Study: Saw palmetto won't help symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
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A randomized placebo trial shows saw palmetto, a popular supplement taken by men for prostate health, won’t help symptoms associated with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH).

In the newest trial, researchers looked at the effect of saw palmetto, comparing it to placebo.

Men age 65 and older were randomized to receive either the saw palmetto supplement Prosta Urgenin Uno capsules or placebo for 72 weeks.

Past studies have suggested the supplement might reduce symptoms of benign prostatic hypertrophy that can include difficulty starting urinary stream, sexual dysfunction, and weak flow of urine, incontinence and painful urination.

Dr. Claus Roehrborn, chairman of urology at UT Southwestern was included in the study that took place at 11 clinical sites.

No measurable effect on prostate health from saw palmetto

“Astonishingly enough, there was not any measurable effect – either in benefits or in toxicity – with increasing doses of the supplement in comparison to placebo,” said Dr. Roehrborn, a co-author of the multicenter study. “These supplements are apparently not doing anything measurably above and beyond what we call the placebo effect.”

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Saw palmetto has gained popularity for benign prostatic hypertrophy, perhaps from fear of sexual dysfunction from taking drugs that treat the condition. Supplements are available over the counter and readily available for men who want to self-treat symptoms.

According to a UT Southwestern news release, saw palmetto for benign prostate hypertrophy yields $700 million a year in sales.

There was no difference between the effect of the supplement on nighttime urination, sexual function, urinary incontinence and interrupted sleep when the researchers compared men taking the supplement to those given placebo.

"None of them showed any effect whatsoever in contrast to placebo,” Dr. Roehrborn said. “These supplements cost about $30 or more a month, and they obviously don’t help.”

The study took place between June 2008 and October 2010. The researchers tested 379 men ages 45 and older.

Half of men will develop benign prostatic hyperplasia by age 50. By age 80, the rate increases to 80 percent.

The study is the largest conducted showing the supplement saw palmetto is no help for symptoms of benign prostatic hypertrophy. The results are published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Image credit: Wikimedia commons

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