Ask Dr. J.: What is Saw Palmetto?

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What is Saw Palmetto?

Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) is a small palm tree, up to 8-10 feet high, that grows in the southeastern coastal states of North America. The tree has large, fan-like leaves, and the berries produced by the tree are about the size of a grape, with a deep reddish-black to brown color. These berries have a long history of use in botanical medicine for disorders of the urinary tract, especially by Native Americans. If you are reading the medical literature or magazines on saw palmetto, you may see it called Sabal serrulata, Serenoa repens, or by the trade name Permixon®, but these are all names for the same botanical.

More recently, extracts from saw palmetto berries have been medically researched in Europe for their benefits in treating disorders of the prostate gland. These oily extracts are fat soluble, and are called liposterolic extracts. (Sterols are the same base molecules that you find in cholesterol and steroid hormones.) Most of the research on saw palmetto comes from France and Germany, where the use of botanical medicines is more accepted and better researched than in the United States.

Its main use is in treating benign enlargement of the prostate, and the resultant symptoms related to obstruction of urine flow. The typical dose is 160 mg twice a day of the standardized extract.

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