Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) is an enlargement of the prostate that is not due to cancer. An enlarged prostate puts pressure on the urethra, either blocking urine flow or increasing it.

BPH can be an uncomfortable condition. It may prevent a man from being able to urinate, even though he feels the urge. Other times, he may be unable to stop urinating completely, or dribbling might continue after urination.

How Effective Is Saw Palmetto?

Ripe fruit from the saw palmetto plant has been used to treat a variety of conditions. Early studies showed that saw palmetto might help reduce BPH symptoms. But, when the studies were repeated, the results didn't stand up.

Early studies started with doses of 320 milligrams of saw palmetto every day. A study conducted in 2011 investigated whether doubling and then tripling that dose increased effectiveness. Even at higher doses, saw palmetto remained ineffective. In fact, the study found no difference over placebo.

Even though the most recent research shows this likely isn’t true, many men continue to use saw palmetto for this purpose.

Some evidence suggests that saw palmetto improves nocturia (the urge to frequently urinate at night) in men, but any noted improvement has been modest. Other uses include treatment for prostate cancer, pelvic pain, diabetes, asthma, and migraine headaches. But, there is not sufficient evidence to show that it works for any of these conditions.

Is Saw Palmetto Safe?

Not many studies prove saw palmetto’s effectiveness, but clinical trials have shown that saw palmetto is safe. Even at high doses, no serious adverse reactions were reported. Minor side effects include a variety of stomach problems and even bad breath. In extremely rare cases, liver problems have been reported.

Don’t take saw palmetto if you have blood clotting problems or are about to undergo surgery. Ask your doctor before taking saw palmetto to make sure that it doesn’t interact with other medications you may be taking.

Saw palmetto isn’t just used by men. Some women have tried using it to enlarge their breasts, though this has not been shown to work. The herb can be dangerous for some women. Children and women who are pregnant, on birth control, or hormone therapy should never take it.

Proven BPH Treatments and Advice on Herbs

Herbal remedies are popular in the United States. According to one U.S. survey in 2007, as many as 18 percent of U.S. adults took saw palmetto in the past 30 days, and more than five percent of men took it to treat BPH symptoms.

Years ago, people thought saw palmetto increased libido, but that has not been shown to be true. While herbal supplements may help with some conditions, always talk with your doctor before beginning a regimen.

There are other ways to treat an enlarged prostate. Sometimes a doctor will closely monitor a patient and help him modify daily habits to improve symptoms. For example, diet and certain prescription medications can cause prostate problems.

If the problem is more severe, several medications exist to treat BPH, either alone or in combination with other therapies. Minimally invasive procedures also can provide relief.