Saw Palmetto: Serenoa Serrulata, Sabal Serrulata, Serenoa Repens
Also known as: fan palm, dwarf palmetto, sabal, serenoa
Parts used: berries
Systems/Organs affected: reproductive, lungs, heart, kidney, spleen, liver, urinary, glandular, prostate, structural
Properties: sedative, diuretic, antiseptic, yin and yang, tonic, cardiac, expectorant, aphrodisiac, roborant (strengthening), nutritive, endocrine and anabolic agent, anti-inflammatory, antihistamine
Saw palmetto is a member of the Palmaceae (palm) family. It is a 'fan' palm native to North America and grows in thick bunches, usually around the roots of other trees. Typically found in the southeastern United States, it is a very hardy plant-some are as old as 700 years. The saw palmetto can get up to 10 feet tall with the large leaf fans themselves being close to two feet in length. The leaf stalk has sharp spines that give the plant its famous name. The berries are a reddish-brown to black and are generally harvested in September. The berries are food for both animals and humans as well as being a source of valuable medicine.
Saw palmetto's medicinal beginnings were first recorded in 1879 by a physician in Savannah, Georgia known as Dr. J.B. Read. He published an article in the American Journal of Pharmacy in April of 1879 on its medicinal uses. He stated, "...its peculiar soothing power on the mucous membrane helps induce sleep, relieves the most troublesome coughs, promotes expectoration, improves digestion and increases fat, flesh and strength. Its sedative and diuretic properties are remarkable." He was amazed that such a plant had escaped notice for so long. Since that time there have been several studies conducted on the benefits of saw palmetto.
In Austria, Germany and Italy, this herb is combined with others in a formula widely used for prostate issues. BPH (benign prostate hypertrophy) is a common condition among aging men. It affects about 8% of men in their 40's and by the time men are 70 the ratio is close to 60% and the ratio continues to climb to about 90% of men in their 80's. One quarter of these will develop moderate to severe urinary issues. The prostate gland is responsible for secreting fluid necessary for reproduction. It takes a large amount of androgen hormones for that to take place.
In studies done on saw palmetto for BPH it was found that the herb relieved urinary issues as well as the pharmaceutical drug Proscar, also known as 'finasteride'. Saw palmetto also acted as an anti-inflammatory which also was of benefit to prostate health and overall function. In a study done with 2,939 men with BPH, it was found that those using saw palmetto extract had a much larger imrpovement in urinary related issues than did the controls. This same group also reported less night time episodes with urination and an improvement in overall urine flow. In a similar study it was found that not only had urine flow and prostate size improved but that over a period of 2 years so did sexual function.
Another study was published in the Journal of Alternative Complementary Medicine (2002, April; 8(2): 143-152) on using saw palmetto for androgenic alopecia. Nineteen men between the ages of 23-64 with mild to moderate androgenic alopecia were given 200 mg. of saw palmetto and 50 mg of beta sitosterol or a placebo for four and one half months. Their hair was assessed on a standardized scale both before the experiment and after. By the end of the study, 60% of the men had improved.
Saw palmetto has been used for many other things over its lengthy history. Jethro Kloss (Back to Eden) stated it was useful in all diseases related to the reproductive area (for both sexes) and is a general tonic in times of illness. He also stated that it was useful for such things as bronchitis, colds, sinus infections, diabetes and Bright's disease (also known as nephritis or inflammation of the kidneys). Saw palmetto also has been used in the past for asthma, to help build muscles and increase strength, for impotence, headaches, migraines and to strengthen the immune system. There are some references to its use in aiding digestion and strengthening the thyroid as well.
The Native Americans have used the berries for hundreds of years as a source of nutrition and to stimulate the appetite. One of the early eclectic physicians, Doctor Ellingwood, used it for infertility in women and to increase milk flow in nursing mothers.
This is an herb that deserves a place on the supplement shelf for daily use. However, some practitiioners have found that, used in high doses, it can lead to a loss of libido in both sexes. It is also known to interact with prostate medication, birth control pills, blood thinners and blood clotting agents. In excess, saw palmetto can cause nausea, constipation, dizziness and diarrhea. It is believed to be safe supplementing daily at 160-320 mg for men and 160 mg for women. As always, consult a physician before starting any herbal regimen.
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