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Saw Palmetto

[Saw Palmetto for BPH | Other claims for saw palmetto]
[Saw palmetto safety | References]

Saw Palmetto for BPH
Men have historically taken saw palmetto as a natural treatment for urinary symptoms associated with prostate enlargement. A common condition, prostate enlargement affects roughly 50% to 60% of men between the ages of 40 and 60 and almost 90% of men by age 85. Symptoms such as difficult urination or more frequent urge to urinate are called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH).

Recent studies show that saw palmetto is a safe, effective alternative to drug therapy and surgery in treating the uncomfortable symptoms of BPH. Saw palmetto may either be used by itself or in combination with nettle root, pumpkinseed, or pygeum. Saw palmetto has been found effective in roughly 90% of men, usually within 4 to 6 weeks. In contrast, fewer than 50% of men have success with the common drug finasteride (Proscar) even after a year of treatment.1 Side effects of finasteride drug therapy or surgery can include incontinence, impotence, and decreased sexual desire and performance, as well as a reduction in the size of your bank account.

Saw palmetto has been studied in nearly 3,000 men with BPH in more than 18 clinical trials. Sixteen were double blind.2 These studies show that saw palmetto is at least as effective as the drug finasteride (Proscar) in relieving symptoms of BPH. Since treatment of an enlarged prostate is usually an ongoing process, the lack of significant saw palmetto side effects in many of the longer-term studies are important. These longer-term studies cover periods of up to 2.5 years.3

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Other Claims for Saw Palmetto

Other claims for saw palmetto include the claim that saw palmetto aids the thyroid in regulating sexual development and normalizing the activity of those glands and organs. Saw palmetto tonic is good for strengthening and bodybuilding.

For women, saw palmetto increases breast size and secreting ability; saw palmetto relieves ovarian and uterine irritability; saw palmetto also treats frigidity. Saw palmetto stimulates appetite; saw palmetto also improves digestion and increases assimilation of nutrients. Saw palmetto as an expectorant is used for colds, head and nose congestion, asthma, and bronchitis. Saw palmetto promotes urine flow, urinary antiseptic; saw palmetto is good for infections of the gastro-urinary tract. Saw palmetto is also used in diabetes.

Saw palmetto increases the tone of the bladder, allowing a better contraction and more complete expulsion of the contents, relieving any straining pain. Saw palmetto nourishes the nervous system and saw palmetto aids assimilation of nutrients. Saw palmetto has been nicknamed the "plant catheter" because it has the ability to strengthen the neck of the bladder.

Because saw palmetto blocks the formation of DHT which kills off hair follicles it's possible this can be used to prevent hair loss.

Medicinal Uses: A hexane extract of saw palmetto berries has been shown to have antiandrogenic properties through a direct action on the estrogen receptors and by inhibiting the enzyme testosterone-5-alph-reductase. Subcutaneously administered saw palmetto extracts were strongly estrogenic in mice. Furthermore, saw palmetto extract has been shown to prevent the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT) as well as to inhibit DHT binding to cellular and nuclear receptor sites, thereby increasing the metabolism and excretion of DHT. A double-blind placebo-controlled study evaluated the hormonal effects of saw palmetto extract given to men with benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH) for 3 months prior to operation. The study found that saw palmetto displayed an estrogenic and antiprogesterone effect as determined by estrogen and progesterone receptor activity. ENERGETICS: pungent, sweet, warm MERIDIANS/ORGANS AFFECTED: kidney, spleen, liver.

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Saw Palmetto Safety

In most controlled trials, the incidence of side effect from saw palmetto use was low. These consisted mainly of headache or upset stomach. Taking saw palmetto with meals reduces the incidence of upset stomach. No changes in blood chemistry parameters have been noted during saw palmetto therapy, meaning saw palmetto does not affect standard blood tests or concentrations of prostate-specific antigen (PSA), so it will not interfere with blood tests for cancer.4,5 Because many of the symptoms of BPH and prostate cancer are similar, men should consult a physician to get a definitive diagnosis before using saw palmetto. Large amounts of saw palmetto berry are reported to cause diarrhea. Because of saw palmetto's potential hormonal effects, saw palmetto should not be used by pregnant women. Little experience exists with saw palmetto extract when given to children or patients suffering from hormonal-dependent illnesses other than benign prostatic hypertrophy.

