The Health Benefits of Saw Palmetto

This Fruit Extract May Decrease Symptoms of Enlarged Prostate

Palmetto softgels, capsules, and tincture

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens or Sabal serrulata) is a plant used in herbal medicine. Often used to fight hair loss, saw palmetto is also commonly used for conditions affecting the prostate.

Saw palmetto supplements typically contain extracts of the fruit of the plant.

Health Benefits

In alternative medicine, saw palmetto is said to aid in the treatment of health problems including asthma, benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH), chronic pelvic pain syndrome, colds, coughs, migraineprostate cancer, and sore throat.

Saw palmetto is also thought to increase libido, as well as alleviate stress.

Scientific studies have provided limited support for some of these benefits.


One of the most common uses of saw palmetto is the treatment of BPH, a condition marked by enlargement of the prostate. BPH is not considered a serious health issue, but it often causes symptoms such as the increased need to urinate. It also may lead to urinary tract infections and other complications.

Several small studies have shown that saw palmetto may help relieve BPH symptoms. However, a report published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2012 found that saw palmetto may be ineffective in treating urinary symptoms associated with BPH.

For this report, researchers analyzed 32 previously published clinical trials with a total of 5,666 participants. Their analysis determined that the use of saw palmetto did not improve urinary flow measures or prostate size in men with BPH-related lower urinary tract symptoms.

Hair Loss

Saw palmetto is said to inhibit the activity of 5-alpha-reductase, an enzyme involved in converting testosterone to a hormone called dihydrotestosterone. Dihydrotestosterone appears to play a key role in the development of androgenic alopecia, a condition more commonly known as male-pattern hair loss.

While research on saw palmetto's effects against hair loss is limited, there's some evidence that it may help treat androgenetic alopecia.

In a pilot study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2002, for instance, a group of males with mild to moderate androgenetic alopecia showed a "highly positive response" to treatment with saw palmetto and beta-sitosterol. The study's authors partly attributed this finding to saw palmetto's possibly blocking the activity of 5-alpha reductase.

Other Benefits

Emerging research suggests that saw palmetto shows promise in the treatment of certain other health conditions.

For example, a small study published in the Swiss journal Urologia Internationalis in 2010 found that saw palmetto may be of some benefit to patients with chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome.

In the study, 102 patients with chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome were split into two groups: the first group received a combination of saw palmetto, selenium, and lycopene; the second group received saw palmetto alone. After eight weeks of treatment, both groups showed a significant improvement in symptoms. 

There's also some evidence that taking saw palmetto prior to undergoing prostate surgery may reduce the time spent in surgery (as well as blood loss, the development of problems during surgery, and total time spent in the hospital). 

Possible Side Effects

Saw palmetto may cause a number of side effects, including:

• bad breath
• constipation
• diarrhea
• dizziness
• fatigue
• headache
• nausea
• stomach
• vomiting

Additionally, some men taking saw palmetto have reported erectile dysfunction, breast tenderness or enlargement, and changes in sexual desire.

Although it hasn't been well-demonstrated in humans, saw palmetto may influence levels of sex hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone. Therefore, people with hormone-sensitive conditions (including breast cancer and prostate cancer) should consult their healthcare provider prior to using saw palmetto. Children and pregnant women shouldn't take saw palmetto.

There have been rare case reports describing liver inflammation, pancreatitis, jaundice, headache, dizziness, insomnia, depression, breathing difficulties, muscle pain, high blood pressure, chest pain, abnormal heart rhythm, blood clots, and heart disease, but they haven't been clearly caused by saw palmetto.

At least two case reports have linked saw palmetto with severe bleeding. People with bleeding disorders or who are taking anticoagulant or antiplatelet medications such as warfarin (Coumadin®), aspirin, or clopidogrel (Plavix®) should avoid taking saw palmetto unless under medical supervision. It should also be avoided at least two weeks before or after surgery.

Saw palmetto capsules

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Dosage and Preparation

There is not enough scientific data to provide a recommended dose of saw palmetto. In studies evaluating the effect of saw palmetto on prostate surgery patients, a dose of 320 mg of saw palmetto extract was taken daily for two months before surgery.

The appropriate dose for you may depend on factors including your age, gender, and medical history. Speak to your healthcare provider to get personalized advice.

What to Look For

You can purchase dietary supplements containing saw palmetto in many natural-foods stores, drugstores, and stores specializing in herbal products. Saw palmetto is also widely available for purchase online.

If you choose to buy this or any supplement, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that you look for a Supplement Facts label on the product that you buy. This label will contain vital information including the amount of active ingredients per serving, and other added ingredients (like fillers, binders, and flavorings).

Lastly, the organization suggests that you look for a product that contains a seal of approval from a third party organization that provides quality testing. These organizations include U.S. Pharmacopeia,, and NSF International. A seal of approval from one of these organizations does not guarantee the product's safety or effectiveness but it does provide assurance that the product was properly manufactured, contains the ingredients listed on the label, and does not contain harmful levels of contaminants.

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Article Sources
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