Saw palmetto, also known the cabbage palm or the American dwarf palm tree, is a type of palm plant native to the southeastern United States and northern Mexico. The Latin names for this plant include Serona repens and Sabal serrulata.
Under the plant’s broad leaves grows the saw palmetto fruit, which are small clusters of oval-shaped berries. These berries start out green and turn black when ripened, resembling plump raisins. Black bears love to dine on these berries which they later excrete, transporting the undigested saw palmetto seed to another area resulting in new plant growth [http://bioweb.uwlax.edu/bio203/2011/stanghel_benj/interactions.htm].
Saw palmetto extract is made from the ripened fruit of the saw palmetto plant. Historians believe that this fruit has been used for both food and medicinal purposes for centuries despite the bitter flavor and challenges of harvesting the fruit.
There are many modern pharmaceutical and therapeutic uses of saw palmetto extract (usually referred to as simply “saw palmetto”) including the treatment of pelvic pain, urinary disorders, hormonal imbalance and hair loss. One of the most common medical uses of this extract is for the treatment of enlarged prostate symptoms such as urinary incontinence among older men, particularly in Europe. In Germany, over 90 percent of the drugs used to treat prostate enlargement (known as benign prostatic hyperplasia or BLH) include saw palmetto extract [University of Chicago]. More than half of the patients currently undergoing treatment for BPH in Italy are taking products such as a multivitamin for men that include saw palmetto extract.
Saw palmetto is available in tablets, liquid extracts (tinctures) and tea infusions. The dried berries of this plant can also be purchased in both the whole dried form and as a ground powder [National Institute of Health]. Saw palmetto extract is often included in vitamins for men and sports nutrition products like protein shakes and natural supplements.
According to the Tang Center for Herbal Medicine at the University of Chicago, saw palmetto extract has been linked to a reduction in uncomfortable symptoms related to an enlarged prostate glad such as poor urinary flow and painful voiding [http://tangcenter.uchicago.edu/herbal_resources/sawpalmetto.shtml]. Saw palmetto has also been linked to a reduction in hormonal-related hair loss among men.
Saw palmetto is made up of various elements including fatty acids, carbohydrates, steroids and flavonoids. Although the specific ways in which these compounds work together is currently unknown, it is believed that saw palmetto extract works by affecting hormones such as estrogen that can cause an inflammatory response in the body, particularly among men aged 50 and older.
Saw palmetto is widely used in Europe and among natural health practitioners worldwide for the treatment of male-specific conditions such as prostate enlargement.
Because of the distinctly male-specific benefits of saw palmetto, vitamins for men can often include this extract. Many men choose to take a high-quality multivitamin for men each day which includes a preventative dose of saw palmetto as a way to stave off prostate problems that can lead to urinary and sexual disfuction. Other men opt to include a daily dose of saw palmetto as part of their overall health and wellness regime.
Saw palmetto is common to a wide variety of habitats throughout the American Gulf Coast including Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and South Carolina. Saw palmetto thrives in areas such as sand dunes, wetlands, pine groves and coastal forests [http://www.sfrc.ufl.edu/4h/saw_palmetto/sawpalme.htm].
The saw palmetto plant grows to a height of between two and nine feet with large, fan-shaped leaves that have razor-sharp edges. Florida panthers, rattlesnakes, white-tailed deer and rodents all frequently take shelter beneath the protective cover of this plant. This plant often posed a problem for farmers, homesteaders and developers, who tried unsuccessfully to burn wide tracks of saw palmetto to clear the land of the fire-resistant fern. This hearty palm can only be destroyed with a combination of plowing and chopping of the roots combined with incineration of the remaining foliage to eliminate any remaining seeds [http://wfrec.ufl.edu/Subsites/RangeScience/sawpalm/s_mang.html].
There have been numerous studies on the effects of saw palmetto, including human trials of this herbal extract related to the treatment of prostate disorders, male pattern balding and erectile disfunction or ED. The results of these studies have been mixed, with some evidence suggesting that saw palmetto may have a beneficial affect on symptoms such as frequent urination and nocturnal (nighttime) trips to the bathroom [University of Maryland].
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, some human studies have shown saw palmetto to be just as effective in the treatment of BPH as prescription pharmaceuticals are, while being free of some of the known side effects of prescription-grade BPH medications such as reduced libido [http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/saw-palmetto-000272.htm]. Other studies with saw palmetto on animals has indicated this extract may help to inhibit the growth of malignant cells that can lead to the development of prostate cancer.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a number of studies indicate that a dose of between 160 to 320 milligrams of saw palmetto daily can be effective in the treatment of benign prostatic hypertrophy (enlarged prostate) in male adults over the age of 18.
The Tang Center for Herbal Medicine Research at the University of Chicago reports that the usual recommended daily dosage for saw palmetto berry is 1-2 grams, while the daily dose of lipid (fat soluble) saw palmetto extract is 320 milligrams.
It is recommended that all forms of saw palmetto extract be taken with food to reduce the chances of gastrointestinal upset [http://www.camline.ca/professionalreview/pr_dose.php?NHPID=48].
Consuming any type of medicine, herb or natural supplement in quantities which exceed the recommended daily dosage can be harmful, leading to adverse side effects or even death.
Commonly reported side effects of saw palmetto include stomach discomfort, diarrhea, vomiting and bad breath [http://www.camline.ca/professionalreview/pr_adverse_effects.php?NHPID=48&Section=2]. These symptoms are usually mild, affecting less than ten percent of people who consume products like vitamins for athletes that may contain saw palmetto extract.
As a plant-based product, saw palmetto may cause an allergic reaction among some people who are predisposed to experiencing allergies to plant products [Mayo Clinic]. These rare allergic reactions may include the development of a skin rash, respiratory distress and severe stomach discomfort.
Because saw palmetto may affect hormone levels, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding as well as both male and females under the age of 18 should refrain from consumption of supplements, sports nutrition products and vitamins for athletes that contain saw palmetto extract.
Although there are no known adverse side effects of taking too little saw palmetto, people who may otherwise benefit from this extract could be missing out of the benefits by failing to take the amount which is suited to their condition.
Men who are experiencing the uncomfortable symptoms of BPH may not realize the potential benefits of saw palmetto if they are not receiving the recommended daily dose. This can lead to a perpetuation of the BPH symptoms such as loss of bladder control, frequent urination and ED.
Saw palmetto is a herbal extract which has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for medicinal use. The FDA is currently pursuing legal action against some producers of saw palmetto extract who are promoting use of this herb in a manner which violates the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act [FDA].
As with all types of natural supplements, consumers should consult with their primary medical caregiver before taking any products that include saw palmetto.
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: http://nccam.nih.gov/health/palmetto
American Academy of Family Physicians: http://www.aafp.org/afp/2003/0315/p1281.html
University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter: http://www.wellnessletter.com/html/ds/dsSawPalmetto.php
Florida Forest Plants: http://www.sfrc.ufl.edu/4h/saw_palmetto/sawpalme.htm
Saw Palmetto/Serenoa repens: http://bioweb.uwlax.edu/bio203/2011/stanghel_benj/index.htm
University of Florida-West Florida Research and Education Center: http://wfrec.ufl.edu/Subsites/RangeScience/sawpalm/s_mang.html
The University of Chicago-Tang Center for Herbal Medicine Research: http://tangcenter.uchicago.edu/herbal_resources/sawpalmetto.shtml
University of Maryland Medical Center: http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/saw-palmetto-000272.htm