“How could you not be hopeful if you’ve got a tree around?”
― Ross Spears (1)
Saw Palmetto is a palm tree with berries that are rich in medicinal properties. It’s native to the southeastern United States, where in the past it was used as both nourishment and medicine by Native Americans (2).
The berries are considered to be an effective treatment for the symptoms of specific health conditions. In this article, we’ll discuss whether the evidence backs up this premise.
What is Saw Palmetto?
This palm tree is also called Serenoa Repens. It can climb to about 10 feet tall and tends to grow in scorching climates, such as in Florida (2).
For decades the berries have been used as a medicine, mostly related to male health and reproductive issues. At the beginning of the 20th century, physicians began to use Saw Palmetto to treat urinary tract conditions in men, as well as to increase sperm count and sexual libido (2).
Today, it’s mostly considered an effective treatment for the symptoms which accompany benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), which is an enlargement of the prostate. However, there’s evidence that it has other medical uses as well (3).
For example, it may prevent cancer cells from growing, which could be especially helpful in the treatment of prostate cancer. Due to its potent anti-inflammatory properties, it may also have other health-related strengths.
We’ll explore the evidence for all of these possible benefits in this article.
What Does Saw Palmetto Do?
Researchers aren’t entirely sure of the mechanism by which this supplement treats BHP or other conditions. If we look at what it’s made up of, this gives some indication of what it does in the body.
Saw Palmetto contains fatty acids and plant sterols. It’s also rich in flavonoids, which are antioxidants that strongly support the immune system (2).
Antioxidants can help repair damage to the body. They kill damaging free radicals that enter your system and reduce oxidative stress (4).
Also, Saw Palmetto is high in anti-inflammatory properties. These could lessen the swelling of the prostate, reducing the accompanying symptoms (3).
There’s also some evidence that this supplement has anti-androgen properties, meaning it blocks the effects of an enzyme, which converts testosterone to the hormone DHT.
This could preserve or raise levels of testosterone in the body. It may also assist in treating male pattern baldness (5).
Is It Safe?
For the most part, Saw Palmetto is considered safe and mostly only leads to mild potential side effects, including headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation.
There have been a few cases of liver issues after taking this substance, but this is by no means a common occurrence (6).
It’s important to note that Saw Palmetto may slow blood clotting. This can be problematic if you’re having surgery, so you should stop taking this substance two weeks before the operation (6).
Saw Palmetto is not safe for women to take while they’re pregnant. There’s evidence that its anti-androgen effects can lead to congenital disabilities in male fetuses (7).
Saw Palmetto Health Benefits
Saw Palmetto has several purported health benefits. Let’s examine the evidence linked to each of these factors to see how helpful Saw Palmetto is as a medicinal agent.
1. Treats Symptoms Associated with Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH)
When the prostate is enlarged, it can press against the urethra, leading to several different issues such as frequent urination, inability to urinate, nighttime urination, or the failure to begin urinating.
Saw Palmetto is useful for treating this condition because it contains potent anti-inflammatory properties.
This reduces swelling, and there is some evidence that Saw Palmetto can shrink the size of the prostate gland (2). This could prevent it from blocking the urethra, effectively treating some of these symptoms.
Another mechanism is that Saw Palmetto reduces the levels of hormones like DHT in the prostate. It may also prevent testosterone from turning into DHT (3).
What the Science Says
The research supporting Saw Palmetto as a treatment for the urinary tract symptoms that accompany BPH is somewhat mixed, but on the whole, it’s quite encouraging. Some studies found that the supplement did not affect these symptoms (8).
However, other research discovered a solid link. A study in Urology led to a statistically significant improvement in lower urinary tract symptoms in men with these issues, and a later research project in the Journal of Urology got the same result.
According to a study on mice published in Prostate, it’s the anti-inflammatory properties of Saw Palmetto that make it an effective treatment for BPH (9).
2. Treats Prostate Cancer
There’s some evidence that Saw Palmetto may help treat prostate cancer, although the results of studies are somewhat mixed. Taking this supplement regularly, for example, does not seem to reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer (10).
However, there is evidence to indicate that Saw Palmetto could shrink the size of prostate cancer cells (11). This is because the majority of prostate cancers rely on androgens to grow in the beginning, and Saw Palmetto reduces levels (12).
What the Science Says
Certain studies support the link between Saw Palmetto and prostate cancer treatment. For example, a study in Cell Biology International found that this supplement diminishes the growth of prostate cancer cells.
There’s some evidence that Saw Palmetto can shut off specific receptors, which are vital in the development of cancer. A study in the International Journal of Oncology using test tubes indicated that this supplement prevented the growth of cancer cells using this mechanism.
3. Prevents Men from Losing Hair
Androgenetic Alopecia is the term that refers to hair loss and male pattern baldness. Saw Palmetto is considered to be an excellent remedy for this condition.
It can block an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase (5α-R), which leads to the development of a hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Saw Palmetto inhibits DHT from forming and also prevents it from binding to androgen receptors (13).
