Latin Names—Serenoa repens, Sabal serrulata
Saw palmetto is a small palm tree native to the eastern United States. Its fruit was used medicinally by the Native American Seminoles of Florida.
The ripe fruit of saw palmetto is used in several forms, including ground and dried fruit or whole berries. It is available in liquid extracts, tablets, capsules, and as an infusion or a tea.
Saw palmetto is used as an herbal remedy in the hope that it can help reduce urinary symptoms associated with an enlarged prostate gland (also called benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH).
Saw palmetto is also used in the hope of improving such conditions as:
- chronic pelvic pain,
- bladder disorders,
- decreased sex drive,
- hair loss,
- hormone imbalances,
- and prostate cancer.
Research on Saw Palmetto Benefits
- 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. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (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 Summary
- Saw palmetto may cause side effects, including stomach discomfort.
- Tell 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 to help ensure coordinated and safe care. Complementary or alternative therapy should not be used in place of conventional medical care or to delay seeking that care.
- 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 at www.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.
For More Information
The NCCAM Clearinghouse provides information on CAM and NCCAM, including publications and searches of Federal databases of scientific and medical literature. The Clearinghouse does not provide medical advice, treatment recommendations, or referrals to practitioners.
NIH Office of Dietary Supplements
Web site: www.ods.od.nih.gov
NIH National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus
Saw Palmetto Listing: www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/patient-sawpalmetto.html
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Saw Palmetto, Fact Sheet, Created May 2006, Updated July 2010