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Saw Palmetto

Today’s article will be an interview with a popular herb known as saw palmetto. This particular plant was in the news due to an article in JAMA (The Journal of the American Medical Association). The article compared the herbal extract of saw palmetto berry to a popular prescription drug (Proscar) used to treat BPH (Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia), enlarged prostate. The results were very promising in relation to the relief of symptoms associated with this condition and the fact that the herb compared in effectiveness to the drug without side effects. This article will let you better understand this plant and the history surrounding its use. Let’s begin our interview:

Hawkins: Tell us about yourself. How did you get your name and how did you become so popular?

Saw Palmetto (SP): My botanical name is Serona Repens, and I grow in a particular area of the Southeastern United States. I am native to the coastal areas in the regions of Charleston, South Carolina; Florida; and Louisiana. I am very hardy and am an important part of the natural habitat. I am planted in landscaping because I am resistant to insects, drought, and fire. Animals like to eat my fruit which is green until ripe and then it turns bluish to black.

Hawkins: Can you share your history of being used medicinally and tell us the method of how you were used in health condition?

SP: The native Indians in the regions mentioned above used me as a tonic and basically as a food. They made hats out of my leaves and used the stem to cure hides. I am considered a true American adaptogenic herb. An adaptogen is a term used in herbalism to reflect the ability of a plant to work as a biological response modifier. It wasn’t until the early 1800s that the medical world began to look at me a bit closer. I have a profound effect on the genitourinary tract and am beneficial to enlarged prostates, a condition affecting men. The early eclectic physician Dr. I. J. M. Goff began using me in early 1877 and shared me with many other well-known eclectic doctors like Felter-Lloyd and King. I am listed in The Materia Medic And Clinical Therapeutics of 1905, King’s American Dispensatory of 1898, and listed in The U.S. Pharmacopoeia from 1900-1916 and in The National Formulary 1925-1942. As you can see, I have been used for a long period of time.

Hawkins: Let’s look at some of the conditions and therapeutic applications you exhibit. How do you accomplish all these benefits?

SP: Let me begin with the action I take in the body. I work as a nutritive tonic, an expectorant (clears mucus), and I help control mucous membrane irritations. In regard to uses, I have been shown to benefit the following: Irritable coughs, chronic bronchial coughs, whooping cough, acute and chronic laryngitis, asthma, and am used as a digestive tonic improving appetite, digestion and assimilation. I am best known for helping the genitourinary system in both males and females by strengthening and restoring balance. Dr. Lloyd summarized me best by calling my actions amphoteric (normalizer of functions and size). I have been called “the old man’s friend” due to the fact that I help relieve the unpleasant symptoms of enlarged prostate.

Hawkins: Tell us now about your biochemical make-up and how you are being used medicinally?

SP: This will be a bit complicated, but I will try to keep it simple. I am made of numerous chemical compounds. My most active are called liposterols which are basically a fat. I will discuss this further in a few moments. I also contain polysaccharides (sugars), and a long chain alcohol called polyprenols. Exciting, isn’t it? Now let’s get down to what counts — How I work in the body. First, even though there is a huge amount of research, science cannot explain exactly how I work. One theory that seems to hold promise is that in the normal process of the prostate, the hormone testosterone is converted into a more potent form of testosterone called DHT (dihyrotestosterone), which stimulates the growth of prostatic tissue. This is done with an enzyme, and it is believed that in a case of enlargement of the prostate, that there is an enzyme defect which leads to an over-conversion ratio of DHT. The sterolic fatty acids within my berries have been shown to be effective in the reduction of the conversion enzyme, thus reducing the size. But science again is not clear as to how this is being done. Much more research needs to be done.

Hawkins: Share with us some of the dosage recommendations and is there any cause for concern about toxicity?

SP: First, there are many ways to use my berries. Traditionally teas were used and then followed by alcohol extracts called tinctures. The capsules of ground berries are available and, of course, now the standardized extract. Just to make this clear, all forms work. Standardization does not always increase effectiveness. Many times science does not know what constituents to standardize or the level of therapeutic dosages. The question becomes — If the plant has worked for hundreds of years in its whole form, does it need to be standardized? According to the German E Commission, dosage recommendations are as follows: Daily 1-2 grams of ground berries, or 1-2 mils t.i.d. Tincture, or 320 mg total of the standardized extract.

Contraindications are unknown and side effects are rare, but I can cause stomach upset. There are no known drug interactions.

Hawkins: I have been reading that you work well with a few other herbal friends. Can you tell us about them?

SP: There is a lot of research being done with a combination formula with the following herbs: Stinging nettle (urtica dioica)–the root part, pygeum (pygeum africanum), willow bark (salix alba), and goldenrod (solidago virgaurea). These friends work similarly by reducing inflammation, swelling, increasing urine flow and increasing blood flow. You can find this information in a book written by Christopher Hobbs, Saw Palmetto–The Herb For Prostate Health. Of course, it is important to seek professional assistance when considering this type of therapy. There are many lifestyle changes that can be of help with a proper nutritional and herbal protocol.

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