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Saw Palmetto

(American Dwarf Palm Tree, Baies du Chou Palmiste, Baies du Palmier Scie, Cabbage Palm, Chou Palmiste, Ju-Zhong, Palma Enana Americana, Palmier de Floride, Palmier Nain, Palmier Nain Américain, Palmier Scie, Sabal, Sabal Fructus, Sabal serrulata, Saw Palmetto Berry, Serenoa repens, Serenoa serrulata)

What is it?

Saw palmetto is a plant, and the fruit is the basis for supplements.

Does it occur naturally in the body?


What are the claims?

Saw palmetto is primarily promoted to decrease symptoms or even cure an enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hypertrophy, BPH).

Saw palmetto is also marketed as a treatment for prostate infections and to treat prostate cancer.

Less well known uses it's promoted for include a way to treat asthma, chronic bronchitis, colds, coughs, chronic pelvic pain syndrome, reduce baldness, reduce complications prior to surgery, to increase urine flow (as a diuretic), to relieve migraines, as a relaxant (sedative), for sore throats and as an aphrodisiac.

Does it work?

In smaller studies, it has shown minimal benefit for sufferers of BPH. Small studies seemed to show modest benefits, but as the studies were scaled up, the benefit was no more than that offered by a placebo. There are no large scale studies that show saw palmetto to help with BPH.

Before surgery, researchers found that taking 320 mg of saw palmetto daily for two months prior to prostate surgery could reduce blood loss, surgical complications and recovery time. Unfortunately, the study was not successfully replicated, and additional studies that prescribed lower doses prior to surgery showed no beneficial effect. As studies have scaled up, the benefits appear to be no better than a placebo.

As for the other potential benefits or saw palmetto? There are no reliable studies that show it can help with anything else it's being marketed for.

What are the dangers?

The side effects reported by people taking saw palmetto appear mild, including dizziness, headache, nausea, etc. But those symptoms don't appear any more often in subjects taking saw palmetto than they do to people taking a sugar pill.

Ironically, the only study that seemed to show a potential benefit was one where people took it before surgery. Saw palmetto has been shown to slow how fast blood clots. That could mean more bleeding during and after surgery, leading to additional complications. Doctors generally recommend you stop taking saw palmetto supplements at least two weeks before any scheduled surgery.

DANGERS FOR WOMEN: Saw palmetto acts as a hormone. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding may be putting their children at risk if they take it. Saw palmetto also decreases the effect of estrogen in the body. Women who are taking birth control pills with estrogen in them may experience a lowering of the effectiveness rate of the birth control.

Without any long term studies to rely upon, scientists can only make educated guesses on what other problems may occur. There are documented cases of people who took saw palmetto suffering from liver or pancreas damage. Unfortunately, because saw palmetto is a supplement, there are no guarantees of drug levels in any bottle or independent testing for contaminants. It's entirely possible the reported potential problems were from adulterated or fraudulent supplements.

Without any federal oversight, the consumer is completely at the mercy of the supplement manufacturer, and few have proven they can be trusted. (Remember, in a 2014 study, 1/3 of the "herbal supplements" researchers purchased didn't have any of the advertised ingredients in the bottle. Product substitution was revealed in 30 of the 44 products tested.)

The Bottom Line

There does not appear to be any benefit for people to take saw palmetto supplements. In addition, there are potentially serious side effects for people taking it before surgery or for nursing or pregnant women.

Unless prescribed by a doctor for a specific medical condition, we cannot recommend the supplement saw palmetto.

Links for More Info

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Logo and Link
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

Herbs, Botanicals & Other Products - Extensive Information from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health - Overviews on Herbal Treatments and Supplements

National Institutes of Health

National Institutes of Health - Office of Dietary Supplements
National Institutes of Health - Office of Dietary Supplements

Operation Supplement Safety
Operation Supplement Safety

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Logo and Link
United States Department of Agriculture

WebMD Logo and Link
WebMD - Helping you make better decisions for life.

We at WeBeFit DO NOT recommend ANY supplements to ANY of our clients. ONLY a licensed Nutritionist or Medical Doctor can make those recommendations based on your individual needs.

This is being provided for INFORMATIONAL and EDUCATIONAL purposes only.

CAUTION: These supplements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for safety, effectiveness or purity. There may be unknown risks associated with taking any supplements. There are no regulated manufacturing standards for companies that make supplements. There have been instances where herbal or health supplements have been sold that were contaminated with toxic substances. If you should choose to purchase herbal or health supplements, please only purchase them from a reliable source to minimize the risk of contamination.

If you should decide to use ANY supplement, ALWAYS consult your doctor or Nutritionist first.