Saw Palmetto: Enemy of the Enlarged Prostate

The dark purple berries of the American saw palmetto plant are securing a position as an effective natural treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), or enlarged prostate. Already used in several European countries — Germany, Austria and Italy lead the way — the herb is settling into position next to prescription drugs like tamsulosin and finasteride.

BPH is not linked to cancer in any way, but the syndrome affects more than half of men over 60 and results in serious discomfort if left untreated. When the prostate enlarges, it puts pressure on the urethra, which can lead to a frequent need to urinate and interrupted or incomplete urination.

In another of its comprehensive (and determinedly honest) reviews of an herbal supplement, Berkeley Wellness sums ups the pros and cons of saw palmetto. The assessment? Though clinical studies have been limited, and some of the findings have shown little or no improvement to BPH, saw palmetto still receives a high score. A study on the effect of the herb on 3,000 men found that it improved urinary complications from BPH just as well as finasteride, with a bonus of fewer side effects.

What saw palmetto can't do is also something to be considered. According to Berkeley, the herb is said to treat decreased libido, low sperm production, bladder disorders and many other ailments, but the claims are currently unfounded.

Buying saw palmetto is a tricky process. The herb is often blended with differing amounts of fatty acids as well as questionable ingredients, and it's even available as a tea (all but ineffective since the active ingredients do not dissolve in water). The optimal saw palmetto dose is also up for debate. Always straightforward about their lack of definitive answers, Berkeley lists 320 milligrams as an educated guess (i.e. the amount most often used in studies).

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