Serenoa reopens, AKA saw palmetto, has been a popular herbal extract for years with athletes and non-athletes alike. Advertised as the cure for almost everything from hair loss to benign prostate enlargement (AKA, BPH), Saw Palmetto is often added to many supplement formulas or sold alone.
For example, Saw Palmetto can often be found added to "andro" supplements claiming it will block any possible negative effects the andro supplement might cause due to its potential effects on peoples hormones, namely the "male hormone" testosterone. For non-athletes, Saw Palmetto has been a standard alternative treatment for BPH, an affliction that many men suffer from as they age.
The story goes like this: The "male hormone" testosterone converts to a more powerful androgen called dihydrotestosterone (DHT) via and enzyme called 5-alpha-reductase (5ar).
DHT is known to be a strong factor in the development of several problems many men face as they age such as the aforementioned male pattern baldness and BPH.
So, finding something that blocks the 5ar enzyme should reduce the amount of DHT and said male problems should be improved or avoided (FYI, this is also how the new drug Proscar works). Of course, it's a lot more complicated than that but hey, I only have so much space in this here section so the reader will have to cut me some slack.
Anyway, saw palmetto has often been sited as an herb able to block the 5ar enzyme and is often recommended to people losing their hair or suffering from BPH and/or is added to "andro" products to theoretically block any negative effects of such products. Sounds great, but is it true?
Will saw palmetto deliver this wonderful cure for all that bother men from their hair to their nether region? Maybe, maybe not. Several studies have suggested in certain cells that saw palmetto appears to block the 5ar enzyme.
However, in vivo studies, that is studies using either animals or people actually ingesting a compound, have generally failed to show saw palmetto reduced DHT system wide. There is no research that has directly looked at saw palmetto for hair loss in men (i.e. MPB) nor is there any research that has directly shown saw palmetto can reduce any potential side effects of any of the andro products.
So, it would seem premature to recommend saw palmetto for such problems until far more is known.
Regarding BPH that's where saw palmetto looks far more promising. Several studies using 320mg of saw palmetto extract per day have shown positive effects on BPH symptoms.
Though it is unclear exactly how saw palmetto improves the symptoms of BPH, there appears to be enough data and clinical evidence in favor of saw palmetto as a treatment for men who suffer from an enlargement of the prostate that is not cancerous.
Whether saw palmetto blocks 5ar, blocks the uptake of testosterone and DHT into the prostate, or actually blocks certain pro inflammatory enzymes responsible for other problems in the formation of BPH, is not certain at this time.
Regardless, other than BPH, there is not enough research to add saw palmetto to andro products. For athletes looking to get some sort of anabolic advantage from SP, or avoid side effects from taking andro supplements, I have to give it a big thumb's down at this point. If you have an enlarged prostate, it might be worth a try.
Palin, M. F. and M. Faguy, et al. "Inhibitory effects of Serenoa repens on the kinetic of pig prostatic microsomal 5alpha-reductase activity," Endocrine 9/1 (1998), p. 65-9.
Delos, S. and J. L. Carsol, et al. "Testosterone metabolism in primary cultures of human prostate epithelial cells and fibroblasts," Jour. Steroid Biochem. Mol. Biol. 55/3-4 (1995), p. 375-83.
Iehle, C. and S. Delos, et al. "Human prostatic steroid 5 alpha-reductase isoforms -a comparative study of selective inhibitors," Jour. Steroid Biochem. Mol. Biol. 54/5-6 (1995), p. 273-9.
Strauch, G. and P. Perles, et al. "Comparison of finasteride (Proscar) and Serenoa repens (Permixon) in the inhibition of 5-alpha reductase in healthy male volunteers," Eur. Urol. 26/3 (1994), p. 247-52.
Wilt, T.J. and A. Ishani, et al. "Saw palmetto extracts for treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia: a systematic review," JAMA 280/18 (1998), p. 1604-9.
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