7 Unique Health Benefits of Saw Palmetto that You May Not Know

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Manveen Sibia
Manveen had an illustrious career in journalism and writing. She is the mother of a super active 7-year-old. While chasing her around the house, she also finds time to pursue her passion for writing on parenting, education, health, fitness, and entertainment.

Saw palmetto is one of the most common native palm trees in the US. It has been used in the past by the Native Americans to treat urinary tract infections and to increase sperm production. Today, it is mainly used to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia. However, this is not the only benefit of the saw palmetto extract. It can also be used to treat asthma, colds, chronic bronchitis, migraine headaches, and reduce the risk of cancer. In this article, you will read more about saw palmetto and its many health benefits.

What is saw palmetto?

Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) is a palm tree that grows in the warm climate of the southeast coast of the US. It can grow up to 11 feet in height.  Its ripe berries are used to make medicine. The unique health benefits of saw palmetto have been known for centuries. The active ingredients of this plant include flavonoids, plant sterols, and fatty acids. The deep-purple berries contain polysaccharides, which help to reduce inflammation and strengthen the immune system.

History of saw palmetto

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The berries of saw palmetto have been used in American folk medicine for hundreds of years to treat prostate problems and as an aphrodisiac.  Native Americans have used palmetto to treat male urinary problems since the 1700s.

In the 1800s, John Lloyd, a medical botanist, noted that the animals that ate saw palmetto appeared healthier and fatter than other livestock. Early American settlers also noticed that the juice from saw berries helped to gain weight, improve reproductive health, and acted as a sedative.

Health benefits of saw palmetto

1. Helps manage Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy

Benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH) is a non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate gland. The prostate is a walnut-shaped small gland in the male reproductive system. This gland can become enlarged as men get older, and their testosterone levels decrease. When the prostate gland becomes enlarged, it compresses the urethra, which leads to difficulty in urination and other urinary issues.

Since saw palmetto boosts testosterone levels, saw palmetto can help to shrink the prostate and ease benign prostatic hypertrophy. During one study, 82 patients with benign prostatic hypertrophy took one capsule (320 mg) of saw palmetto extract daily for eight weeks. The results showed significant improvements in the symptoms of benign prostatic hypertrophy and sexual dysfunction (1).

2. Prevents hair loss

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Hair loss is a common condition caused by a variety of factors, including hormonal imbalance. Men often lose hair as they age because their testosterone levels are diminished, and the hormone levels of 5α-Dihydrotestosterone increase. This hormone makes the hair follicles shrink, which shortens the lifespan of hair and lowers their production.

According to a 2009 study, saw palmetto could block the activity of 5 alpha-reductase, an enzyme that converts testosterone into 5α-Dihydrotestosterone  (2). During one study, men in the age group of 23 and 64 years took an extract of saw palmetto. The results showed a marked improvement in 60% of the volunteers (3).

3. Reduces the risk of prostate cancer

Saw palmetto is also known to reduce the growth of cancerous cells in the prostate.  In fact, saw palmetto supplements are one of the most commonly consumed supplements by men with prostate cancer. These supplements inhibit the activity of 5-alpha reductase. They slow down the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone by blocking the enzyme and preventing its formation.  Dihydrotestosterone is responsible for prostate enlargement and may even cause prostate cancer.

According to a study published in the International Journal of Oncology, saw palmetto induced growth arrest of saw palmetto LNCaP, DU145, and PC3 cells. In addition, saw palmetto down-regulated DHT.  These results show that Saw Palmetto might be useful for the treatment of individuals with prostate cancer (4).

4. Improves urinary tract infection

Urinary tract problems like incontinence and difficulty in urinating are common among older men. Saw palmetto can improve urinary issues in men that are associated with benign prostatic hypertrophy. During one study, 85 men with urinary symptoms took saw palmetto or a placebo for six months. The results showed that saw palmetto led to a statistically significant improvement in urinary symptoms in men with urinary tract symptoms compared with placebo (5).

A review of 18 studies involving 2939 men showed that saw palmetto improves urological symptoms and flow measures. The results were similar to the group taking Proscar — a prescribed medication (6).

