Herbs & Botanicals
What is saw palmetto? What is it used for?
The saw palmetto plant is native to the southeast United States. It grows between two and four feet in height, with fan-shaped, serrated leaves and small, ovoid berries (which range in color from green to yellow to a dark purple).
Substances contained in saw palmetto berries contain many biologically active chemicals; unfortunately, scientists have been unable to discern which chemicals are the most important.
Traditionally, saw palmetto berries were used to treat urinary problems in men, and breast disorders in women. In the early part of the 20th century, herbalists used infusions and teas made of saw palmetto berries to treat urinary tract problems and increase sex drive in men.
In the 1960s, scientists learned that by concentrating the oils of saw palmetto berries, they could maximize the herb's effectiveness. Since that time, dozens of studies have been conducted using saw palmetto extracts for a variety of conditions. In many countries, it is used to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), a condition that affects the urinary system, and can help shrink enlarged prostate glands, without the side-effects associated with drugs such as alpha blockers. It is sometimes combined with nettle root extract to treat BPH.
How much saw palmetto should I take?
For BPH, the recommended dosage of saw palmetto is 160mg twice a day of an extract that has been standardized to contain 85-95% fatty acids and sterols. Some studies suggest that a single 320mg dose may be just as effective as two 160mg doses. Taking more than 320mg per day does not seem to produce better results in treating BPH.
What forms of saw palmetto are available?
The most popular form of saw palmetto is a dried extract in capsule form. However, powdered saw palmetto berries are sometimes used in teas and preparations, and liquid extracts are also available.
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 is considered to be nontoxic. No significant side-effects have been noted in clinical trials with saw palmetto extracts; however, in rare cases, high amounts of saw palmetto may cause stomach problems.
As of this writing, there are no well-known drug interactions with saw palmetto. Since there are no proven uses for saw palmetto in women, it should not be used by women who are pregnant or nursing. In addition, its use is discouraged in patients with kidney or liver disease. As always, make sure to consult with a qualified health care provider before taking saw palmetto or any other dietary supplement.
- Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds.) The Complete Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, p. 201.
- Brown DJ. Herbal Prescriptions for Better Health. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publications, 1996, pp. 167-72.
- Kuznetsov DD, Gerber GS, Burstein JD. Randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled study of saw palmetto in men with lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS). Presented at: American Urological Association 2001 Annual Meeting, Anaheim, CA, June 2-7, 2001.
- Marks LS, Partin AW, Epstein JI, et al. Effects of a saw palmetto herbal blend in men with symptomatic benign prostatic hyperplasia. J Urol 2000;163:1451-56.
- Wilt TJ, Ishani A, Stark G, et al. Saw palmetto extracts for treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia. JAMA 1998;280:160-9.