Saw Palmetto for Prostate Health: Benefits and Side Effects
Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) is a shrub native to America that produces large, dark berries about the size of olives. The berries were a food source for Native Americans, who soon learned to use them for medicinal purposes as well.
Saw palmetto berries were traditionally used to treat frequent urination during the night, as well as impotence, decreased libido, and prostate problems. Today, saw palmetto berries are widely used to treat BPH (benign prostatic hyperplasia), a condition in which the prostate gland becomes enlarged, causing symptoms like pain and frequent urination.
The active ingredients in saw palmetto berries are phytosterols from a variety of fatty acids. Phytosterols are thought to prevent conversion of testosterone to DHT, which is thought to be responsible for causing the prostate to become inflamed.
Unfortunately studies on saw palmetto’s effects on BPH have mixed and contradictory. This study concluded that saw palmetto extract provided…
“…mild to moderate improvement in urinary symptoms and flow measures.”
While others (see N Engl J Med. 2006 Feb 9;354(6):557-66, J Urol. 2000 May;163(5):1451-6) came to much less favorable conclusions. A recent study (Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009 Apr 15;(2):CD001423) published in 2009 echoed these conclusions stating…
“Serenoa repens was not more effective than placebo for treatment of urinary symptoms consistent with BPH.”
Despite the less than complimentary study results, treatment of BPH is by far the most common modern use of saw palmetto berries. However, the herb is thought to have other medicinal uses as well. It is used as a general anti-inflammatory agent, and it is sometimes used to fight coughs, bronchitis, menstrual problems and asthma.
Saw palmetto berries are also thought to be useful as a digestive aid, an appetite stimulant, a diuretic, a sedative and a general tonic. In addition, some people consider the herb to be an aphrodisiac.
Saw palmetto berries are dried and ground to prepare herbal supplements, which are available in capsules, tablets, softgels, tinctures and teas. Teas are not thought to be very effective, however, since the oils that contain saw palmetto’s active ingredients do not dissolve in water.
Supplements that are standardized to contain 85-95% fatty acids and sterols should be used for maximum benefit. The recommended dosage for prostate problems is between 160 and 320 mg per day.
Side effects, though rare, may include stomach pain, nausea, dizziness and headache. To reduce or avoid side effects, the herb can be divided into two doses and taken with food. It should be noted that it might take six to eight weeks before symptoms of BPH improve.
While there are no known interactions between saw palmetto berries and prescription or over the counter medications, people who are concerned about possible drug interactions should consult a physician before taking saw palmetto supplements.
Also, it is very important that a professional diagnose BPH. Men with symptoms of the condition should not take saw palmetto without seeing a doctor to confirm the cause of symptoms.
Prescription medications should not be stopped without a physician’s advice, and saw palmetto should not be taken in doses greater than those specified on the product’s label. Since saw palmetto berries my affect hormone levels, people with cancer or any hormone-dependent illness should be sure to discuss the use of this herb with a knowledgeable medical professional.
Saw palmetto products are available online from BodyBuilding.com, one of our recommended online retailers.