Saw Palmetto Benefits

The Seminole tribe of Florida had used saw palmetto, Serenoa repens, primarily as food, and eventually, as remedy to treat a wide range of ailments, foremost of which are problems pertaining to sexual and urinary health.  Many of the research conducted today supports these and other historical uses of the saw palmetto, and some uses are even underway for further investigation. 

Long before the arrival of European settlers and the rediscovery of the plant’s medicinal potential, Native Americans were already using tinctures or dried crushed seeds of saw palmetto to relieve the swelling of prostate glands.  Today, research suggests that chemical extracts from saw palmetto – mostly fatty acids and sterols – can help alleviate symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH.  The symptoms typically cause great discomfort because men suffering from such prostatic disorder frequently urinate at night, and urinate with urgency but in interrupted and hesitant streams.

When the prostate gland gets larger, it presses on the urethra and can therefore cause bladder and urination problems.  There is nothing as painful as an enlarged prostate gone bad, and this is one serious male problem that saw palmetto can help address.  In fact, given its beneficial effects on the genitourinary system, the palm extract is currently under further study for its effects in prostate cancer cells.

Saw palmetto contains sterol compounds that mimic estrogen or testosterone, depending on who takes it.  Not incidentally, saw palmetto is often one of the ingredients in men’s sexual potency supplements. Pharmaceutical research claims that sitosterol is effective in the treatment of male sexual dysfunction, especially sexual problems caused by diabetes.

Not only does saw palmetto benefit men, the palm also benefits women.  When taken by women of child-bearing age, saw palmetto improves sexual stamina and strengthens reproductive tissues.  This suggests that the plant is indeed beneficial as a genitourinary tonic that it once was.  This does not mean, however, that pregnant women can take supplements from the plant without consulting their healthcare providers first. Traditionally, the plant was used to bring about menstruation in women who had absent or irregular menses.

Saw palmetto is also used to help stimulate appetite and weight gain.  This means that its extracts can be made into a tonic drink (which it was, historically) to benefit children who need to put on more weight, although care should be exercised when giving undiluted quantities to children below 12 years old.    Saw palmetto can be infused into the daily diet by boiling a small amount of it in a stew.

The same sterol compound that boosts sexual stamina is responsible for making saw palmetto an anti-acne topical application. Other compounds in the plant also promote hair growth.  It could be that the properties of saw palmetto in regulating sex hormones have the same effects on acne and hair loss, both of which are correlated with levels of sex hormones.

Saw palmetto has also been traditionally used to treat colds, asthma, mucus and lung problems.

Its effects in the mucous membrane and the rest of the body were chronicled in 1879 by Dr. J.B. Read who published his findings in the American Journal of Pharmacy.   He said that saw palmetto “induces sleep, relieves the most troublesome coughs, promotes expectoration, improves digestion and increases fat, flesh and strength. Its sedative and diuretic properties are remarkable."

Today, this claim is validated in various toxicology studies about the plant.  In 1998, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a report that detailed laboratory studies in the use of saw palmetto in genitourinary health and concluded that the plant is as effective as standard drugs in treating moderate BPH, without the prescription drug’s side effects, like diminished sexual drive.