Saw palmetto extract is derived from the berries of the saw palmetto plant, which has the scientific name Serenoa repens. Several clinical studies of saw palmetto extract have shown it to have a beneficial effect on benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) or enlargement of the prostate gland, although it is not approved by the FDA as a treatment for BPH. Saw palmetto may have other uses in holistic medicine as well. Choosing the right saw palmetto extract is a matter of determining what benefit you hope to get from the supplement and then finding a manufacturer you trust.
The primary use of extract of saw palmetto berries is for treatment of an enlarged prostate and by association, nocturia, or frequent night time urination. Some other reported benefits of saw palmetto include treatment for hair loss, erectile dysfunction and post-operative treatment of bleeding following prostate surgery. While there is some evidence that saw palmetto provides a benefit to patients in these situations, none of them have been conclusively proven in clinical trials.
Before choosing an extract, carefully read the labels of all the possible choices. Many products are formulated with other herbs and ingredients other than saw palmetto. You should choose one that has no other active ingredients. Other herbs and supplements may have effects which are undesirable. One exception to this is taking saw palmetto for erectile dysfunction. Many herbal products for this problem contain saw palmetto and a variety of other herbs like yerba mate and black cohosh.
Saw palmetto extract is more desirable than whole berries. The extract form is more readily absorbed by the body and is a more pure form of the supplement. Berries may vary in the amount of active ingredient they contain, which is in the form of four types of compounds: plant sterols, free fatty alcohols, monoglycerides and free fatty acids. The free fatty acids are believed to be the primary ingredient that provides the desired effect.
Choose a supplement that provides the desired dosage of saw palmetto extract. Dr. Ray Sahelian, author of Saw Palmetto: Nature's Prostate Healer suggests that for a saw palmetto product to be effective, it should provide 320 mg of 85% to 95% fatty acid extract, or 640 mg of a 45% fatty acid extract. Not all products will provide this amount of the active fatty acids.
Check with your doctor or pharmacist before beginning any regimen of herbal supplements, including saw palmetto. While studies have not revealed any known side effects from taking this supplement, only a health professional is qualified to gauge its safety for your use.