Saw palmetto berry, or Serenoa repens, is a small palm tree that grows in the southeastern states of Georgia, South Carolina and Florida. It has thick trunks, large fan-shaped leaves and dark red, olive-sized, berries. The berries of the saw palmetto tree contain beneficial nutrients and essential fatty acids. They have long been used as an herbal remedy, aphrodisiac and sexual rejuvenator. Herbalists use saw palmetto for erectile dysfunction, and studies have shown that saw palmetto can be used to treat male incontinence and prostate problems.
General Medical Applications
Saw palmetto berry is commonly used to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), or prostate enlargement, a condition that affects millions of men in their 50s and older. Enlarged prostates can cause urinary problems and swelling in the pelvic region. Research shows that saw palmetto helps reduce the frequent urination and urinary incontinence associated with BPH.
Saw palmetto berry acts on dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a type of testosterone that is essential for growth in boys through the teenage years, but that later contributes to male baldness and prostate disorders. Saw palmetto prevents testosterone from converting to DHT, which prevents the hormone from stimulating cell reproduction in the prostate. This is what keeps enlargement at bay. Many physicians have stated that saw palmetto is a reliable treatment for prostate health.
Saw palmetto is a commonly prescribed supplement in Europe for men undergoing treatment for enlarged prostate. In the United States, doctors are just beginning to understand the potential health benefits of regular saw palmetto supplements. It is commonly found as an ingredient in men’s multivitamins. It has other possible benefits as well, including treating urinary tract problems, sexual dysfunction and more.
Urinary Tract Problems
While saw palmetto berry is used primarily to treat male hormonal related disorders, it can be useful for anyone suffering from urinary tract problems. It helps with the weakened urinary tract and incontinence in post-menopausal women and the elderly. It is also indicated for kidney stones.
Male Sexual Health
For hundreds of years, people have used saw palmetto as a sexual health booster for men. The first documented uses go back to the Mayan and Seminole Indian tribes, who used the berries in a tonic that increased sex drive, enhanced fertility and cured impotence. The first settlers found saw palmetto useful to treat urinary and prostate problems. It was used as a medical tonic for men through the 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, men who use saw palmetto supplements to treat their prostate enlargement benefit in other ways. They claim to experience increased libido and improved potency.
Saw palmetto berry may reduce the risk of prostate cancer. Animal studies have shown that the berries inhibit the growth of tumor cells. Studies in human subjects have not yet shown conclusive results. In addition, for men having prostate surgery, saw palmetto can help by reducing bleeding risk and speeding up recovery time.
Because the herb affects testosterone, one potential use for it is as a substitute for anabolic steroids. Athletes trying to gain increased muscle mass commonly use saw palmetto supplements as part of muscle building regimens. Studies have been inconclusive as to whether it is an effective muscle builder, though it appears to improve workout endurance. However, herbal medicine practitioners do use saw palmetto for wasting diseases, as it seems to help with weight loss, weakness and emaciation.
Other Health Benefits
Saw palmetto may contain some anti-inflammatory properties. It may also reduce male pattern baldness and improve respiratory conditions such as colds, coughs and bronchitis.
How to Take Saw Palmetto
The supplements come in several forms: dried berry, capsules, tablets and liquids. Look for supplements containing at least 85 percent fatty acids and sterols. Some common side effects are nausea, dizziness, headache, and diarrhea or constipation. Saw palmetto reacts with blood thinners, so you should discuss with your doctor any potential risks before using the supplement. In addition, women should use caution when taking saw palmetto, because a hormonal imbalance could result from taking too much.