One of the reasons why saw palmetto is popular in Europe, the United States and other parts of the world is that there are few known side effects of saw palmetto, and nothing that is uncommon among herbal supplement extracts. The most common side effects are intestinal problems, especially when people take the extract on an empty stomach.
Saw palmetto is popular in treating a swollen or enlarged prostate, referred to clinically as BPH (benign prostatic hyperplasia). This is a common condition among men above 50 years old, and could ultimately lead to prostate cancer and other infections. In a way, then, saw palmetto could prevent prostate cancer as well as treat a number of prostate infections.
Naturally grown in Florida and other nearby states, saw palmetto berries (fruits) when crushed and extracted are found to have a number of helpful benefits such as cure urinary infections, female fertility, laryngitis, asthma, common cold and cough, as well as enhance the female breasts, improve breast milk production, and ease menstrual pains. Apparently, it could also trigger hair growth.
As with all cure-all herbal medicines, saw palmetto and its many therapeutic uses have not been subjected to extensive scientific research. There are, however, a number of documented and undocumented cases of healing as well as side effects.
Some users report experiencing dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting, constipation, and diarrhea. These, however, are very common discomforts that may have resulted from something else or from a combination of several factors. Others report more serious damages such as impotence, liver problems and pancreas problems.
Recently, a study called STEP (Saw palmetto for Treatment of Enlarged Prostates) declared that there was no evidence of toxicity from saw palmetto among the 225 BPH patients who participated in the study. STEP, however, identified most likely side effects that users should watch out for and be quick in reporting to a physician. The likely side effects are allergic reactions on the skin, face, lips or tongue, breathing problems, trouble urinating, darkened urine, fever, light-colored stool, right upper belly pain, loss of appetite, feeling weak or tired, and yellowish skin.
Studies also found that saw palmetto extract contains beta-sitosterol, which is similar to cholesterol. Therefore, too much saw palmetto could result to the discomforts and problems associated with cholesterol, including heart attack.
Finally, women taking birth control pills should not consume saw palmetto at the same time, because this herb is believed to decrease the effects of estrogen, which is supposed to be the reason why the birth control pill works. Saw palmetto also slows down blood clotting and so people who are scheduled for a surgery or just had one should not take saw palmetto, at least 2 weeks before the surgery.
Although the side effects of saw palmetto are minor and could easily be addressed, pregnant women should avoid ingesting it (or anything non-prescribed for that matter). The extract functions as a hormone that could affect pregnancy and the fetus. Although some claim that saw palmetto can help boost breast milk production, it may not be safe for lactating mothers also.