"Saw palmetto" and prostate health.

Before looking at what saw palmetto can do we need to understand some of the issues facing men as they age.

As men grow older, a number of physical signs of ageing begin to appear. Male pattern baldness, ‘middle-age spread’, and possibly a decreased sex drive are just a few examples.

Most people accept this as a natural part of growing older, but there may actually be some steps men can take to limit the appearance of these conditions.

In addition, it’s not just the obvious signs of ageing that men want to tackle as they age. There are a number of health conditions that come with advancing years, and if there’s a way to prevent them, or slow down their progression, that can only be a good thing.

But what product could possibly treat both the physical signs of ageing in men, and male-specific age-related health conditions? Step forward, Saw Palmetto.

What is saw palmetto?

Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens, or Sabal serrulatum) is a small palm that grows in clumps in sandy coastal regions, or in pine woods. It’s endemic to the southeastern United States, but it’s also found as far inland as Arkansas.

Its flowers are yellowish-white and about 5mm across, and its fruit has a large area of reddish-black flesh with a stone in the middle. Native Americans used the fruit for food and for a variety of medicinal purposes, including for urinary and genital problems.

Then European colonists got in on the act, and used it for at least 200 years for the same purpose, and as a sedative and tonic.

Yes - but what are the experts saying?

Nowadays, Saw Palmetto is attracting a lot of attention from scientists, who are studying its fruits, and finding them highly enriched with health-giving fatty-acids and phytosterols, which are naturally occurring plant sterols with a wide variety of medicinal and cosmetic uses (such as lowering “bad cholesterol”).

Because the fruit is the part that’s used, and because a prolific quantity is produced by an adult Saw Palmetto tree, this herbal medicine is considered ecologically sustainable.

What about BPH and enlargement of the prostate gland

Even more exciting, is the news that research on Saw Palmetto has been the subject of a thorough meta-analysis published in the world’s most widely-circulated medical journal, JAMA.

The study showed that Saw Palmetto can be effective for the treatment of men with symptomatic benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), in other words, enlargement of the prostate gland.

BPH is a nearly universal result of the ageing process in men, caused by an overgrowth of the cells in the prostate, possibly due to changes in hormone levels with age. It affects many men over 40, and more than half of men over 60, who find that as the prostate gland enlarges, it can be both obstructive and irritating.

So what else can saw palmetto do?

In addition to the BPH studies, there are also positive trials published on the use of Saw Palmetto extracts for baldness, and even for problems with libido!

In fact, Saw Palmetto is now regarded as so effective that it’s widely used by doctors in conjunction with biomedical therapies, particularly the U.S. and Europe.

For example, it’s used in 50% of treatments for BPH in Italy, and in 90% in Germany. Over 2 million men in the U.S. use it, and it’s commonly recommended as an alternative to the medicines endorsed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

So how does saw palmetto work and can it fight prostate cancer?

So how does it work? That remains a bit of a mystery, but its oily compounds (fatty acids and sterols) are thought to have various hormonal and anti-inflammatory effects.

Research seems to show it has other multiple mechanisms, one of which is the inhibiting of 5-alpha reductase. This is an enzyme produced only in specific tissues of the male human body, namely the seminal vesicles, skin, and prostate, and its job is to convert testosterone into a more potent chemical form.

Doctors often use 5-alpha-reductase inhibiting drugs to treat baldness and prostate problems, including prostate cancer. Though in-vitro studies do suggest Saw Palmetto has properties that might make it useful against prostate cancer cells, more clinical trials are needed to prove it (and it should never be used in place of normal biomedical cancer treatment).

Making saw palmetto more effective

Is there a way to make Saw Palmetto more effective? Several studies suggest there is. One of these might be to combine it with chemicals called isoflavones, typically found in foods such as legumes and soy.

Isoflavones are phytoestrogens, and their interaction with the body is not yet completely understood. More studies are necessary to say for sure whether they help prevent or slow the growth of prostate cancer, but some evidence suggests they might, particularly in Asian men.

For example, worldwide disparities exist between geographic regions and how much prostate cancer they have. Countries in East Asia have lower rates compared with Western countries and some people believe the higher amount of phytoestrogens consumed in the East Asian diet is responsible for the difference.

In addition to isoflavones, another sensible approach might be to combine Saw Palmetto with lycopene, a carotenoid chemical found in tomatoes and other vegetables. Lycopene has a potent antioxidant effect on the body, and supplementing with it may reduce the risk of prostate cancer in men with low levels of lycopene in their blood.

Scientists think that data on a combination of lycopene, vitamin E, and selenium as high quality preventative supplements for prostate cancer seem pretty promising.

The fact is it’s important for men to look after their health, particularly as they approach their middle and later years. Time and money invested now, will pay huge dividends later. So, take action and investigate high quality supplements that, down the line, may help prevent prostate problems.

Medical references: 40,41,42,43,44,45,46,47,48,49

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