Saw palmetto is the fruit of a small shrub in the palm family native to the southeastern United States from South Carolina to southern Mississippi and through out Florida. Most of the fruit is wildharvested in Florida.
Saw palmetto was introduced into medicine by. J. B. Read, of Savannah, Georgia, in an 1879 issue of the American Journal of Pharmacy: "By its peculiar soothing power on the mucous membrane it induces sleep, relieves the most troublesome coughs, promotes expectoration, improves digestion, and increases fat, flesh and strength. Its sedative and diuretic properties are remarkable."
An "original communication" in the July 1892 issue of The New Idea stated, "It also exerts a great influence over the organs of reproduction, mammoa, ovarium, prostate, tests [sic], etc. Its action on them is a vitalizer, and is said to be the greatest known, tending to increase their activity and add greatly to their size."
Clinical trials with saw palmetto show that it decreases symptoms associated with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), especially reducing the urge to urinate during the night. Fifty percent of men more than fifty years old may develop BPH. Pressure of the enlarged prostate on the bladder may cause many of these men to awaken four or five times a night with an urge to urinate. Components of fat-soluble extracts of the fruit reduce prostate size and inhibit inflammation. A double-blind French clinical trial involving I 10 BPH patients, published in 1984, reported that saw palmetto reduced the number of times patients had to urinate at night by more than 45 percent and increased urinary flow rate by more than 50 percent. Painful or difficult urination was significantly reduced in the treatment group as compared to the placebo group. More than 2,000 patients have now been evaluated in clinical trials.
German health authorities allow saw palmetto fruit preparations for difficulty of urination in early stages of BPH.
The dried fruit is available in whole or ground form, as well as in capsules, tablets, and tinctures. Benefits are most likely to be achieved with standardized products made with fat-soluble carriers containing high levels of free fatty acids.
No side effects or contraindications other than rare stomach upset have been reported. The primary condition for which the fruit is used, BPH, can only be diagnosed by a physician, so consult one for proper examination and treatment.