Saw palmetto (scientific name: serenoa repens) is a medicinal herb that is believed to help cure benign prostatic hypertrophy or, simply, enlargement of the prostate. Also known as American dwarf palm tree or cabbage palm, saw palmetto grows naturally in Florida and other southeastern states, and looks like, well, a dwarf palm tree. Saw palmetto is a plant that grows as tall as 2 to 6 feet. It has large spiny-leaves that form a crown-like circular fan. It bears red-brown, oblong fruits that are believed to be medicinal. Although it thrives in the US, it is more popularly used as herbal medicine in Europe. According to studies done in Europe, saw palmetto can decrease the size of one’s prostate and therefore improve symptoms related to the enlargement of the prostate. But what is saw palmetto exactly and how is it used?
The saw palmetto berry is made up of the following compounds, divided into 4 major categories. First are the free fatty acids, which are quite numerous in the herb, most especially oleic acid, lauric acid, myristic acid and palmitic acid; second are phytosterols or plant sterols, which are chemically similar to cholesterol. Saw palmetto is rich in beta-sitosterol, campesterol, stigmasterol and cycloartenol; third are free fatty alcohols, which are actually the fatty acids that joined up with an alcohol molecule; and finally the monoglycerides, which are single fatty acids that attached themselves to a three-carbon glycerol molecule.
There were few studies conducted on the dwarf palm and some of the results revealed that saw palmetto reduces the number of dihydrotestosterone (DHT) in prostate tissues, inhibit DHT from binding androgen receptors in prostate cells, and promote anti-estrogenic activities in the prostate tissue. These actions make for a healthier prostate.
Another important finding is that saw palmetto compounds could inhibit IGF-1 activities on prostate tissues. This is important because it has been found that IGF (insulin-like growth factor) could enlarge the prostate.
To make it work, saw palmetto fruits or berries are partially dried and broken down with a solvent. Saw palmetto extracts and products are sold widely all over the US and around the world, although in the US it is not a standard or accepted cure to enlarged prostate. Yet, to many who have tried and used the herb, the answer to the question “What is saw palmetto” to them is a relief from urinary symptoms and discomforts that come from mild-to-moderate cases of prostate enlargement.