Popular supplement - saw palmetto extract - has no effect on prostate health: study

Popular supplement - saw palmetto extract - has no effect on prostate health: study
Compared to a placebo, saw palmetto capsules, pictured above, do not alleviate urinary problems related to an enlarged prostate, even when men take up to three times the standard daily dose. Credit: Robert Boston, Washington University

The most widely used over-the-counter supplement for prostate health is no more effective than a placebo in treating men's lower urinary tract symptoms.

The fruit of the saw palmetto tree does not relieve symptoms of an enlarged prostate, even when men take the herbal supplement in very high doses, a new study shows.

The research is published Sept. 28, 2011, in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Many older U.S. men take saw palmetto extract in an attempt to reduce bothersome symptoms of a swollen prostate, including frequent urination and a sense of urgency. Its use in Europe is even more widespread because doctors often recommend saw palmetto over more traditional drug treatments.

Results of the new study may settle an ongoing debate over the effectiveness of saw palmetto for a condition known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Earlier studies of the supplement have produced conflicting results, and none have evaluated the benefits of saw palmetto in high doses.

In the current study, however, men took up to three times the standard dose of saw palmetto.

"Now we know that even very high doses of saw palmetto make absolutely no difference," says co-author Gerald Andriole, MD, the Robert K. Royce Distinguished Professor and chief of urologic surgery at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. "Men should not spend their money on this herbal supplement as a way to reduce symptoms of enlarged prostate because it clearly does not work any better than a sugar pill."

The multi-center study, led by Michael Barry, MD, at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, involved more than 300 men ages 45 and older who had moderate symptoms suggestive of an enlarged prostate, such as frequent urination, difficulty emptying their bladders and a weak urine stream. The men were randomly selected to receive a daily dose of saw palmetto extract, beginning at 320 milligrams, or an identical-looking placebo pill with the same distinctive smell and taste.

After 24 weeks, the saw palmetto dosage was increased to 640 milligrams a day, and after another 24 weeks, to 960 milligrams a day – triple the standard dose. In all, men took saw palmetto or a placebo for nearly 17 months. Neither the physicians nor the patients knew who was taking what regimen until the end of the study.

The researchers found that among men who took saw palmetto, prostate problems improved slightly but not more than in men taking a placebo.

"We commonly see this in clinical trials," Andriole explains. "Patients often report an improvement in symptoms because they are taking something, even if it is a placebo. But in this study, there was no benefit to taking saw palmetto over the placebo."

The researchers found that saw palmetto had no greater effect than the placebo on BPH symptoms as well as other conditions related to an enlarged prostate such as waking at night to urinate, PSA level and bladder control.

About half of all men over age 50 have BPH, which becomes more common as men age. If urination becomes difficult or painful, Andriole advises men to visit their physician. Several approved medications, such as alpha-blockers and 5-alpha reductase inhibitors, are available to successfully treat the condition.

More information: JAMA. 2011;306[12]:1344-1351.
Citation: Popular supplement - saw palmetto extract - has no effect on prostate health: study (2011, September 27) retrieved 27 May 2019 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2011-09-popular-supplement-palmetto-effect.html
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Sep 27, 2011
Obviously this is a case of BigPharma trying to sell more sugar pills.

Sep 27, 2011
This is absurd, and generally follows a classic pattern. obscure but effective herbal remedy formulae that contain saw palmetto and the like are hijacked by hi tech pharmacoms who butchered them by glossing over all other ingredients and concentrate on selling a particular "extract". If that is true, i'd dispense with my car engine and just stick a turbo in the engine bay!Pathetic.

Sep 27, 2011
I don't care what this study says and for good reason: It absolutely did work for me! No BS. The difference was like "night and day"!
Perhaps it wasn't my prostate causing problems, if so, whatever it was, saw palmetto definitely squared it away. Not trying to sway anyone in either direction, just relating my own experience.

Dug
Sep 27, 2011
The pills pictured look typical of saw palmetto leaf powder capsules (inactive ingredients) and don't resemble any of the numerous the SP berry extract type capsules I've used for years. There are also an arm's length list of other double blind studies accomplished over the last 20 years that shows the effectiveness of standardized saw palmetto berry extract in stopping the conversion of regular testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT), the form of testosterone that stimulates prostate-cell growth and BPH - which this study contradicts.

Look at the side affects of the pharmaceutical remedies and you'll see why saw palmetto berry, beta sitosterol, and pumpkin seed oil are used by the majority of men instead of Flowmax and the others. There are also a number of dietary contributory factors that can be changed (avoid red meats) as well that can help reduce BPH.

D Z
Sep 27, 2011
Based on long-term personal experience of both taking the extract and not taking it for lengthy intervals, I find myself having to agree with the conspiracy theorists on this one. The absorption of some oil-based vitamins and herbal concentrates can be lowered radically by just telling the test-subjects to take them on an empty stomach, without food, or not providing any directions at all (allow common inclinations to kick-in). That's in addition to the already suggested method of supplying an impotent version of the product.

Sep 29, 2011
Typical Big Pharma sponsored propaganda.

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