Saw Palmetto
What is it? Overview Usage Side Effects and Warnings

What is Saw Palmetto?

Saw palmetto is a native plant of North America, and it is still primarily grown in the United States.

The saw palmetto tree grows only about 2 to 4 feet high, with fan-shaped serrated leaves and abundant berries. Native Americans used these berries for the treatment of various urinary problems in men, as well as for women with breast disorders. European and American physicians took up saw palmetto as a treatment for benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). In the 1960s, French researchers discovered that by concentrating the oils of saw palmetto berry they could maximize the herb's effectiveness.

Saw palmetto contains many biologically active chemicals. Unfortunately, we don't know which ones are the most important. We also don't really know how saw palmetto works; it appears to interact...

Saw palmetto oil is an accepted medical treatment for benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) in New Zealand and in France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, and other European countries.

Typical symptoms of BPH include difficulty starting urination, weak urinary stream, frequent urination, dribbling after urination, and waking up several times at night to urinate. Most, thought not all, research suggests that saw palmetto can markedly improve all these symptoms. Benefits require approximately 4 to 6 weeks of treatment to develop. It appears that about two-thirds of men respond reasonably well.

Furthermore, while the prostate tends to continue to grow when left untreated, 1 saw palmetto causes a small but definite shrinkage. 2 3 In other words, it isn't just relieving symptoms, but...

Safety Issues

Saw palmetto is thought to be essentially nontoxic. 4 In addition, in clinical trials, it has shown little to no adverse effects. For example, in a one-year randomized trial of 225 men, there was no significant difference in adverse events between the groups receiving saw palmetto and placebo. 5 And, in a 3-year study, only 34 of the 435 participants complained of side effects, and these were primarily only of the usual nonspecific variety seen with all medications, such as mild gastrointestinal distress. 6 There are at least two case reports in which use of saw palmetto was linked to liver inflammation; 7 however, a subsequent study in rats failed to find that even very high doses of saw palmetto are injurious to the liver. This case report might have been...