Saw palmetto is a fan palm that grows as a tree or shrub. It can reach heights of 10 feet in warm climates, with leaf clusters that can reach 2 feet or more. It has a creeping, horizontal growth pattern. In the United States, saw palmetto grows in the warm climates of the southeast coast, from South Carolina to throughout Florida. Lush, green, "saw toothed" leaves fan out from thorny stems. The plant has white flowers, which produce yellow berries. The berries turn brownish black when ripe and are dried for medicinal use.
What Is It Made Of?
Saw palmetto's active ingredients include fatty acids, plant sterols, and flavonoids. The berries also contain high molecular weight polysaccharides (sugars), which may reduce inflammation or strengthen the immune system.
Saw palmetto can be purchased as dried berries, powdered capsules, tablets, liquid tinctures, and liposterolic extracts. The product label should indicate that contents are standardized and contain 85% to 95% fatty acids and sterols. Read labels carefully, and buy only from reputable companies.
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. However, herbs can trigger side effects, and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a health care provider.
Saw palmetto is generally thought to be safe when used as directed. Side effects are very rare, although headache, nausea, diarrhea, and dizziness have been reported. In at least one case, significant bleeding during surgery was attributed to saw palmetto. There have been two reports of liver damage and one report of pancreas damage in people who took saw palmetto. But there is not enough information to know if saw palmetto was the cause of these effects.
DO NOT self treat for BPH with saw palmetto. See your doctor for a proper diagnosis to rule out prostate cancer.
Saw palmetto may have effects similar to some hormones, and should not be used in pregnant or nursing women, or women who have had or are at risk for hormone-related cancers.
Saw palmetto may interfere with the absorption of iron.
Possible InteractionsFinasteride (Proscar)
Because saw palmetto may work similarly to finasteride (Proscar), you should not use this herb in combination with finasteride, or other medications used to treat BPH, unless directed to by your physician.Antiplatelet and anticoagulant drugs (blood-thinners)
Saw palmetto may affect the blood's ability to clot, and could interfere with blood-thinning drugs, including:
Oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy
- Warfarin (Coumadin)
- Clopidogrel (Plavix)
Saw palmetto may reduce the number of estrogen and androgen receptors, and thus have hormone-like effects. It may make oral contraceptives less effective, raising the risk of unplanned pregnancy.
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