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Saw Palmetto

Saw palmetto is the bushy palm, Serenoa repens that grows to a height of about 18 feet (6 m) along the coast of the United States from South Carolina to Florida, and in Southern California. It is also found in Europe along the Mediterranean. Other names for this plant are American dwarf palm, cabbage palm, serenoa, or sable.

Saw palmetto is a natural plant remedy used to treat men who are experiencing difficulty when urinating. According to the American Dietetic Association, saw palmetto is one of the most commonly used dietary supplements among Americans between the ages of 50 and 76.


Saw palmetto is not used to treat cancer. It is used to treat non-malignant enlargement of the prostate gland, also called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH).

Although saw palmetto has also been used to treat prostatitis and chronic pelvic pain syndrome (CPPS) in men, it does not appear to be useful for these conditions. A group of researchers at Columbia University reported in early 2004 that men given saw palmetto for CP/CPPS showed no appreciable improvement at the end of a year-long trial.


The prostate gland is found only in men. It is located where the bladder drains into the urethra. The urethra is the tube that takes urine out of the body. The prostate gland contributes to the fluid in which sperm are ejaculated (semen).

It is common for the prostate to enlarge in men over age 50. This enlargement often is not malignant. It is thought to occur because of the action of testosterone, a male hormone, on the cells of the prostate. As the prostate grows, it can press on the urethra and narrow it. This causes men to have problems with urination that include the frequent urge to urinate (especially at night) and a week, dribbling, interrupted urine stream.


Men who are having trouble urinating should see a doctor before taking any remedies on their own. Prostate cancer is a serious, sometimes life-threatening disease, and its symptoms can be similar to BPH. A blood test and physical examination are used to diagnose prostate cancer. It is believed that saw palmetto may interfere with this blood test (called a prostate specific antigen or PSA test). Men should have this blood test done before they begin taking saw palmetto to make sure they get correct results.

Side Effects

Saw palmetto has few side effects, and is generally regarded as safe. Medical authorities in Germany, France, and Italy all officially recognize it as a safe and generally effective treatment for symptoms of BPH. Side effects that have been reported are uncommon but include headache, upset stomach and diarrhoea.

Since saw palmetto is a natural remedy, few controlled studies have been done on how it interacts with other herbal remedies or traditional pharmaceuticals. In general, however, persons taking birth control pills, oestrogen-replacement therapy, or testosterone-replacement therapy should consult their doctor before taking saw palmetto. Patients taking any supplements such as vitamins or herbs should tell their doctor.

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