Doctor’s Orders: Consider Taking Saw Palmetto for BPH

Saw palmetto Serenoa repens in forest in Manatee Springs State Park.

Saw palmetto Serenoa repens in forest in Manatee Springs State Park.

An enlarged prostate, also known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), is treated in various ways, including use of the dietary supplement saw palmetto, a palm-like plant that grows like a tree or shrub in warm climates and can reach heights of up to 10 feet with clusters of leaves spreading out to 2 feet or more. Native Americans living along coastal regions of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida have long relied on saw palmetto to treat urinary tract issues and to increase sperm production and sex drive.

More than $18 million of saw palmetto was sold in the United States, ranking it third among herbal dietary supplements. But whether the supplement is truly an effective use for treating BPH or not is still up for debate. More long-term studies are needed to verify its effectiveness.

Composition of saw palmetto

Saw palmetto has white flowers that produce yellow berries that turn brownish black when ripe and then are dried for medicinal use.

The active ingredients that make up the composition of saw palmetto are fatty acids, plant sterols, and flavonoids. There is also a saw palmetto extract which is an extract of the berry that is rich in fatty acids and phytosterols.

How does saw palmetto possibly help BPH?

Saw palmetto, like many herbs, contains chemicals that may be effective for BPH. What is not known is how saw palmetto works to do this. Research suggests that saw palmetto effects the level of testosterone in the body and may possibly reduce the amount of an enzyme that promotes the growth of prostate cells.

It also appears saw palmetto has anti-inflammatory properties having a positive influence on the prostate gland. One study has showed that combining saw palmetto with the phytochemical lycopene and the mineral selenium produces an even greater anti-inflammatory effect.

Studies using animals have shown that saw palmetto inhibits the growth of tumor cells. This may demonstrate its possible usefulness in treating prostate cancer. Studies have also shown saw palmetto’s ability to improve urinary tract symptoms related to BPH but more research is necessary to definitively confirm this.

Here are some of the possible ways studies have shown on how saw palmetto may be effective for BPH:

  • May reduce urinary frequency particularly during the night
  • May reduce a man having trouble starting or maintaining urination
  • May reduce the loss of libido
  • May shrink the size of the prostate gland

The studies showing these results were short-term lasting no more than 3 months making it more difficult to say for certain if saw palmetto actually is effective for preventing BPH complications.

In what form does saw palmetto come in? 

The supplement comes in a variety of forms and can be bought as dried berries, powdered capsules, tablets, liquid tinctures, and as an extract. Make sure the product label states that the contents contain 85-95% fatty acids and sterols.

Precautions

  • Saw palmetto should not be given to children
  • It may take up to 8 weeks to see any effects
  • Saw palmetto is generally seen as safe but pay attention to any side effects it may produce – headache, nausea, diarrhea, and dizziness
  • A man should always seek his doctor’s advice first on appropriate treatment methods before self-treating with saw palmetto
  • Pregnant or nursing women should not use saw palmetto as it may have similar effects to some hormones
  • It may interfere with the absorption of iron
  • It may interact with certain medications—Proscar, Warfarin, Plavix, Aspirin, oral contraceptives, and hormone replacement therapy—so always inform your doctor if using saw palmetto.

Dr. Samadi is a board-certified urologic oncologist trained in open and traditional and laparoscopic surgery and is an expert in robotic prostate surgery. He is chairman of urology, chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital and professor of urology at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine. He is a medical correspondent for the Fox News Channel’s Medical A-Team Learn more at roboticoncology.com. Visit Dr. Samadi’s blog at SamadiMD.com. Follow Dr. Samadi on Twitter, Instagram, Pintrest and Facebook.