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 Saw Palmetto  
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Natural Medicine Research by . View all columns in series

Q. Berry or extract?
A. When you purchase saw palmetto, you will find some bottles that provide crushed berries, not the extracts. Until we learn more about the effects of using the full contents of the berries, I recommend that you buy the extracts. The extracts will contain the actual substances that are effective in treating BPH in a much higher concentration. The berries will provide you with smaller amounts of the needed active ingredients. Whether the crushed berries have compounds that provide other benefits is not fully known at this time. If you want to take the berries, you may need to ingest at least one or two grams a day. The ratio of the dried berry to the lipophilic extracts is usually about 10 to 1. Some users prefer to take both the extracts and the berries, thinking that there are substances within the full berries that could be beneficial. We certainly need more research in order to have a fuller understanding.

Q. What about standardizing saw palmetto products?
A. Since there are hundreds of substances within saw palmetto, it would be difficult to standardize extracts. How can one product be compared to another? Which compounds within saw palmetto could serve as markers? Dr. McLaughlin believes that the monoacylglycerides monolaurin and monomyristin could serve as marker compounds since they are not easily found in other herbs or plants. They could easily be evaluated in a laboratory by a process known as HPLC (high performance liquid chromatography). Thus, by knowing the amounts of these compounds, it would be easier to standardize different products. Beta-sitosterol, one of the plant sterols in SP, may not be a good marker since many other herbs contain this sterol. St. John's wort is now often standardized by its content of hypericin. For instance, most bottles will say on them that the product contains 0.3 percent hypericin. saw palmettoP products do not have this standardization, but you will find that most bottles will say that they contain 85 to 95 percent of a liposterolic extract. Liposterolic is a general term that encompasses the varieties of fat-soluble compounds within SP. The standardization of saw palmetto products is not likely to occur soon.

Q. Is There a major difference between different trademarked products?
A. Donald Brown, ND, the author of Herbal Prescriptions for Better Health, (Prima, 1996) says, "The active compounds within saw palmetto can be extracted in a variety of ways. The most common is using hexane (a volatile, colorless, liquid hydrocarbon with 6 carbon atoms). The French Company Pierre Fabre Medicaments uses this process for their product Permixon. Another product, called Strogen Forte, contains extracts removed by carbon dioxide. Some vitamin companies will say on their bottle "Non-hexane extract." Frankly, both ways are fine and I don't see any problems with either method of extraction. Hexane is the traditional way to extract fatty acids, oils and sterols from herbs, seeds and berries. Ethanol can also be used for extraction.

"It's possible that the constituents of the different products may be slightly different based on the method of extraction, however, for practical purposes, their effect on the human prostate should not be too different."

I tend to agree with Dr. Brown. For the time being, and for practical purposes, it's okay to consider most of these products as near equivalent.

Q. How quickly does saw palmetto get absorbed?
A. When you swallow a SP capsule or tablet, it will go into the gastrointestinal tract, be absorbed from the intestines, and make its way to the blood in about an hour or two. The liposterolic extracts have been found to stay in the blood for a few hours. During this time, a number of compounds within the saw palmetto extract will make their way to various parts of our bodies, including skin, hair follicles, genital tissues, and prostate. Studies in rats show that higher concentrations of saw palmetto are eventually found in the prostate gland as compared to other tissues (Plosker, 1996).

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 About The Author
Ray Sahelian, M.D., is a popular and respected physician who has been seen on numerous television programs including NBC Today, Dateline NBC, and CNN, and quoted by countless major magazines such as Newsweek He......moreRay Sahelian MD
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