Culinary Uses: The terminal bud is edible raw. Its flavor is delicate. The saw palmetto fruits, juicy, bluish-black drupes up to 2 cm long, can be eaten, but they have a strong taste. Juice extracted from the pulp of the fruits has been mixed with carbonated water and commercialized in Florida. The saw palmetto seeds have reportedly been used as food as well.

Description: Seronoa repens, Palmae Family. Common Names: sabal, American dwarf palm tree, cabbage palm, fan palm. Saw palmetto is a member of the fan palms. Saw palmetto is a small, stout evergreen shrub supported by a large underground trunk. The edge of the leaves has the appearance of a saw. Saw palmetto can grow to approximately 10 feet with leaf clusters that can each attain a length of 2 feet or more. The plant grows from the Carolinas to Texas. Saw palmetto produces a brownish black berry resembling a black olive in size and shape that is harvested commercially. Saw palmetto ripens from October to December.

Part Used: Berries. Constituents: Volatile oil, fatty oil, with capric, caprylic and lauric acids, fatty acids, carotene, tannin, sitosterol invert sugar, estrogenic substance, steroids, dextrose, resins. Actions: diuretic, urinary antiseptic, endocrine agent, nutritive. Cultivation: Saw palmetto is propagated from seed in spring and needs well-drained soil and plenty of sun. Saw palmetto berries are gathered from early Fall through mid-winter, then dried, often with the seeds removed.

Combinations: For debility associated with the reproductive system saw palmetto will combine well with Damiana and Kola. For the treatment of enlarged prostate glands saw palmetto may be used with Horsetail and Hydrangea. Saw palmetto also combines well with echinacea, Oregon grape and buchu for treating prostate infection and catarrh of the genito-urinary tract.

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  1. Murray MT. Male Sexual Vitality. Rocklin, CA Prima Publishinig, 1994
  2. Wilt TJ, Ishani A, Stark G, et al. Saw Palmetto extracts for treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia: a systemic review. JAMA 1998; 280(18); 1604-1609.
  3. Champault G, Bonnard AM, Cauquil J. et al. A double-blind trial of an extract of the plant Serenoa repens in benign prostatic hyperplasia. Actualite Therapeutique 1984; 6: 407-410.
  4. Braeckman J. The extract of saw palmetto in the treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia: a multicenter open study. Current Therapeutic Research 1994; 55 (7); 776-785.
  5. Braeckman J, Bruhwyler J, Vanderkerckhove K, et al. Efficacy and safety of the extract of saw palmetto in the treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia: therapeutic equivalence between twice and once daily dosage forms. Phytotherapy Research 1997; 11: 558-563.

The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal, David Hoffmann, Element Books, 1996
The Encyclopedia of Edible Plants of North America, Francois Couplan, 1998, Keats; ISBN: 0-087983-821-3
Herbs for Health and Healing, Kathi Keville, Rodale, 1997; ISBN: 0-87596-293-9
Lawrence Review of Natural Products, March 1994
Thorne's Guide to Herbal Extracts, Terry Thorne, Wisteria Press, 1994
The Male Herbal, James Green, Crossing Press, 1991

Reprinted with exclusive permission from The Herb Growing & Marketing Network (THGMN), excerpted from HERBALPEDIA™, brought to you by THGMN, PO Box 245, Silver Spring, PA 17575-0245; 717-393-3295; FAX: 717-393-9261; email: URL: and Editor: Maureen Rogers. Copyright 2000. All rights reserved. Material herein is derived from journals, textbooks, etc. THGMN cannot be held responsible for the validity of the information contained in any reference noted herein, for the misuse of information or any adverse effects by use of any stated material presented.

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