Saw palmetto is a small palm tree native to the eastern United States. Its fruit was used medicinally by the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
Common Names—saw palmetto, American dwarf palm tree, cabbage palm
Latin Names—Serenoa repens, Sabal serrulata
What Saw Palmetto Is Used For
- Saw palmetto is used mainly for urinary symptoms associated with an enlarged prostate gland (also called benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH).
- Saw palmetto is also used for other conditions, including chronic pelvic pain, bladder disorders, decreased sex drive, hair loss, hormone imbalances, and prostate cancer.
How Saw Palmetto Is Used
The ripe fruit of saw palmetto is used in several forms, including ground and dried fruit or whole berries. It is available as liquid extracts, tablets, capsules, and as an infusion or a tea.
What the Science Says
- Several small studies suggest that saw palmetto may be effective for treating BPH symptoms. However, a 2009 review of the research concluded that saw palmetto has not been shown to be more effective than placebo for this use.
- In 2006, a large study of 225 men with moderate-to-severe BPH found no improvement with 320 mg saw palmetto daily for 1 year versus placebo. NCCAM cofunded the study with the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
- There is not enough scientific evidence to support the use of saw palmetto for reducing the size of an enlarged prostate or for any other conditions.
- Saw palmetto does not appear to affect readings of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels. PSA is protein produced by cells in the prostate. The PSA test is used to screen for prostate cancer and to monitor patients who have had prostate cancer.
- An NCCAM-funded study is looking at the effects of saw palmetto extract on prostate cancer cells.
Side Effects and Cautions
- Saw palmetto appears to be well tolerated by most users. It may cause mild side effects, including stomach discomfort.
- Tell all your health care providers about any complementary and alternative practices you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care. For tips about talking with your health care providers about CAM, see NCCAM'sTime to Talk campaign.
- Bent S, Kane C, Shinohara K, et al. Saw palmetto for benign prostatic hyperplasia. New England Journal of Medicine. 2006;354(6):557–566.
- National Cancer Institute. The Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) Test: Questions and Answers. National Cancer Institute Web site. Accessed atwww.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Detection/PSA on June 3, 2010.
- Saw palmetto. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database Web site. Accessed at www.naturaldatabase.com on August 7, 2009.
- Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens). In: Coates P, Blackman M, Cragg G, et al., eds. Encyclopedia of Dietary Supplements. New York, NY: Marcel Dekker; 2005;635–644.
- Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens [Bartran] Small). Natural Standard Database Web site. Accessed at www.naturalstandard.com on August 4, 2009.
- Saw palmetto berry. In: Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckman J, eds. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Newton, MA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2000:335–340.
- Tacklind J, MacDonald R, Rutks I, et al. Serenoa repens for benign prostatic hyperplasia.Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2009;CD001423.