October 20, 2012
Study: Saw Palmetto Deemed Safe For Men With Urinary Problems
April Flowers for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
A new study published this week in the Journal of Urology finds the popular supplement saw palmetto may be safe for men with urinary symptoms. The study does not, however, make any claims about the efficacy of the supplement.
Some men take saw palmetto, which is a fruit extract, to alleviate the symptoms of an enlarged prostate, including difficulty urinating, urine leakage, and repeated nighttime trips to the restroom. Saw palmetto remains popular, despite lacking evidence that it works. In fact, two recent clinical trials found the supplement was no more effective than sugar pills for men with benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH), also known as an enlarged prostate.
Since the supplement is readily available over the counter, however, men are likely to keep using it, according to Dr. Andrew L. Avins from Kaiser Permanente.
"Since it's a dietary supplement, it can still be sold without evidence of efficacy," Avins noted in an statement. "And from past studies, we know that even without evidence, many people continue to take supplements based on what they believe."
Because people will continue to take the supplement without any evidence that it works, it becomes important to understand if there is a risk of side effects. Avins and his team looked at the data from one of the clinical trials that tested the supplement for BPH.
The clinical trial was a U.S. government sponsored study of 369 men with BPH. The men were randomly assigned to a test group and a control group. The test group took saw palmetto and the control group took a placebo for 18 months. The research team found that urinary symptoms improved on average. However, there didn't seem to be a discernible difference.
Avin's group found that the risk of side effects was no larger with the supplement either. Men in both groups had about the same number of complaints (three per group, on average) of upset stomach, muscle soreness and respiratory infections. Only a few of these complaints were considered to be related to the study.
Avins warns this does not mean the supplement is risk-free.
"We can only talk about the use of saw palmetto at these doses, over 18 months," he said. (Men in the trial took anywhere from 320 to 960 milligrams of saw palmetto per day.) "We can't address what happens when men take it for years."
There is almost no information about drug interactions between saw palmetto and any other medications a man might be taking. This leads one to question whether there is any benefit from taking the supplement.
Avins says that on average it's no better than a placebo, but we shouldn't discount the "placebo effect." If a man feels better taking it, he considers it a worthwhile investment.
As with any supplement or OTC medication, one should seek medical advisement before taking it to avoid possible complications or drug interactions.
Avins says the most important reason to consult your doctor is to learn about all the options for treating BPH.
"This is a condition where good conventional options do exist," Avins said.
The options include prescription medications such as Alpha-1 blockers like doxazosin, or hormonal treatments like finasteride. Finally, surgery may be recommended for some patients.
Some simple no-cost steps can help alleviate symptoms, such as cutting out caffeine and alcohol.