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Saw Palmetto and Prostate Health

What Do We Know About Saw Palmetto's Benefits?

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Updated February 28, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Saw Palmetto and Prostate Health

Saw Palmetto

Photo by Nancy R. Cohen

What Is Saw Palmetto?

Saw palmetto extract is one of the most widely used alternative medicines in the world. It is derived from the fruit of the Serenoa repens plant, which grows widely in the southeastern United States and Caribbean.

Saw palmetto extract is laden with phytosterols and fatty acids - from which it is hypothesized that the extract gains its effects on human health.

Does Saw Palmetto Have Any Role in Prostate Health?

Saw palmetto has been studied extensively to determine its benefit to men with urinary symptoms due to an enlarged prostate. Overall, the results have been mixed with some studies showing an improvement in urinary symptoms for these men and other studies showing no improvement when compared with a placebo. In those studies that did show an improvement in urinary symptoms, the improvement was only seen after many weeks of taking the extract.

No studies have shown that saw palmetto protects against the development of prostate cancer or benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH).

Are There Any Risks With Taking Saw Palmetto?

While numerous studies have attempted to evaluate saw palmetto's benefits, no long term studies have been done to determine whether long term health risks exist from taking the extract.

As with any other medication (standard pharmaceuticals, herbal medications, etc.), there may be side effects with saw palmetto.

As always, it is best to talk to your doctor before beginning to take a new medication including saw palmetto. It is especially important if you are considering taking saw palmetto or another medication because of urinary symptoms as these symptoms may signal an underlying prostate problem such as prostate cancer.

Sources:

Bent S, Kane C, Shinohara K, Neuhaus J, Hudes ES, Goldberg H, Avins AL. Saw palmetto for benign prostatic hyperplasia. N Engl J Med. 2006;354:557-566.

Madersbacher S, Berger I, Ponholzer A, Marszalek M. Plant extracts: sense or nonsense? Current Opinion in Urology. 2008;18:16-20.

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