Many men take a saw palmetto supplement, or a combination of saw palmetto and other herbs and nutrients for prostate health — or with the hope of improving symptoms of an enlarged prostate (BPH). Since prostate enlargement is a chronic problem, saw palmetto is often used for prolonged periods of months or years.
But are saw palmetto supplements safe for long term use? Do they have any side effects?
Researchers at the Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco were involved in a study called Saw Palmetto for Treatment of Enlarged Prostates (STEP).1 It was a randomized clinical trial performed among 225 men with moderate to severe symptoms of BPH. The researchers compared a standardized extract of the saw palmetto berry (160 mg twice daily) with a placebo for one year.
At the end of the study period it was noted that there were no significant differences in the risk of side effects between the saw palmetto group and the placebo group. Researchers also noted few significant differences in sexual functioning or in most laboratory analyses between the groups — only small differences were seen over time in total bilirubin, potassium, and the incidence of glucose in the urine.
The use of saw palmetto supplements did not seem to influence levels of PSA to any significant degree. Despite careful evaluation, no evidence for serious toxicity or side effects of saw palmetto was noted in this clinical trial.
The results of this study are reassuring to men who have been taking saw palmetto for several months. Are there any risks in taking saw palmetto supplements for several years or decades? Further research will hopefully provide answers in the future.
1. Avins AL et al. Complement. Ther. Med. 2008 June.
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