Saw palmetto is a small palm tree which grows in the southeast United States. Off of the pointed branches of the tree grow small berries. Both the plant and the berries are used medicinally to treat a range of medical conditions. The Native Americans from the Seminole tribe ate saw palmetto berries to treat urinary and reproductive problems, and today it is one of the most commonly used supplements to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), or enlarged prostate.
Saw palmetto is most commonly used to treat an enlarged prostate. The prostate gland is a walnut-sized gland that is part of the male reproductive system. It is located between the urethra and the bladder. As a man ages, the prostate grows—but sometimes it can grow too big and put pressure on the bladder. This causes symptoms like frequent urination, trouble starting a urine stream, weak urine stream, or inability to empty the bladder. It works by slowing the production of the enzyme 5-alpha reductase which converts testosterone into another hormone that can cause an enlarged prostate.
As a man ages, his risk of developing prostate cancer increases. This is because 90 percent of men age 85 and older suffer from BPH which may be a major contributor to the development of prostate cancer. Since saw palmetto can inhibit the growth of the prostate, it may reduce the risk of prostate cancer. Saw palmetto is a natural supplement for men with prostate cancer. Saw palmetto is a better option than other alpha-5 reductase inhibitors because it doesn't come with side effects—like impotence or low libido—like commercial drugs do. Studies even show that saw palmetto induces growth arrest of prostate cancer cells without any adverse effects.
Saw palmetto might stop or reverse androgenic alopecia (AGA), or male-pattern baldness in aging men. As a man ages, testosterone levels decrease, and DHT levels increase. Since the hair follicles are sensitive to DHT, they shrink, minimizing hair growth and causing hair loss. Saw palmetto stops testosterone from converting into DHT, reversing hair loss and baldness. One study showed a 60 percent improvement in AGA after the subjects were given botanically derived 5-alpha reductase inhibitors.
Oligospermia, or low sperm count, is when there are fewer than 15 million sperm per milliliter of semen. Low testosterone causes hormonal imbalances, which can lead to an abnormal sperm count. Since saw palmetto stops the conversion of testosterone to DHT, it keeps the hormones balanced, ensuring proper sperm production.
Low testosterone can certainly cause a dip in sexual desire. Many men today suffer from low testosterone and may not be aware that this is the cause of many of their symptoms including fatigue, stunted libido, and a decreased sense of well-being. Saw palmetto can help men retain normal levels of testosterone in the body, reversing such symptoms.
Saw palmetto has anti-inflammatory properties and works as an expectorant—it can, therefore, relieve chest congestion associated with bronchitis, asthma, or a cough. It reduces mucus production, limiting the irritants which cause coughing and wheezing.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is estimated that 50% of adults get migraines at least once a year. A migraine is a primary headache disorder which can be extremely painful and disabling and last anywhere from a few hours to 2-3 days. Migraines are caused by the activation of pain-producing inflammatory substances around the nerves and blood vessels in the brain. Since saw palmetto has active ingredients fatty acids, plant sterols, and flavonoids which reduce inflammation, they can reduce migraine symptoms as well.
Saw palmetto acts as a diuretic, meaning, it can improve urine output and urine flow. It can also strengthen urinary organs in older men and women following andropause and menopause. In men with BPH, saw palmetto can treat urinary dysfunction and overactive bladder. A systematic review of 18 randomized controlled trials involving 2939 men with BPH showed significant improvement in urinary tract symptoms and peak urine flow following supplementation with saw palmetto plant extract.
Inflammation can happen all over the body—internally, externally—visible, or not. People may not realize that chronic inflammation is the culprit of their seemingly "random" aches, pains, and chronic fatigue. Today, more than ever, chronic inflammation plagues people of all ages and races—and saw palmetto can help to combat that. Saw palmetto contains powerful anti-inflammatory agents like healthy fatty acids and flavonoids which can reduce inflammation all over the body. Arthritis, Crohn's disease, fibromyalgia, and Parkinson's disease are just a few of the inflammatory diseases that saw palmetto supplementation can help improve.
Although not research driven, there is evidence that saw palmetto may help restore blood sugar levels and improve type 2 diabetes. It may also improve symptoms connected to diabetes like fatigue or impotence. Talk to your doctor if you have diabetes and would like to supplement with saw palmetto.
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