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Saw Palmetto

What is saw palmetto?

The saw palmetto is native to the United States, growing naturally in warm climates from South Carolina to Florida. It can reach a height of 10 feet, and has large green leaves that branch out from thorny stems.

Saw palmetto's active ingredients are fatty acids and plant sterols, which are found in the plant's berries, which are yellow and olive-shaped. Saw palmetto berries also contain some polysaccharides, which are usually associated with anti-inflammatory and immune-stimulating properties.

Why do we need saw palmetto? What is it used for?

Traditionally, saw palmetto was used by Native Americans as a sedative and diuretic. Some practitioners claim that saw palmetto berries are an aphrodisiac and can increase a women's breast size, but these claims are unsubstantiated.

To date, more than 40 scientific studies have been published about the benefits of saw palmetto berries. Some studies have shown that the berries reduce levels of substances that the body uses to make hormones such as testosterone and estrogen.

In Europe, saw palmetto is a leading treatment for benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). It relieves the symptoms associated with stage I and stage II BPH, such as frequent urination, delayed urination, and bladder dysfunction.

How much saw palmetto should I take?

The recommended dosages for stage I and stage II BPH are 160 milligrams (twice daily) of a fat-soluble saw palmetto extract which has been standardized. Make sure to consult your health care provider before taking saw palmetto (or any other herbal product or supplement).

What forms of saw palmetto are available?

Saw palmetto is available in a variety of forms, from dried berries and tea to powdered capsules, tablets, liquid tinctures and extracts. Make sure to look for a standardized product that contains 85-95% fatty acids and sterols.

What can happen if I take too much saw palmetto? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

Saw palmetto has been given a class I safety rating by the American Herbal Products Assocition, which means it is safe when used as directed. However, because saw palmetto can affect hormone levels, it may alter the effects of certain contraceptive pills and patches and some types of hormone replacement therapy. Saw palmetto should not be used during pregnancy or nursing.

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• Braeckman J. The extract of serenoa repens in the treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia. A multicenter open study. Curr Therapeut Res 1994;55:776-785.
Di Silverio F, et al. Evidence that serenoa repens extract displays an antiestrogenic activity in prostatic tissue of benign prostatic hypertrophy patients. Eur Uro 1992;21:309-314.
Hutchens AR. Indian Herbology of North America. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1973, pp. 243-244.
Newall CA, et al. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health Care Professionals. London: The Pharmaceutical Press, 1996.
Wilt TJ, Ishani A, Stark G. Saw palmetto extracts for treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia: a systematic review. JAMA 1998;280:1604-1609.


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