DHT is the hormone that leads to hair loss, so the ingestion of Saw Palmetto is thought to prevent this from happening and to cause the hair to grow (13).
What the Science Says
There aren’t a lot of studies supporting this result, but some research has found a connection. A 2002 study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine gave ten men with male pattern baldness Saw Palmetto, and there was hair growth in 60% of the subjects.
A study of men and women with hair loss issues published in the 13th Annual Meeting of the European Hair Research Society gave subjects Saw Palmetto in shampoo and had them use it for three months. The results showed a 35% increase in hair density (13).
4. Moderates Testosterone Levels
Saw Palmetto can increase levels of testosterone in the body, and many deficient men take it for this reason. An increase in testosterone can increase sexual libido, enhance muscle mass and strength, and improve mood (14).
Because Saw Palmetto inhibits the action of the enzyme 5-alpha reductase (5α-R), it prevents testosterone from converting into DHT. This process keeps the levels of testosterone in the body high (15).
What the Science Says
The clinical research showing an increase in testosterone levels after taking Saw Palmetto is limited, but some research indicates this conclusion. For example, a 6-month study of 40 men published in Urology showed that levels of DHT decreased by 32%.
This indicates that there was a corresponding increase in testosterone levels. A study in Research and Reports in Urology discovered that Saw Palmetto was just as effective as another hair loss substance, Finasteride, at keeping testosterone levels high.
5. Treats Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
In this condition, women have elevated levels of male hormones like DHT as well as prolactin. This can cause symptoms like an absence of menstrual periods, excess facial hair, male pattern baldness, and acne (16).
As Saw Palmetto may lower levels of the androgen DHT, this could have a positive treatment impact on polycystic ovary syndrome (17).
What the Science Says
There aren’t a lot of studies that have explored the connection between Saw Palmetto and the treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome.
There’s some evidence that Saw Palmetto can lessen the levels of prolactin and androgens like dihydrotestosterone by about 40% (17).
Saw Palmetto Side Effects
Some potential side effects could occur as a consequence of taking Saw Palmetto. These include: (6)
Usage and Dosing Considerations
When it comes to dosage, the recommendation for BPH is either 160mg twice a day, or 320mg one time per day.
When treating men for hair loss, the suggested dosage is 200mg per day in combination with beta-sitosterol 50mg twice per day (6).
Risks and Precautions
There have been some case reports of risks that may go along with using Saw Palmetto. There’s been some evidence of possible liver damage and inflammation of the pancreas (3).
Avoid using this supplement within two weeks of any surgical procedure. Also, you should avoid this product if you’re pregnant (6).
Because it influences hormones like testosterone, Saw Palmetto can cause congenital disabilities in male fetuses (7). Finally, there have been cases of erectile dysfunction from using this substance (6).
Is Saw Palmetto Worth Taking?
As long as you heed the health warnings for people who should avoid this substance and follow the correct dosage, yes, Saw Palmetto is worth taking. It has some very positive health benefits, most notably for men with prostate issues.
Saw Palmetto is not a substitute for going to a medical practitioner for treatment for a health condition. Also, before you begin taking this substance, you should get medical approval from your physician.
Does Saw Palmetto Interfere With Any Medications?
Saw Palmetto can lessen the impact of estrogen on the body, and as such, it can lower the effect of the birth control pill. If you’re going to consume this substance, make sure to use a secondary birth control method (6).
Also, you should not use Saw Palmetto if you’re taking estrogen pills, as it will undoubtedly lower their impact on the body (6).
Can I Take Saw Palmetto at Night?
You can undoubtedly take Saw Palmetto at night or any other time that you choose. It does not contain any stimulants, so it will not lead to difficulty sleeping.
What’s the Best Way to Take Saw Palmetto?
The best way to take this substance is either in the form of a supplement capsule or tablet. It’s also available as a liquid preparation, which you can take as long as it has a fat-soluble extract of the substance.
Consuming saw palmetto as a tea or water extract is not a good idea since it dissolves very poorly in water. Thus it’s much less likely to have a medicinal effect this way (18).
Should I Take Saw Palmetto with Food or on an Empty Stomach?
You don’t have to take Saw Palmetto on a full stomach, but it’s a good idea. This substance can sometimes lead to stomach upset, and having a meal with it can lessen the chances that this will happen (19).
Saw Palmetto is an extract from the berries of a palm tree called Serenoa Repens, and it’s known to be steeped in medicinal properties.
This substance may effectively treat the symptoms associated with an enlarged prostate, cancer of the prostate, hair loss, low testosterone, and polycystic ovary syndrome.
Although there’s still a lot of research to be done in the area, results so far indicate that the health benefits of Saw Palmetto are legitimate. There are some health risks, but they mostly pertain to doses far beyond what you would be taking if you follow the proper guidelines.
If you’re interested in trying a natural supplement as a treatment, Saw Palmetto may suit your needs. Make an appointment with your doctor and discuss whether it fits into your overall treatment plan.
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