As men get older, they’re almost certain to experience symptoms of an enlarged prostate. Scientifically known as benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH, an enlarged prostate usually causes annoying or uncomfortable issues with urinating.
Luckily, there’s a simple herbal extract for treating these BPH-related issues: saw palmetto. Taken from the berries of a palm tree native to the southeastern United States, saw palmetto extract has fatty acids and phytosterols which affect prostate health.
Of course, BPH isn’t the only prostate health issue men need to watch out for. Prostate cancer is also very common, affecting 1 in 6 American men according to the Prostate Cancer Foundation. Because saw-palmetto is well-known as an enlarged prostate treatment, it’s sometimes recommended as a natural prostate cancer treatment.
Medical authorities explain causes of enlarged prostates are unknown. However, they do indicate a couple factors that possibly facilitate this occurrence. But, these observations are merely preliminary.
How Does Saw Palmetto Affect BPH?
Saw palmetto’s best use is relieving urinary problems that occur with BPH. These include difficulty urinating, inability to empty the bladder completely, and the need to urinate frequently at night.
Research shows saw-palmetto reliably reduces several symptoms of enlarged prostate. For example, in one study 320 mg saw palmetto reduced nighttime bathroom trips and increased urinary flow rate. In fact, a meta-analysis published in 2000 declared saw palmetto both the most widely used and the most effective natural remedies for enlarged prostate.
But, while most saw palmetto studies indicate this natural treatment is more effective than placebo, there are a few notable exceptions. For instance, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study in 2006 where placebo and saw-palmetto caused about the same reduction in enlarged prostate-related urinary issues.
In light of these conflicting study results, the medical consensus seems to be saw palmetto causes a modest reduction in urinary issues related to BPH.
Can Saw Palmetto Shrink an Enlarged Prostate?
Although some sources report otherwise, no reliable saw palmetto research shows this plant extract shrinks an already enlarged prostate. Similarly, I couldn’t find any research investigating whether saw palmetto delays age-related prostate enlargement.
However, scientists have identified one important way saw palmetto affects prostate size and swelling. To understand this effect, let’s have a quick prostate anatomy lesson.
The prostate gland surrounds part of the urethra, the urine release tube. Consequently, an enlarged prostate pinches this tube, making urination more difficult. That’s where saw-palmetto comes in.
Researchers behind one saw-palmetto study discovered the prostate cells lining the urethra decreased in size when men took 320 mg saw-palmetto for 6 months. This explains why saw-palmetto works best as a treatment for BPH-induced urinary problems.
Does Saw Palmetto Prevent or Treat Prostate Cancer?
Although saw-palmetto lessens symptoms and side effects of a benign (non-cancerous) enlarged prostate, no research shows it treats malignant enlarged prostate related to prostate cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, a few studies have tested saw palmetto’s effects on prostate cancer cells, either in cell cultures or live animals. These tests produced mixed results, however, and there aren’t any reliable human trials.
Unfortunately, saw-palmetto also isn’t likely to reduce men’s risk of getting prostate cancer. As reported in a study published in the journal Nutrition and Cancer, taking saw-palmetto isn’t correlated to reduced prostate cancer risk. This study followed over 35,000 men for 2 years, and 10% of this group used saw-palmetto at least weekly for 10 years. The size and duration of this study make it a reliable indicator of saw palmetto’s lack of effect on prostate cancer risk.
Although saw palmetto won’t affect prostate cancer, it’s still a great supplement ingredient for promoting prostate health and comfort related to BPH.
Just remember: a larger prostate gland can sometimes be an indicator of prostate cancer. Consequently, it is important to see a doctor to rule out prostate cancer before treating an enlarged prostate with saw-palmetto.