The credit for medicinal usage of saw palmetto goes to Native Americans who (as far as we know) were the first to make a tonic for the prostate and urinary system out of saw palmetto berries. American settlers adopted saw palmetto for their own uses, and before long it was also being used in Europe, where it is still a, really popular treatment for prostate enlargement and urinary tract infections. (Some European doctors also recommend it, as an aphrodisiac.) Saw palmetto is native to Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and South Carolina.
Saw palmetto berry contains about 1.5% oil that is rich in fat-soluble fatty acids and sterols. It also contains flavonoids, carotene, essential oil, enzymes, and phytosterols. Saw palmetto berry extracts with a standardized fatty-acid content are approved by both the German and French governments for the treatment of BPH.
Studies have shown that saw palmetto helps the prostate in several ways, among its many activities in the body, saw palmetto:
- Inhibits the activity of the enzyme 5-alpha reductase, thus reducing the conversion of testosterone to DHT
- Blocks DHT from binding to prostate cells
- Reduces the effects of estrogen and progesterone on the prostate cells
- Causes smooth muscle relaxation (theoretically allowing the urethra to open more effectively and prevent the backup of urine)
- Reduces inflammation and edema by inhibiting the effects of inflammatory- producing chemicals called prostaglandins
- Alters cholesterol metabolism in the prostate
- Modifies the levels of sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG)