|Serenoa repens is a small palm tree with large pigmented berries, native to the West Indies and the Atlantic coast from South Carolina to Florida. American Indians used the plant as a general tonic, appetite stimulant, and especially with men to treat disorders of the genito-urinary tract and the prostate. The main active ingredients of saw palmetto berries are saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, like capric, caprylic, caproic, lauric, palmitic, and oleic acids. Also the ethyl esters of these fatty acids, phytosterols including beta-sitosterol and its glucoside, stigmasterol, cycloartenol, lupeol, lupenone, 24-methyl-cycloartenol, and lipase, carotenes, tannins and some sugars.
- DHT inhibitor. DHT is short for dihydrotestosterone, a powerful hormone produced out of testosterone, elevated levels of which in the scalp seem to trigger male baldness and male-type of baldness in women. Equally, it seems to be linked to excessive facial and body hair in women, where this is a result of hormonally-induced hair loss and polycystic ovaries (see immediately below). Saw palmetto extract seems to counteract DHT by a process explained below, and it may be of considerable use in the above conditions.
- Ovaries protector. The capacity of saw palmetto to treat benign prostatic pyperplasia or BPH (see below), may have beneficial effects for certain female hormonal disorders, particularly what is known as the polycystic ovary syndrome. A condition becoming increasingly common, it seems to be linked to elevated levels of DHT and estrogen, exactly like an enlarged prostate.
- Prostate protector. Many if not most men over 50 appear to suffer from an enlarged prostate, technically known as benign prostatic hyperplasia or hypertrophy (BPH), apparently caused by an elevation of the powerful androgen dihydrotestosterone (DHT) and estrogen in the prostate. The herb’s extract is clinically proven as capable of treating prostate enlargement and its symptoms, like frequent, painful and/or nocturnal urination and impotence. The action of the fatty acids and sterols seems to be both anti-androgenic and anti-estrogenic. They seem to inhibit the transport and binding of DHT to cell receptors, while at the same time reducing the activity of 5-alpha-reductase, an enzyme required for estrogen production and the conversion of testosterone to DHT.