The Health Benefits of Saw Palmetto

Good news for men with prostate ­problems

| January/February 1999

  • A harvester reaches into a saw palmetto plant to pick its medicinal berries.
  • Saw palmetto sales contribute about $25 million a year to Florida’s economy, says Ted Helms of the state agriculture department’s marketing division. Demand was so high during the 1998 season that saw palmetto “bandits” ­appeared on the scene, ­illegally scavenging berries from secluded areas in Florida state parks, according to an Associated Press ­report.
  • Before scientists turned their ­microscopes to saw palmetto, ­Native Americans used the berries as a general tonic and to treat impotence. In 1892, a ­report in The New Idea ­stated that saw palmetto acts as a ­“vitalizer” for ­reproductive ­organs, including the ovaries and prostate.
  • Sharp spines edge the leaves of this low-growing palm, giving it the common name “saw palmetto.”

Dosage: Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens)

What It Does: Relieves symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), especially the urge to urinate during the night. Preliminary research shows that it may also help women suffering from ovarian and uterine irritations.

How We Know: For BPH—clinical trials. For ovarian and uterine irritations— preliminary research.

Dosage: For BPH, up to three 585-mg capsules daily or 20 to 30 drops of tincture four times daily; products standardized to 85 to 95 percent fatty acids and sterols are taken one or two times a day for a total daily dose of 320 mg. Dosages for treatment of ovarian and uterine problems haven’t been established.

Cautions: Reports of discomfort linked to taking saw palmetto are rare. One source suggests that because of saw palmetto’s possible impact on estrogen, it may affect hormonal treatments, including birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy. Additionally, the safety of saw palmetto for women who are pregnant or nursing hasn’t been established, so using it during these times should be avoided.

As I write this, the saw palmetto harvest is under way in Florida, where workers will handpick about seven million pounds of berries this season, according to University of Florida field observers. Most of the crop will be sent to­ ­Europe, but a large portion will return to the United States in the form of standardized extracts.

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