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Thursday, August 11, 2011


Saw palmetto is a shrubby type of small palm which grows in clumps, often under the canopy of other trees. It is indigenous to the south-eastern states of the USA and to some of the West Indian islands. These palms grow in colonies of perhaps a hundred or more, and have between 3 to 7 fan-shaped leaves which are about 2 feet wide. They are called the little saw palm (that’s what saw palmetto means) because the leaf stems have spines which are very sharp and which run along the stem like the teeth of a saw. The clumps of fronds grow to around 10 feet and make good shelter for wildlife.
  The Seminole Indians used the fruit of this tree both for food and medicine. The flowers which bloom from April to the end of July attract bees and the honey made from them is delicious. The fruits ripen between September and the end of October, staring green and ripening to black. They are harvested, dried and ground to a powder. A lipophilic extract is removed from the fruit as this is what is believed to provide the fruit’s medicinal properties.
  There are over 50 reported traditional medicinal uses for the fruit and these range from cures for whooping cough to alcoholism. The Native Americans used to use the fruit in combination with nettle roots and pumpkin seeds, for male impotence, infertility, inflammation and as an expectorant. In the late 19th century the fruits were used medicinally as they were thought to have a positive effect on genitourinary tract problems such as cystitis, and were used to reduce enlarged prostate glands, cure gonorrhea and irritation of the mucous membranes. In the early 20th century men began to use them to increase their sperm count and to improve their libido. However, after 1945 herbal preparations were cast aside in the US and pharmaceuticals were used instead of the time honoured cures. In Europe however herbal preparations continued to be used, especially in Germany, where the Commission E regulates herbal products. It is in Europe that much of the research on saw palmetto has been carried out.
  The fruits of the plant contain flavonoids, plant sterols, and fatty acids, while it is thought that the polysaccharides (sugars) in the fruit are responsible for the possible medicinal benefits that may be gained form saw palmetto. As they may have similar effects to hormones they should not be used by pregnant or breast feeding women or anyone who has had a hormone-related cancer.
  Saw palmetto may be of benefit to men with benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH), which is non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate gland, although research has not been conclusive by any means. Researchers don’t yet know how the plant-based chemicals work but they think that perhaps they affect testosterone levels in the body and may reduce the amount of an enzyme in the body which promotes the growth of the prostate gland.
  Some studies show that saw palmetto is effective in reducing the size of the prostate gland, while others, (one notable one was published on 9th February 2006 in the “New England Journal of Medicine”) have found that there was no difference in the size of the prostate whether patients were treated with Saw palmetto or a placebo. The problem with the research so far, apart from the study of 2006, is that the research has only been for 3 month periods, so it is difficult to know if any reduction in the size of the prostate is sustained.
  In animal studies Saw palmetto has been seen to inhibit the growth of cancerous tumour cells, so ultimately it may be helpful in combating prostate cancer. It seems to improve the urinary tract problems associated with an enlarged prostate and seems to stop the excessive flow of urine, so it is beneficial to some BPH sufferers.
  More research is needed to determine how far Saw palmetto can help men with BPH and prostate cancer.

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