5. Decreases inflammation

Studies have shown that saw palmetto contains anti-inflammatory properties, which can help treat certain conditions. The seeds of saw palmetto contain antioxidants epicatechin and methyl gallate, which can help in preventing damage to cells, decreasing inflammation, and protect against chronic disease (7).

During a 2015 study, when mice with enlarged prostate glands were given saw palmetto extract, it helped reduce swelling and other markers of inflammation, including interleukin 6 (IL-6) (8). Though these studies are promising, more studies are needed to study the impact of saw palmetto on humans.

6. Regulates testosterone levels

Saw palmetto can also be used to boost testosterone levels naturally. Since saw palmetto inhibits the conversion of testosterone into DHT, the body retains the normal levels of testosterone.  Regulating testosterone levels helps in improving body composition, sex drive, mood, and cognition (9).

Some studies also show that low testosterone levels can lead to heart disease (10). A 2016 study found that saw palmetto extract was as effective as finasteride in preserving testosterone levels. Finasteride is used to treat hair loss by reducing the activity of 5α-Dihydrotestosterone  (11).

7. May treat minor ailments

People also take saw palmetto to treat several minor illnesses like colds, coughs, bronchitis, headaches, and insomnia. The use of saw palmetto to treat these ailments is based on tradition, and there is no research on whether it is effective.

Side effects of saw palmetto

Saw palmetto is considered safe when taken by mouth for up to three years. Few people may develop some minor side effects like dizziness, headaches, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, constipation, diarrhea, decreased libido, and rhinitis. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid taking saw palmetto as it may impact hormone levels. If you are taking birth control pills, you should avoid taking saw palmetto. Birth control pills contain estrogen.  Saw palmetto may decrease the effect of estrogen in the body.

Saw palmetto can alter the hormone levels in the body. So if you are taking hormone replacement therapy, you should avoid saw palmetto. Saw palmetto can slow down blood clotting. This may cause problems during or after surgery. You should stop taking saw palmetto at least two weeks before a scheduled surgery.

Saw palmetto can also interfere with blood-thinning medications like warfarin or Coumadin and can increase the risk of bleeding. There is also some concern that saw palmetto may cause pancreas or liver problems in people. There have been reports of liver and pancreas damage in people taking saw palmetto. Always check with your doctor before you begin taking saw palmetto extract.

Dosage

Saw palmetto is readily available in supplement form and can easily be added to your daily routine. It is available as capsules, soft gel, and tablet form. Sometimes it is combined with pumpkin seed extract to help improve prostate health. You can also consume it in the form of ground, dried, liquid extract, or even as a tea.

The general dose of saw palmetto supplements ranges from 160 to 320 mg per day. How much you should consume depends on your health and the ailment you are taking it for. For treating BHP, doctors recommend doses starting with 320 mg daily for four months.  During the early stages of BHP, you should take 160 mg saw palmetto two times a day.

For treating bald spots, take 200 mg saw palmetto twice a day, combined with 50 mg beta-sitosterol twice a day. You should take these supplements with food to help minimize digestive issues and prevent adverse side effects.

Final thoughts

Saw palmetto is a species of palm that grows in the warm climate of the southeast coast of the US. The active ingredients of this plant include flavonoids, plant sterols, and fatty acids. The deep-purple berries contain polysaccharides, which help to reduce inflammation and strengthen the immune system.

Several studies show that saw palmetto can help manage benign prostatic hypertrophy, prevent hair loss, reduce the risk of prostate cancer, improve urinary tract infections, reduce inflammation, and regulate testosterone.

Though saw palmetto is considered safe, it can have some side effects like dizziness, headaches, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, constipation, diarrhea, decreased libido, and rhinitis. Avoid taking saw palmetto supplement if you are pregnant or breastfeeding or are scheduled for surgery.

Saw palmetto can interact with estrogen, birth control pills, and blood-thinning medications. The recommended dosage for saw palmetto is 320 mg per day. Always consult your doctor before taking these supplements.

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