Saw Palmetto Extract vs. Placebo for Enlarged Prostate

(December 5, 2011) A study published in the September 28, 2011 Journal of the American Medical Association confirmed that the popular herbal supplement palmetto saw extract is no more effective than a placebo in reducing the symptoms of enlarged prostate gland, known as BPH (benign prostatic hyperplasia), found in men usually age 50 and older.

Saw palmetto extract is a popular alternative medicine for the relief of lower urinary tract symptoms in men with enlarged prostates. Previous trials of saw palmetto extract have produced mixed results following standard doses (320 mg. a day), with an early trial showing a positive result, but more recent larger trials have shown no improvement as reported by Michael J. Barry, M.D. from the Department of Medicine Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston.

Although the current study adds to the evidence that saw palmetto extract has no clinical benefit, many men continue to use this herb because natural remedies remain a popular alternative to prescription drugs which can have adverse effects such as sexual dysfunction, according to Allan Pantuck, M.D., associate professor of urology at the University of California, Los Angeles, David Geffen School of Medicine.

“There’s probably no real benefit,” says Simon J. Hall, chairman of the urology department at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, in New York City.  “Ultimately, the way I would look at it is: Is it worth spending $20 or $30 a month to take something that is probably not going to do anything?”

The otherwise harmless enlargement sometimes causes symptoms such as dribbling after urination, a weak urine stream, and the frequent need to wake up at night to urinate.

Saw palmetto extract has long been marketed as a remedy for these bothersome symptoms, but clinical data shows it consistently failed to outperform the placebo.

In the new larger-scale study, researchers randomly assigned 369 U.S. and Canadian men with prostate-related symptoms to take saw palmetto capsules or an identical placebo (or dummy tablet).  After an 18-month period the men taking the palmetto saw were doing no better than those on placebo, even though the dosage of saw palmetto was increased twice during the study, to 960 mg. which is triple the recommended daily dose.

For some people, no matter how many studies are conducted, they still feel better taking a natural supplement even though it has been proven to have no benefit.  So as long as these herbs are harmless, many people will continue taking them in the hopes that they will make a difference in their lives!

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