Saw palmetto extract is a popular supplement in the United States and Europe, often taken in the hopes of promoting prostate and urinary tract health. The extract is derived from the fruit (druse) of Serenoa repens, also known as the dwarf palm or cabbage palm, which is native to the Atlantic and Gulf coast states. The small palm plant grows along sandy shores or in thickets in pine woods.
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The fruit was used as a food source by Native American tribes in the region, but was also provided as a traditional therapy for urinary and reproductive maladies by the Creek, Choctaw, Mikasuki, Timucua and other tribes. In addition, the Seminoles used it as an antiseptic and the Mayans drank the juice of the fruit as a tonic. During the colonial era, doctors who followed the Eclectic School of medicine used saw palmetto to help strengthen patients weakened by major illnesses and to aid in urogenital problems. It is sometimes referred to by the alternative binomial Sabal serralatum.
The extract of saw palmetto continues to be one of the most popular herbal supplements in use today. Modern chemical analysis shows that the fruit of the saw palmetto is high in fatty acids, phytosterols and polysaccharides, and the interaction of these constituents with the human body have been the subject of intense study for several decades. Working from the traditional use of saw palmetto as a therapy for urinary problems, researchers have been investigating whether the bioactive ingredients in the palm’s fruit have any effect on the male prostate, particularly benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). This condition, which expresses itself in the enlargement of the prostate gland, is a common complaint in men over the age of 40.
A number of in vitro studies and human clinical trials have been conducted to test whether saw palmetto extract improves urinary symptoms and flow measures. The trials have been inconclusive in determining an improvement of symptoms in men suffering from benign prostatic hypertrophy. Studies on the effects of saw palmetto extract to help male pattern baldness, reduce the chances of prostate cancer or regulate hormonal levels in postmenopausal women have been inconclusive.
As a supplement, saw palmetto is available in a variety of forms. The extract is provided in pill or capsule form, as a liquid tincture or in gel capsules. Some products are formulated with added vitamins, zinc, selenium and other botanical extracts. Saw Palmetto may interact with medications or other herbal products. Consult your pharmacist or physician before about potential interactions. In general, it is recommended that a physician be consulted before beginning a course of saw palmetto.
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