Thinking of trying saw palmetto and wondering about saw palmetto side effects? This article takes a close look at this herb and lists side effects and contraindications.
What Is Saw Palmetto?
Saw palmetto is a plant from North America that is similar to the palm. It is also known as Serona repens. You will find the extract of saw palmetto in health food stores. The extract comes from the berries of the plant and is rich in fatty acids and phytosterols. Florida is the largest producer of saw palmetto.
What Are the Uses of Saw Palmetto?
Saw palmetto extract has been widely used in alternative medicine. Some uses of saw palmetto extract include:
- European traditional medicine uses saw palmetto extract to treat an enlarged prostate and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH).
- Saw palmetto is an anti-androgen that lowers DHT levels in the body. Because of this, many believe that it can be used to combat hair loss.
- It has long been used as an expectorant that controls irritation of mucous tissues. It has been used in the treatment of many illnesses in which mucous causes symptoms like whooping cough and laryngitis.
- It has been used as a digestive tonic that improves appetite and digestion. It is believed to act on all of the organs involved in the digestive process.
- It is believed by many to bring about healthy body conditions by reducing hypertrophic (enlarged) organs and increasing the size of atrophic organs.
- It has been marketed as an aphrodisiac for men and women.
- It has been marketed as an anabolic (muscle builder).
- It is used by both men and women to balance hormonal activity.
Saw Palmetto Side Effects
As with every herb or medication, it is important to be aware of the saw palmetto side effects. While it appears that there are relatively few side-effects associated with the use of saw palmetto, it is always best to check with your doctor prior to taking any medication, including those of the herbal variety.Saw palmetto side effects include:
- Gastrointestinal discomfort may be present. This can be reduced by taking the extract with food.
- Saw palmetto extract may increase the risk of bleeding.
- It may have an effect on sex hormones, so use with drugs that have similar properties should be avoided.
- One chemical that is present in saw palmetto extract, beta-sitosterol, is chemically quite similar to cholesterol. High concentrations of beta-sitosterol in the blood show correlations with increased severity of heart disease in men who have previously experienced heart attack.
- Because this is an herbal supplement, exact formulations and concentrations in supplements will vary by manufacturer.
- Saw palmetto extract may cause headaches.
- Excessive intestinal gas and bloating may be present.
- Dizziness may occur.
- It may cause nausea and vomiting.
- Bowel disorders, such as constipation or diarrhea, may be present.
- It may cause impotence (erectile dysfunction).
- Decreased sex drive may be present.
- Breast tenderness may occur.
- Loss of appetite may occur.
If you display any of the following side effects of saw palmetto use, contact your doctor:
- Signs of liver or pancreatic inflammation
- Unusual or unexplained bruising or bleeding
- Signs of allergic reaction such as rash, hives, swelling of the mouth or throat, itching and difficulty breathing.
Additional unpredictable side effects may occur based upon the formulation of saw palmetto extract supplement you take. Because of this, it is important that you check with your health care provider or pharmacist to determine reputable brands of the product.
The Bottom Line
While it may seem like a good idea to self-prescribe any herb or supplement like saw palmetto extract, it is important that you make yourself aware of all of the benefits and risk factors involved. Herbal medicine can be an excellent and safe, natural way to treat a number of health conditions, but you will be better off working in conjunction with a qualified health care provider - whether a medical doctor or a naturopath - in order to assure that you are:
- Taking the best medication or supplement for your condition
- Choosing a supplement from a reputable manufacturer
- Able to effectively manage side effects
- Avoiding contraindication with pre-existing medical conditions and other herbs, medications or supplements you are already taking.