Saw palmetto is a type of palm
tree that grows in the southeastern United States.
The berry of
the saw palmetto plant contains a compound that may reduce the symptoms of
benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), which is a
noncancerous enlargement of the prostate gland. Symptoms of an enlarged
prostate include dribbling after urination and getting up many times during the
night to urinate.
From the 1870s until 1950, saw palmetto was a
common treatment for prostate and other urinary problems. After 1950, saw
palmetto was no longer recognized as a drug in the United States. It is still
used in Europe as a treatment for BPH and is approved by the German Commission
E. The Commission E evaluates herbal treatments for their safety and efficacy
(how well they work).
In the United States, saw palmetto is
available as a dietary supplement.
Experts disagree on whether
saw palmetto improves men's symptoms of BPH. Experts also don't clearly
understand how saw palmetto may improve symptoms of BPH. It might stop the
growth of the prostate or even make it smaller. This is how finasteride, a
medicine commonly prescribed to treat BPH symptoms, works.
People use saw
palmetto to treat the symptoms of an enlarged prostate (BPH).
Most studies show that taking saw palmetto doesn't help symptoms of BPH any more than taking a placebo.1
A review of studies done on saw palmetto showed that men who took saw palmetto had some improvement in nighttime urination. But when only the best studies were included in the review, men who took saw palmetto had no difference in symptoms, urine flow, or nighttime urination compared with men who took a placebo.2
In another study, men who took even higher doses of saw palmetto had no difference in BPH symptoms, urine flow, or nighttime urination compared with men who took a placebo.3
Few problems have been
reported among men taking saw palmetto. But some men may experience stomach
problems. Saw palmetto is less likely than finasteride to cause difficulty in
getting an erection.
Men who have problems urinating should see a
doctor to rule out prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is treatable, but treatment
is most successful when you find and treat the cancer as early as possible.
If you intend to use saw palmetto to treat symptoms of BPH, look
for a product that has a fat-soluble extract of the saw palmetto berry. The
active compound does not dissolve well in water. So drinking a tea or water
extract made from saw palmetto berries is not likely to have an effect on the
symptoms of BPH.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does
not regulate dietary supplements in the same way it regulates medicines. A
dietary supplement can be sold with limited or no research on how well it
Always tell your doctor if you are using a dietary
supplement or if you are thinking about combining a dietary supplement with
your conventional medical treatment. It may not be safe to forgo your
conventional medical treatment and rely only on a dietary supplement.
When using dietary supplements, keep in mind the following:
Bent S, et al. (2006). Saw palmetto for benign
prostatic hyperplasia. New England Journal of Medicine,
Tacklind J, et al. (2009). Serenoa repens for benign prostatic hyperplasia. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2).
Barry MJ, et al. (2011). Effect of increasing doses of saw palmetto extract on lower urinary tract symptoms. JAMA, 306(12): 1344–1351.
May 9, 2012
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
& Marc S. Micozzi, MD, PhD - Complementary and Alternative Medicine
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