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Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) is a palm that grows in the southern coastal regions of the U.S. Some Native American peoples have long used its berries as medicine.

Why do people take saw palmetto?

Saw palmetto has caught on in the U.S. as a treatment for enlarged prostate, or benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH). While the evidence is mixed, multiple studies have shown an improvement in symptoms of enlarged prostate. Studies have shown it can reduce the need to urinate in the night and improve urinary flow and painful urination. In fact, a large analysis of multiple studies concluded that saw palmetto produced a benefit similar to finasteride, a drug for enlarged prostate, and was better tolerated. Saw palmetto may also boost the general quality of life for men with BPH.

Laboratory studies suggest that saw palmetto lowers the levels of several male sex hormones. Although prostate cancer can be affected by these hormones, there's no evidence that saw palmetto is an effective treatment for prostate cancer.

Other studies of saw palmetto -- for baldness, chronic pelvic pain, chronic nonbacterial prostatitis, and urinary problems due to prostate conditions -- have had inconclusive results.

How much saw palmetto should you take?

For BPH, studies have used a daily intake of 320 milligrams of saw palmetto split into two doses. In other forms -- like tinctures -- the dosing will be different. Get advice from your doctor. It may take four to six weeks for saw palmetto to have an effect.

Can you get saw palmetto naturally from foods?

There are no food sources of saw palmetto.

What are the risks of taking saw palmetto?

  • Side effects are uncommon and typically mild. The most common are nausea, stomach pain, bad breath, constipation, diarrhea, and vomiting. Men taking saw palmetto have also reported erection problems, testicular pain, and tenderness in the breasts.
  • Interactions. If you take any medicines regularly, talk to your doctor before you start using saw palmetto supplements. They could interact with medicines like aspirin, NSAID painkillers such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and naproxen (Aleve), blood thinners, and hormone treatments. In combination with ginkgo biloba or garlic, saw palmetto might seriously increase the risk of bleeding.
  • Risks. People who have diseases or health conditions should not use saw palmetto without talking to a doctor first. There is some concern that saw palmetto might interfere with men's PSA (prostate-specific antigen) levels, the test used to screen for prostate cancer. Talk to your doctor about this issue.

Given the lack of evidence about its safety, saw palmetto is not recommended for children or for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

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