What is saw palmetto?
Saw palmetto is a type of palm tree mostly found in Florida and other Southeastern states. Florida's Seminole tribe used to eat the saw palmetto fruit as part of their diet and treated various medical conditions including reproductive and urinary problems, which are associated with the prostate gland. The fruit is also used to treat other conditions such as cough, indigestion, insomnia, and infertility problems. Saw palmetto is rich in phytosterols and fatty acids.
Other Common Names of Saw Palmetto
Saw palmetto is called by many other names, which include:
- Serenoa repens
- Sabal fructus
- American dwarf palm tree
- Palmier nain
- Palmier scie
- Saw palmetto berry
- Cabbage palm
The scientific name of saw palmetto is Serenoa repens, which belongs to the family of Palmae (palms).
Characteristics of Saw Palmetto
This plant has long, pointed, fan-shaped green leaves, which have sharp saw-toothed edges similar to other types of palm trees. Its sharp edges are more than enough to cut the skin or any fabric, hence, the name saw palmetto. These leaves grow to 3 feet wide. The plant grows numerous leaves from its thick stems, which remain underground.
It has small deep purple fruits grown on its branches called as berries, which are 2 cm long. Its fruit is used for medicinal purposes. Growing saw palmetto provides a beautiful landscape and is a low maintenance plant. The plant can live up to hundreds of years.
Saw palmetto grows up to 7 feet tall and 7 feet wide. When this plant grows erect, its stems represent the trunk and continues to grow as tall as 25 feet. Saw palmetto is a slow-growing tree. Its trunk only grows up to an inch every year. The plant produces pretty looking white flowers that grow from the leaf to the axil. The fruit then develops from these flowers.
Saw palmetto grows best in dry well-drained soil with proper sunlight or in partial shade. The seeds take several years to germinate. For this reason, most of the plants usually start from a nursery. The initial watering is done only when it is first planted. Once it shows signs of proper growth, it can be left alone with little water since the plant is maintenance-free. There is also no need for fertilization. Some species of saw palmetto may last up to 700 years old.
The active ingredients in saw palmetto are plant sterols, flavonoids, and fatty acids. Saw palmetto berries also contain polysaccharides with high molecular weight, which helps reduce inflammation and boosts or strengthens an individual's immune system.
History of Saw Palmetto
American folks have been using saw palmetto as a medicinal herb for several hundreds of years, mostly to treat prostate problems. Since the 1700s, Native Americans have used this plant to treat urinary problems in men. In the 1800s, a botanist named John Lloyd noted that animals eating saw palmetto appear to be healthier and fatter than the others. Such observation was also noted by the early Americans, so they started making juice from its berries and consumed it to gain weight and promote a healthy reproductive system.
It was also noted that saw palmetto had a certain soothing power that promotes good sleep, provides relief from coughing, aids in digestion, and builds up more strength in the body. It also had remarkable sedative properties. Thus, it was regarded as a therapeutic agent in the medical field.
During the 1900s, people would make tea out of saw palmetto berries. The tea would have a pungent taste to it and was used as medicine to treat prostate enlargement and urinary tract infections. Men would also have this tea to increase their sex drive and sperm count.
Dosage and Preparation
It is recommended that people should use only standardized extracts, which usually contain around 95 percent of fatty acids and sterols. The dosage given to a patient usually depends on the type of saw palmetto being used. The normal daily dose of saw palmetto is 320 mg. People would usually start seeing the benefits after four weeks from the day they had started.
To treat benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), the recommended saw palmetto dosage starts at 320 mg thrice daily for a period of four months. Gradually, the dosage is then dropped to 320 mg once daily. If one is in the early stages of BPH, then doctors usually recommend 160 mg twice a day. For hair loss treatment or bald spots, the dosage would be 200 mg twice daily. In addition, one would also be given 50 mg of beta-sitosterol to be taken twice daily.
Apart from capsules and tablets, saw palmetto can also be taken as a tea preparation, but the fatty acids, which are the most active ingredient, are not water soluble. Hence, its effectiveness is reduced, which won’t be the case for capsules.
Saw palmetto can be taken with food if it upsets your stomach. Ensure not to take different types of saw palmetto at the same time without advice from your doctor. The different forms of saw palmetto also have different formulations, which would increase the risk of an overdose.
