming three bowls of nettle soup during the month of May was believed to protect against rheumatism for an entire year.
Perhaps because stinging nettle blooms in early spring, when food was once scarce, it is considered a useful spring tonic and soup. That makes a lot of sense, since the plant is a rich source of many nutrients, including vitamins A, C, and K, magnesium, selenium, zinc, iron, potassium, and calcium.
Stinging nettle tea has also been used traditionally as a tonic to build the strength and milk of lactating women. But its greatest benefit may actually be for men.
A Remedy for Men…
With an herb known for its sting, the last benefit you would expect is for it to ease discomfort and inflammation. But when it comes to stinging nettle, that’s just what some research suggests.
Specifically, there’s good evidence that supplements of the plant may help relieve symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), a painful inflammation of the prostate gland. Scientists believe that stinging nettle may act as an anti-inflammatory.
For example, a randomized, controlled trial of stinging nettle looked at the effects of either stinging nettle or a placebo in 620 men with BPH. After 6 months, researchers found that 81% of men taking stinging nettle reported improved symptoms, compared with just 16% of those taking a placebo pill.1
Another study of 246 patients found that taking a product containing 459 mg of stinging nettle for one year was associated with reduced prostate irritation compared to a placebo.2
Stinging nettle may also be a useful remedy for BPH when combined with other herbs: One study found that taking stinging nettle along with saw palmetto twice a day for up to 48 weeks seemed to significantly improve urinary tract symptoms in men with BPH as well as the prescription drug finasteride.3
And although more studies are needed, preliminary research suggests that stinging nettle may help inhibit the growth of prostate cancer, possibly because of its content of beta-sitosterol, a compound shown to shrink prostate tissue in animals.4
Even More Potential…
Stinging nettle is best studied for its use in BPH, but its anti-inflammatory effects may also help ease arthritis. Preliminary research shows that a topical application of stinging nettle leaf appears to improve pain and disability in patients with osteoarthritis.5 Other evidence suggests that using stinging nettle might help people reduce their dosage of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and other analgesics needed in the treatment of this condition.6
While it may be too soon to recommend stinging nettle for other conditions, studies in the lab have identified anti-inflammatory, anti-analgesic, antiviral, and antibacterial properties, as well as the ability to stabilize mast cells, a potential benefit for allergy sufferers.
Stinging nettle is considered generally safe when used for less than 6 months (few studies have examined its safety in the long term). Side effects typically involve rashes and digestive upset, although the herb can trigger problems breathing, weakness, muscle tremors, diarrhea, and rapid heart rate in rare cases.
Despite its historical use as a “female tonic”, stinging nettle has been found to act as a uterine stimulant and could potentially increase the risk of miscarriage, so pregnant women should avoid this supplement.
You should also pass on stinging nettle if you take lithium, sedative drugs, medications used to treat diabetes or hypertension, or anticoagulants such as warfarin, as stinging nettle may interact with them.
That said, stinging nettle supplements may be worth a try if you have been diagnosed with BPH. Look for capsules made from freeze-dried stinging nettle leaf and take 80 to 160 mg two to three times a day. Give it a shot and see how it works for you.
And remember, keep an open mind to new ideas, but ALWAYS do your own homework…and combine that with common sense to figure out what’s best for YOU.
1Safarinejad MR. Urtica dioica for treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia: a prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study. J Herb Pharmacother. 2005;5(4):1-11.
2Schneider T, Rübben H. Stinging nettle root extract (Bazoton-uno) in long term treatment of benign prostatic syndrome (BPS). Results of a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled multicenter study after 12 months. Urologe A. 2004 Mar;43(3):302-6.
3Lopatkin N, Sivkov A, Schläfke S, et al. Efficacy and safety of a combination of Sabal and Urtica extract in lower urinary tract symptoms–long-term follow-up of a placebo-controlled, double-blind, multicenter trial. Int Urol Nephrol. 2007;39(4):1137-46.
5Randall C, Randall H, Dobbs F, et al. Randomized controlled trial of nettle sting for treatment of base-of-thumb pain. J R Soc Med. 2000 Jun;93(6):305-9.
6Mittman P. Randomized, double-blind study of freeze-dried Urtica dioica in the treatment of allergic rhinitis. Planta Med. 1990 Feb;56(1):44-7.
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