Native to South-Eastern United States, saw palmetto or Serenoa repens is a plant with many health benefits.
It stands out among other plants thanks to its fan-shaped leaves.
It grows extremely slowly atop dunes, in pine forests, and on earth mounds along the coast of South-Eastern American states.
This palm species grows in Florida where its fruits are harvested in abundance, and is also found in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi.
Its fruits are similar in shape and size to olives and ripen to a deep purple color. These were staple foods in the diets of native Indians for the past 12,000 years, long before Europeans settled on their lands.
Saw palmetto, a short story
This dwarf palm, sometimes called “cabbage palm”, “Florida palm” or “sabal” is most at ease in sandy and dry soil.
Its small size never exceeds 10 feet (3 meters) tall, even when fully grown, and its fruits (or berries) are usually picked by hand.
Even on the most sweltering days of summer, fruit pickers wear long sleeves and thick leather gloves to protect themselves from the sharp slicing thorns that line leaf stems.
Moreover, more often than not, wasp nests are found hiding among these palm trees, and make harvesting more perilous still.
After the harvest, saw palmetto fruits are dried and then exported, mainly to Europe. However, they’re also used in the Americas where they’re ingredients for certain preparations.
Dwarf palm berries draw the spotlight to themselves when it comes to herbal medicine thanks to their health benefits.
Which are these? How to they impact the human body? What are the medicinal properties for health? How can this best be prepared to maximize therapeutic activity?
As of today, both the World Health Organization and the European Commission recognize the effectiveness of saw palmetto on urinary disorders that result form benign prostatic hyperplasia while still in its light to moderate phases (I and II).
Here is what you need to know…
Properties of saw palmetto
Saw palmetto, which belongs to the Aracaceae family, is known under the scientific name “Serenoa repens”.
Previously, American Indians who lived in South-East America used the fruits harvested from sabal for food and to treat certain ailments:
- disorders of the urinary tract in men,
- breast disorders in women,
- digestive disorders,
- and dysentery.
More benefits are allocated to it, such as aphrodisiac, antiseptic, expectorant properties.
When the European colonizers appeared, they quickly added this berry to their diet and to that of their farm animals. They also learned to use the fruits in much the same manner as the native Americans did.
However, as time passed, they relinquished saw palmetto fruit as a food item because it tasted somewhat like soap, and only retained the medicinal uses.
Later on, at the beginning of the 20th century, American doctors used dwarf palm berries to treat clinical occurrences of benign prostatic hyperplasia, libido disorders, irritation of mucous membranes and tissues, prostate swelling and urinary tract infections.
This plant was on the official United States list of medicines until 1950, at which point doctors decided it wasn’t deemed competitive enough compared to new emerging treatments.
However, saw palmetto still is very popular and very much used in Europe. French doctors invented an oil-based extract in 1960 that is still in use today.
In Italy, Austria and Germany, this saw palmetto oil-based extract is often used to treat benign prostate hyperplasia.
Americans had to wait until the 1990s to have renewed access to fan palmetto products, packaged together with African cherry, pumpkin seeds and nettles in natural therapy products.
Saw palmetto health benefits and therapeutic properties
The therapeutic properties of dwarf palm are many.
- light sedative. It is used in case of sleep disorders, bronchitis and bouts of cough.
- peripheral antiandrogen that enhances treatments connected to benign prostatic hyperplasia.
From these benefits, saw palmetto is recommended for use to alleviate:
- difficulties when urinating, either due to bladder disorders or to obstacles along the excretion canal. Such an alteration of the bladder is also called dysuria.
- nocturnal micturition disorders due to bladder hyperactivity. The urgent feeling of needing to urinate is also called pollakiuria.
- prostate adenoma
Seemingly, saw palmetto:
- inhibits conversion of testosterone into dihydrotestosterone, which is the substance that is said to activate benign prostatic hyperplasia.
- has a positive impact on the hormonal estrogen/testosterone equilibrium thanks to its anti-inflammatory activity.
- triggers the natural death of prostate cells through apoptosis, which slows the hyperplasia.
Various galenic forms and doses for use
For treatments, saw palmetto comes in various forms: fruit extracts, standardized extracts, and base tincture.
To best avail of its therapeutic activity, the dosages are as follows:
- mother tincture: 0.03 or 0.06 fl. oz. (1 or 2 ml) thrice a day is recommended;
- extracts (extracts standardized to 80 or 90% fatty acids and sterols, which is the most effective proportion for BPH) have a recommended dosage of 160 mg twice a a day.
- as for capsules, best follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Good to know about saw palmetto
Saw palmetto, in some cases, can lead to:
- light intestinal disorders (diarrhea or constipation)
- arterial hypertension.
It doesn’t impact the libido.
Dwarf palm effectiveness isn’t always immediate upon first ingestion. Regular follow-up and a 1 to 2 month course may be needed before the effects start to appear.
Although the effectiveness of saw palmetto has been proven in the context of benign prostatic hyperplasia symptoms, best seek advice from your consulting physician instead of simply starting self-medication.
Precautions: saw palmetto extracts
Taking these extracts:
- is strictly not recommended during any type of hormone therapy and even less for pregnant women.
- must be performed carefully for persons undergoing anti-platelet and anticoagulant treatments.
Always refer to a medical recommendation.