If you've heard of the herb saw palmetto, you probably associate it more with men's health than women's health. Saw palmetto is the most used natural remedy for the symptoms of benign prostatic hypertrophy, or enlarged prostate, which is a common condition in aging men. The herb helps regulate certain hormones in the body, and this effect is useful in women as well as men.
Effects on Testosterone
Testosterone is not just a male hormone -- women also produce it. Testosterone imbalance in women is associated with adult acne, menopausal symptoms, and polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS. Testosterone metabolizes into dihydrotestosterone, which is associated with prostate enlargement and prostate cancers. Saw palmetto is thought to inhibit this breakdown. Saw palmetto may also have an estrogen-like effect, which can balance the effects of testosterone in women.
Adult-onset acne in women may be associated with a testosterone imbalance. Because of its effects on testosterone metabolism, saw palmetto is sometimes recommended to treat these outbreaks. According to the Natural Standard Database, evidence is lacking for this use, and therefore more research is needed. It's worth noting that saw palmetto berries also contain essential fatty acids, which contribute to the health of the skin.
At menopause, levels of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone drop, while testosterone levels remain steady. According to Susun Weed, a traditional herbalist, saw palmetto helps to prevent atrophy of vaginal and uterine tissue, an uncomfortable side effect of menopause. This is possibly due to the herb's effects on testosterone and other hormones. Again, solid evidence supporting this is lacking.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
PCOS is a condition marked by excess facial and body hair, trouble losing weight, irregular menstruation and infertility. The cause of PCOS is not well understood, but testosterone imbalance is associated with some of the symptoms. Saw palmetto may help reduce these symptoms and preserve fertility, most likely because of its hormonal effect.
- Natural Standard Database: Saw Palmetto
- New Menopausal Years: The Wise Woman Way; Weed, Susun
Stephanie Draus is a naturopathic doctor and assistant professor of clinical sciences at National University of Health Sciences. She has practiced in Chicago as a health consultant since 2005. She is a graduate of the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon.