The saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) is a plant indigenous to the southern coastal regions of the United States. The vast majority of commercial saw palmetto palms are grown in Florida. The purple berries of this palm are used medicinally. Saw palmetto berries contain interesting and potentially beneficial natural compounds, including fatty acids, sterols, and flavonoids. Saw palmetto supplements are available in a variety of forms, including pills, tablets, chews, and liquids.
Saw palmetto has a long history of medicinal use. Native Americans used saw palmetto for male urinary problems. Early American settlers used it to improve mood, promote relaxation, and improve reproductive health. Today, saw palmetto is used for asthma, colds, sore throat, bronchitis, chronic pelvic pain syndrome (CPPS), urine flow, relaxation, sexual drive, and migraines, though most of these uses have not been researched extensively.
However, saw palmetto has been tested as a potential treatment for benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), a condition in which the prostate is enlarged and urination becomes painful and unpredictable. Numerous clinical trials have been conducted on saw palmetto’s effect on BPH, and reviews indicate that many of the trials yielded encouraging results. The results of two larger trials, however, indicated that saw palmetto is no more effective at reducing symptoms of BPH than a placebo, but that it may greatly reduce urinary problems.
Saw palmetto supplements seem to be safe for human ingestion, with rare and mild reported adverse effects, including dizziness, nausea, and headache. Because saw palmetto behaves like a hormone, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) advises that pregnant or nursing women abstain from using it until proper research has been done to determine what effects it may have on developing fetuses. Those who suspect they are exhibiting symptoms of serious health conditions should not resort to self-diagnosis, but should consult with their doctor. Saw palmetto products should not be used to justify avoiding a medical consultation.