By Laurel Sterling, MA, RD
Saw Palmetto is an herb typically associated with alleviating issues associated with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). It is widely used in many formulas for prostate health along with a variety of other compounds such as: stinging nettle, lycopene, green tea, selenium, zinc, vitamin D3, phytosterols, and pumpkin seed oil.
BPH is a nonmalignant enlargement of the prostate. The enlargement of the prostate leads to a narrowing of the urethra. Common signs and symptoms of BPH include: decreased force and stream of flow, dribbling after urination, increased frequency of urination, increased nighttime urination (nocturia), and occasionally painful urination (dysuria).
How do they believe that saw palmetto works? It is believed that the liposterolic (fat-soluble) extract of saw palmetto berries induces inhibition of DHT (dihydrotestosterone) binding to prostate cellular receptors, inhibition of 5-alpha-reductase, and interference with prostate estrogen receptors. Most experts believe DHT to be a major factor in the cause of less-than-optimal prostate health and prostate enlargement. Testosterone is metabolized in your body to DHT, and the enzyme that is responsible for converting testosterone to DHT is called 5-alpha-reductase (Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci.May 2012).
Many clinical studies over the years (30-90 days in length) have demonstrated a significant difference in urine flow, volume voided, dysuria, nocturia, etc. after taking saw palmetto. They have also seen that roughly 90% of men that have mild-moderate BPH feel some improvement in only four to six weeks! More recent clinical studies have observed saw palmetto’s use from six to around twelve months. In a relatively recent study, researchers compared saw palmetto 320 mg/day (Permixon) to the drug Proscar at 5mg/day. There were similar decreases in many of the symptoms of BPH, but saw palmetto did not have the side effect of erectile dysfunction that the drug did. Another similar study using saw palmetto and nettle root (Prostagutt forte) and the drug Proscar came up with similar findings.
There are no known interactions with this herb, but note that most of the clinical trials excluded men taking diuretics, alpha blockers, and anticoagulants. Possible side effects are mild gastrointestinal disturbances. NOTE: Because saw palmetto is used for mild to moderate BPH stages I and II, it is contraindicated with advanced BPH. BPH should be diagnosed by a certified healthcare practitioner or physician.
Recommended use is to take 320 mg of saw palmetto berry extract (standardized to 85%-95% fatty acids and sterols), all at once or in two divided doses with meals. Use at least six months to determine its effectiveness.