Natural medicines and alternative remedies have been used throughout the ages across all geographical locations. Despite the fact that modern medicine offers effective remedial options for most medical conditions, the appeal of alternative remedies has not diminished. One among the popular natural products used for treating specific conditions in the US is undeniably saw palmetto. Used extensively for treating conditions related to the prostate health and hormone imbalances, there has been considerable attention on the product, with the usual share of adverse reports of side effects. Here is a detailed look at saw palmetto side effects from an evidence based perspective to understand the truth behind claims and counterclaims.

What is saw palmetto and what are the common saw palmetto side effects?

Scientifically known as Serenoa repens  or  Sabal serrulate, saw palmetto typically refers to the extracts of the fruit of the shrublike palm. An indigenous species originally found in the southeastern part of the US, saw palmetto is commonly used to treat a variety of conditions that include combatting hair loss in men, and treatment of conditions related to prostate health and hormones. Before we look at saw palmetto side effects it is time to understand more about the medicinal effects of the American dwarf palm. The extract of fruits of the Saw Palmetto shrub have been used in herbal formulations and are often regarded as having an impact on the testosterone levels of individuals consuming the supplements. The mechanism of action of SPE (Saw Palmetto Extract) is primarily the inhibition of 5 alpha reductase. The anti-androgenic effects, and anti-edema effects of saw palmetto are responsible for the outcomes of treatment. Similarly, it is known to possess anti-proliferative properties, in addition to having anti-inflammatory qualities. Studies that were conducted on the efficacy of saw palmetto have reported the above effects at higher dosages.

Typical uses of saw palmetto

Commonly known as cabbage palm, saw palmetto has been used for treating complications of male/female reproductive organs, in addition to offering relief from cough that is attributed to other diseases. Presently cabbage palm is used extensively as a dietary supplement to help overcome symptoms that are the outcomes of various conditions associated with testosterone levels. For instance, enlarged prostate glands (BPH, acronym for benign prostatic hyperplasia), or persistent pain in the pelvis area, migraine and hair loss are some of the commonly experienced and reported symptoms/conditions which are treated with saw palmetto. Considered as a phytotherapeutic agent, saw palmetto is widely used in European nations to treat BPH.

Reduced testosterone levels are responsible for some of the conditions mentioned above. Anecdotal evidence indicates that saw palmetto is effective in preventing the breaking down of testosterone. Consequently, testosterone levels are maintained in the body and this helps prevent the symptoms/conditions mentioned above. BPH is a condition wherein the walnut shaped prostate gland ends up enlarged as a result of aging. The gland is part of the reproductive system of males and as a result of lowered testosterone levels, the gland is enlarged. This non-cancerous enlargement increases the pressure on the urethra, which in turn results in symptoms such as difficulty in urinating, repeated visits to the washroom, abnormal/increased need to pass urine in the nights.

Saw palmetto has been used for managing this condition as the cabbage palm is believed to boost testosterone levels. The increase in testosterone levels is expected to shrink the prostate, thereby relieving the symptoms associated with the condition. The fruit of the shrub is also used for treating prostate cancer, as maintaining the right levels of hormone is expected to prevent or bring down the risk of cancer cell growth in the prostate. Supplements containing saw palmetto are often consumed alongside treatment regimens for prostate cancer. Additionally, by virtue of boosting testosterone levels, saw palmetto is also widely used to enhance sex drive in all genders, with a direct effect on fertility. Saw palmetto has proven effects in boosting sex drive and libido among individuals who experience a dip in desire due to various reasons.

Saw palmetto is also used for treating other common ailments. For instance, male pattern hair loss is attributed to aging and the result of hormonal action. A change in the levels of dihydrotestosterone as a result of the breakdown of testosterone is responsible for hair loss in men. Saw palmetto supplements are used to restore the balance of testosterone levels and thereby prevent hair loss in men. Similarly, the fruit if the shrub in supplement form is also taken for treating headaches, difficulty in sleeping, cough, sore throat, bronchitis, and cold.

The right dosage to prevent and mitigate saw palmetto side effects

Simple practices help to mitigate saw palmetto side effects, and this includes the need to take saw palmetto only in the right dosage. Importantly, despite the fact that saw palmetto is categorized as natural and alternative remedy, it needs to be take only after the treating specialist has labelled it as safe for use, alongwith other medications. There is always the possibility of the mechanism of action of other medications having an impact on the mechanism of action of saw palmetto. It is therefore necessary to check contraindications and interactions of drugs before turning to alternative medicine. For instance, women on birth control medications are not to take saw palmetto. Birth control medication works on hormones and as saw palmetto also works on hormones, albeit in a different way, there is a high risk of interaction with adverse side effects.

Commonly reported saw palmetto side effects

Commonly reported saw palmetto side effects include vomiting, feelings of dizziness, bouts of diarrhea, headache, possible nausea and constipation. The cabbage palm is not recommend for use by individuals on anticoagulant medication. It has an impact on blood clotting ability and is therefore not suitable for use when on anticoagulants or antiplatelet medication. As mentioned above, it is not to be used alongwith medications taken by women during pregnancy or while breast feeding infants. Other side effects include bad breath, erectile dysfunction, and abnormal changes in desire for sex. Some women are likely to experience enlargement of the breasts or some kind of tenderness in the breasts. Saw palmetto also has an impact on blood thinners, including Warfarin and Coumadin, and individuals on similar medications are advised to avoid the supplements.

Is it safe to use saw palmetto considering the side effects?

Evidence suggests that saw palmetto has positive effects on certain conditions and has delivered desired results. However, saw palmetto side effects have also been reported and there is inconclusive evidence either in support or against the natural product in terms of side effects. Till date, the number of studies or the depth of studies have not been sufficient to clearly indicate the safety/adverse effects of saw palmetto. Considering the reported benefits and the fact that saw palmetto has been used traditionally, it is safe to assume that supplements can be taken in moderation, only in consultation with treating specialists. It is not to be used where there is sufficient evidence about interactions or side effects. Individuals with certain hormone-related conditions, are advised to take specific instructions or directions from treating specialists before taking saw palmetto. For instance, individuals with either prostate cancer or breast cancer should seek medical advice on consuming saw palmetto supplements.

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