Here I introduce my next series, this one a four-parter. Itconcerns one of the most common conditions — perhaps themost common — to strike older men. When a man developsan enlarged prostate, causing pain and urination problems, there is one herbal cure in particular to reach for. Its name is saw palmetto.
Saw palmetto is a dwarf-palm tree that grows to the height of a basketball hoop. At its peak is a fan-shaped crown of leaves and dark red berries the size of olives. It grows in the southeastern part of this continent, particularly Florida, as well as in southern Europe and North Africa.
Its active ingredients are the sterols and free fatty acids found in the berry. Saw palmetto preparations consist of the berry (fruit) of “Serenoa repens,” native to the U.S. and since transplanted to Europe. Southeastern Native American tribes, especially the Seminole Indians, use saw palmetto berries as expectorant (expel mucus from the throat) and antiseptic (clean wounds).
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They also recognized that the berry could alleviate nighttime urination as well as other prostatic symptoms that I’ll get to in part two.
A little history always helps: saw palmetto was listed in the “United States Pharmacopeia” (USP) from 1906 to 1917 and in the National Formulary from 1926 until 1950. In 1950, however, it was dropped, because physicians at that time were not convinced of its efficacy. Subsequently, due to its popularity in Europe as an officially recognized treatment for the common disorder called “benign prostatic hyperplasia” (BPH), American and Canadian physicians have paid more attention to this herb in the last decade.
In fact, in view of the strong evidence for its efficacy in BPH, the USP moved saw palmetto preparations from “National Formulary” status to inclusion into the USP. This probably is the first time this has been done for any herb formerly classified only as a dietary supplement. Such a classification is usually designated only for drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.