Almost half the male population over age 50 suffers from enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hypertrophy or BPH) with symptoms ranging from inflammation (prostatitis), to swelling, painful and frequent urination and nocturnal urination. One in seven men over age 50 will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime. Prostate cancer is the second most common form of cancer among men (next to skin cancer) and the second most common cause of cancer death (next to lung cancer).
The most common treatment for prostate disease is surgical removal of the prostate. About 400,000 prostatectomies are performed every year in the United States. Unfortunately, surgical removal of the prostate can lead to impotence and incontinence and is linked to increased risk of death from heart disease.
Research has shown that enlargement of the prostate gland is caused mainly by the action of dihydrotestosterone (DHT) a powerful male hormone which is converted from the primary male hormone (testosterone) under the influence of the enzyme testosterone 5-alpha-reductase. The FDA recently approved a drug (Proscar) that counters the action of DHT as a treatment for BPH, but Proscar is very expensive ($60 a month) and sometimes causes severe side effects such as sexual impotence.
Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens) has recently gained widespread use by doctors and alternative health practitioners alike as a safe alternative for treating BHP. Saw Palmetto is a small palm tree with large leaves and deep red-black berries. Native Americans used the berries as a food and a therapeutic herbal treatment for enuresis, nocturia, atrophy of the testes, impotence, inflammation of the prostate and low libido in men.
Saw Palmetto is a “multi-site” inhibitor of the hormone DHT, which plays a major role in the development of prostate disorders. Saw palmetto inhibits 50% of the binding of DHT to receptor sites in the prostate. It also blocks the uptake of DHT into the nucleus of prostate cells, and strongly inhibits the action of testosterone 5 alpha-reductase, which reduces the conversion of testosterone to DHT.
In modern research, fat-soluble extracts of Saw Palmetto have been shown to inhibit the conversion of testosterone to dihydro-testosterone (DHT), and to block the binding of DHT to prostate cells, thus reducing prostate enlargement and inflammation.
In a controlled clinical trial with patients with enlarged prostate glands, 50 patients who received saw palmetto (320 mg per day – 4 tablets taken in two separate doses with meals) were compared to 44 patients receiving placebo. Patients treated with saw palmetto urinated less frequently, produced a better flow rate and amount of urine, and had less pain and discomfort in urinating than control subjects. There were actually fewer adverse side effects in patients receiving saw palmetto than in controls.
Women also used the Saw Palmetto berries to treat infertility, painful periods and problems with lactation.