Saw palmetto can be taken in various forms such as capsules, dried berries, powdered capsules, tablets, or as a tea. Before purchasing the medicinal form of saw palmetto, make sure that the contents are standardized and should contain 85-95 percent of sterols and fatty acids. Only purchase from reputed companies and ensure to read the label before intake.
What are the uses of saw palmetto?
Saw palmetto is widely used for the treatment of prostate enlargement symptoms. This medical condition is also termed as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). BPH does not only lead to pain and embarrassment, but it can also cause kidney problems if left undiagnosed. Such condition is quite common among men above 40 years old.
Saw palmetto is not yet widely accepted in America since most doctors are still not completely convinced of its health benefits. However, it is still continuously used as an herbal treatment for BPH. Saw palmetto is also useful for treating the following medical conditions:
- Low sperm count in men
- Hair loss
- Low sex drive
- Migraine or headaches
- Prostate cancer
The prostate is a walnut-sized gland, which is a part of the male reproductive system. The gland is located in between the urethra and bladder. As men age, their prostate gets bigger. If the gland grows to an unusually larger size, it starts putting pressure on the bladder and urethra, which would give rise to urinary problems. By taking saw palmetto, testosterone would further break down into its by-product called as dihydrotestosterone, which would slow down the growth of the prostate. The saw palmetto's effect would alleviate a lot of other medical conditions such as:
- Frequent urge to urinate
- Increased urination at nighttime
- Straining while urinating
- Difficulty in emptying the bladder
- Weak urine stream
- Painful urination
Taking saw palmetto can also delay the need for prostate surgery.
Low libido in both men and women is due to a decrease in testosterone levels. Saw palmetto increases the body’s testosterone level, thereby boosting one's libido. In men, their sperm count is directly related to their testosterone levels. Low levels of testosterone often result in a low sperm count. Similarly, in women, their egg production is also affected when they are low in testosterone. Thus, taking saw palmetto can boost the fertility of men and women.
Urological Support System
Saw palmetto has been seen to support the urological system of men with BPH. Saw palmetto strengthens the urinary system of both men and women, especially the elderly people. It is also a recommended herbal medicine when it comes to treating kidney stones. Saw palmetto improves the flow of urine and provides relief from any urological symptoms.
Reduces Hair Fall
An increased testosterone level is associated with hair growth while high levels of dihydrotestosterone are linked to increased hair loss. In such instances, doctors usually recommend saw palmetto supplements or oil to decrease the levels of dihydrotestosterone and increase the level of testosterone.
Talk with your doctor before starting saw palmetto, especially if you have any of the following medical conditions:
- Pancreatic disorders
- Hemophilia or blood clotting issues
- Liver diseases
Saw palmetto should not be given to children and anyone below 18 years old since it can have adverse side effects.
Risks and Side Effects
Saw palmetto is widely known for its medicinal effects. However, like any other herbal medicine, it also has certain side effects, which include:
Stop taking saw palmetto and inform your doctor if you experience the following conditions:
- Liver problems - feeling tired, loss of appetite, upper stomach pain, jaundice, clay-colored stool, and a dark-colored urine.
- Pancreatic problems - extreme pain in the upper stomach that spreads to the back, nausea and vomiting, as well as irregular and fast heart rate.
- Symptoms of stomach bleeding - coughing or vomiting blood and tarry or bloody stools.
- Profuse bleeding - easily bruised with nose or gum bleeding
Allergic reactions to saw palmetto are quite rare. However, people should be aware of the allergic symptoms if they face any. Irregular or difficulty in breathing, rashes, swelling of the lips, face, or tongue are some of the allergic reactions to saw palmetto. If anyone experiences these symptoms, they should immediately stop taking the medicine and consult the doctor.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women should not take saw palmetto since it can directly affect the hormonal activity in the body, thereby causing harm to the baby.
Women who take contraceptive pills should first consult their doctor before taking saw palmetto since the pills and saw palmetto tend to reduce the effects of estrogen in the body, making the pills less effective. It can also affect the hormonal balance in the body.
Interaction with Other Medications
Consult the doctor before taking saw palmetto and provide the details of all your current medications. Inform the doctor if you are taking the following medications:
- Contraceptive pills or birth control pills
- Anticoagulants including ibuprofen, heparin, aspirin, naproxen, and diclofenac
There are no restrictions on food, beverages, and physical activities while taking saw palmetto medicine.