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University of Iowa News Release

April 10, 2003

Photo: Karl Kreder, M.D., UI professor of urology

UI Gets NIH Grant For Prostate Study

University of Iowa Health Care researchers have received a seven-year, $2.5 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to study whether phytotherapy -- use of plant extracts -- is effective in treating the enlarged prostate. The UI is one of 10 institutions nationwide participating in the Complimentary and Alternative Medicines for Urology Symptoms study, which was funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the NIH.

More than half of all men age 60 and older have an enlarged prostate, formally known as benign prostate hypertrophy, and experience symptoms such as decreased urine stream, need to urinate during the night, and urgency, frequency or hesitancy when urinating.

The study will compare the use of saw palmetto and Pygeum africanum individually to the use of alpha-blockers, which are a proven medical treatment, and placebo (inactive substance). Saw palmetto and Pygeum africanum currently are used by millions of men worldwide for benign prostate problems.

"These plant extracts never have been studied in a rigorous scientific fashion, although billions of dollars each year are spent on them to treat the symptoms of enlarged prostate," said Karl Kreder, M.D., UI professor of urology and lead investigator of the UI portion of the study. "The botanicals seem to help symptoms, but we don't know if we are seeing a placebo effect or if they have an effect over and above placebo. This study will help determine any benefits."

Approximately 300 individuals will be recruited in late summer to participate in the study at the UI. A total of 3,000 male participants will be involved in the trial nationwide.

Kreder said that saw palmetto and Pygeum africanum have not been adequately studied because they are sold as food supplements. As a result, they have not had to pass the same rigorous drug applications that medications must pass to ensure effectiveness and safety.

"The government wants to study these botanicals because so many consumers are purchasing them. It may be that these dollars are better spent in other ways or it may be that they actually work and have a low incidence of side effects, and more people should be on them," Kreder said. "Those are the two sides of the coin at issue here."

Saw palmetto is derived from the berry of the American dwarf palm tree. Pygeum africanum treatment involves extract from the bark of the African plum tree. Information on enlarged prostate can be found at the NIDDK Web site:

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide. Visit UI Health Care online at

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5137 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 5224-1178

CONTACTS: (media) Becky Soglin, 319 335-6660

PHOTO: A photo of Karl Kreder is available for downloading at