Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) is called ‘the old man’s friend’ because of its traditional use for urogenital irritations, impotence and male infertility. It is not fully clear how it works but it is believed to have anti-inflammatory activity and an inhibitory effect on androgens.
What is it used for?
Non-cancerous prostate enlargement, called benign prostatic hyperplasia or hypertrophy (BPH), which can cause frequent or painful urination, reduced flow or volume.
How is it used?
The berries of saw palmetto can be used whole or dried, made into extracts, teas and over the counter supplements.
At a glance
Main use: Benign prostate enlargement
Evidence: There is currently no consistent evidence that saw palmetto is helpful for symptoms of BPH.
Stop saw palmetto about 2 weeks before surgery and women should not take it during pregnancy.
Remember to always tell your healthcare provider about all the remedies and medications you’re taking.
There are mixed results from studies. Numerous studies previously showed fair to good evidence that saw palmetto improves symptoms of mild to moderate BPH. Three previous reviews of between 17-21trials found there was some mild to moderate improvement in symptoms of BPH. However, a 2013 update of one of these reviews looked at 32 trials involving 5666 men and showed even using double or triple doses of saw palmetto did not improve symptoms of BPH.
The US based National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine says there is currently not enough evidence to recommend using saw palmetto for BPH.
Side-effects and interactions
Saw palmetto appears to be relatively safe. It may cause mild side effects such as gastrointestinal upset, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, constipation and nausea.
Some men using it have reported tender breasts or a decline in sexual desire.