Saw palmetto

Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens/Sabal serrulata) is a palm-like plant with berries. The berries were a staple food and medicine for the Native Americans of the southeastern United States. In the early 1900s, men used the berries to treat urinary tract problems, and even to increase sperm production and boost libido. Today, the primary use of saw palmetto is to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), a non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate gland. Researchers aren't sure exactly how saw palmetto works. But it contains plant-based chemicals that may be effective for BPH. Researchers think that saw palmetto may affect the level of testosterone in the body, and perhaps reduce the amount of an enzyme that promotes the growth of prostate cells. Saw palmetto also seems to have an anti-inflammatory effect on the prostate. At least one study has shown even greater anti-inflammatory activity when saw palmetto is combined with lycopene and selenium.

Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH)

Evidence is mixed about whether saw palmetto works to treat BPH. Several studies suggest that the herb is effective for treating symptoms, including too frequent urination, having trouble starting or maintaining urination, and needing to urinate during the night. The urethra, the tube that empties urine from the body, runs through the prostate gland in men. When the prostate gland is enlarged, men may have trouble urinating.

Some studies show that saw palmetto is as effective in treating symptoms as finasteride (Proscar) without side effects, such as loss of libido. Other studies suggest that saw palmetto may actually shrink the size of the prostate gland. Due to the short duration (usually less than 3 months) of these studies, it is not possible to say for sure whether saw palmetto is truly effective for preventing complications of BPH. Two well-conducted studies, for example, found that saw palmetto was no better than placebo in relieving the signs and symptoms of BPH.

It is important to receive a proper diagnosis of BPH from your doctor to rule out prostate cancer.

Other uses

Animal studies show that saw palmetto inhibits the growth of tumor cells, indicating that it may be helpful in the treatment of prostate cancer. Other studies show that saw palmetto improves urinary tract symptoms related to BPH. While these studies are promising, more research is needed to determine whether saw palmetto is effective for these conditions.

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Uses of this Herb

Benign prostatic hyperplasia Bronchitis Hirsutism Laryngitis Prostate cancer Prostatitis Sexual dysfunction Urinary tract infection in women

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Herbal medicine

Review Date: 1/1/2017  

Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by the A.D.A.M Editorial team.

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