Saw palmetto was used for medicinal purposes as far back as the early 1900s. As with any medication, over-the-counter or prescription, there are potential risks. Do your own research and discuss possible benefits, side effects, and any other concerns with your healthcare provider.
About saw palmetto
Saw palmetto is a pint-sized palm tree, native to the eastern United States, from South Carolina to Florida. It has been used by the Seminoles of Florida for its nutritional and medicinal benefits. Its whole, ground, or dried fruit is used for medicinal purposes to this day.
Saw palmetto is available in pill, extract, and tea form. Active ingredients in the plant include plant sterols, flavonoids, and fatty acids, plus polysaccharides in the fruit.[1, 4]
Saw palmetto is primarily used for symptoms related to an enlarged prostate. The usual dose is 160mg twice a day or, 320mg once daily. It also is used to treat chronic pelvic pain, bladder problems, hair loss, hormone imbalance, decreased sex drive, and, in conjunction with other herbs, prostate cancer.[1, 2] The fruit may also boost immunity and curb inflammation.
Does saw palmetto work
Research results are mixed about the effectiveness of saw palmetto for prostate symptoms and the benefits do not seem to be significant. There isn't enough evidence at this time to declare the effectiveness of saw palmetto for treating prostate infection and cancer, baldness, colds and coughs, chronic pelvic pain, and migraine headaches.[1, 2, 3]
Saw palmetto interacts with some medications, potentially altering or minimizing their effects. For example, if you are taking contraceptives, it is recommended to use additional forms of birth control. Additionally, saw palmetto may reduce the amount of estrogen in the body and interfere with the effectiveness of estrogen supplements and iron absorption. Furthermore, do not use saw palmetto in concert with medications prescribed for the treatment of an enlarged prostate.
Although side effects don't turn up any more often with the use of saw palmetto than with placebo, you need to be aware of them. When side effects occur, they include:
There isn't enough evidence to back claims that saw palmetto causes liver and pancreas complications.[1, 2]
- Do not use saw palmetto if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
- Discontinue use of saw palmetto at least two weeks before surgery as it might increase your risk of bleeding.
- Saw palmetto is not safe for children.
- Saw palmetto supplements can contain 85% to 95% healthy fatty acids and sterols.
- Herbs and other supplements aren't subject to strict government regulation. Safety and consistency of products cannot be guaranteed. Effects may vary according to brand and batch.
- The liquid extract form has not been researched and tested, so its usefulness is unclear.
- Since fatty acids aren't soluble in water, the usefulness of saw palmetto tea is questionable. Choose capsules instead.
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine; "Saw Palmetto;" Updated 2012
- MedlinePlus; "Saw palmetto;" Reviewed 2012
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine; "Saw Palmetto Extract No More Effective Than Placebo for Urinary Symptoms;" September 2011
- University of Maryland Medical Center; "Saw palmetto;" Reviewed 2011