Studies have demonstrated that saw palmetto extract, an extract of the fruit of Serenoa repens, is good for maintaining prostate health. In fact, this extract is often used as an herbal remedy to relieve enlarged prostate, or benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). This is a condition that causes men’s prostate gland to grow larger than normal.
In the early 1900s, herbalists often used saw palmetto berry tea to treat various urinary tract infections in men. Today, some doctors believe that it may promote sperm production and enhance sexual performance. In India and other countries, it has long been used as a tonic, expectorant, or antiseptic. Although it is not a standard treatment of prostate problems in some countries, it is one of the most popular herbs for the treatment of BPH.
BPH is very common in the elderly because it is related to an imbalance of hormone level. Prostate enlargement can interfere with urination and significantly block urine flow. Although it is noncancerous, it can cause bladder blockage and other health problems, which will further lead to bladder infections, bladder stones or kidney damage.
The fat-soluble extract of saw palmetto contains concentrated free fatty acids and sterols. One study showed that it could reduce the levels of dihydrotestosterone (DHT) that binds around the prostatic urethra. By the way, DHT is a sex steroid and androgen hormone. Test tube studies showed that it might have a slight inhibition on 5-alpha-reductase, which is an enzyme responsible for the conversion of testosterone to DHT. In addition, test tube studies still showed that it could inhibit growth factors and inflammatory substances that are possibly associated with enlarged prostate. But some believe that it does not have estrogen-like effects in male body.
Over the past decade, double-blind clinical trials have demonstrated that taking 320mg of saw palmetto berry lipid extract daily is safe and, more importantly, it is effective in treating the symptoms of BPH. Recently, a review published in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) concluded that this extract are as effective as Proscar (finasteride) in the treatment of enlarged prostate. As an added bonus, it didn’t cause reduced libido in men and other side effects. And its clinical effectiveness has been also verified in several 6 months to 3 years tests. In addition, a 3-year trial conducted in Germany has found that taking 160mg of this extract, twice a day, could help 73% patients reduce nighttime urination and significantly improve the urine flow rate.
When it is used in combination with the nettle root extract, it can be effective in the treatment of BPH too. In one trial, a combination therapy, consisting of saw palmetto extract (daily 320mg) and nettle root extract (daily 240mg), has been used in volunteers. After one year of treatment it found that this therapy could ease the symptoms like slow or weak urine stream and nocturia, and so on. Furthermore, another study ever compared the effect of this combination therapy and Proscar (finasteride), and after a year the researchers found that there was little difference between them.
It is worth mentioning that the research to prove it is limited still. Some studies point out that this extract has anti-inflammatory properties, which is why it helps alleviate prostate enlargement. Some other studies have found that it could block dihydrotestosterone, which may increase the risk of prostate cancer when in high levels.
Just like pumpkin seeds, saw palmetto extract can be used as a conventional treatment of enlarged prostate. However, the patients should look out for a few things. Although there are very few side effects proven by documented studies so far, the possible ones include headache, dizziness, nausea, diarrhea, and so on.