Saw Palmetto for an Enlarged Prostate: Myth or Truth?
More than 2.5 million men annually have a prostate check and hear bad news. While not all prostate conditions will develop into full-blown cancer, it certainly isn’t a disease you want to write home about, and it can interfere in a man’s quality of life tremendously. One age-old herb once used by the Seminole Indians just might cure an enlarged prostate though.
Specifically in the limelight where this particular herb is concerned is a condition called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). While the herb has been used for centuries to help men with prostate problems and both sexes deal with urinary tract issues, all of a sudden a few studies have claimed it doesn’t work. Not so fast – Merck & Pfizer, if we have a closer look at the studies in question we can see how Big Pharma has spun another web of misinformation to confuse the general public about this helpful herb.
BPH is caused when the prostate’s epithelial cells and stromal cells are too high. This causes the prostate to swell, putting pressure on the urethra, the passageway for urine. This pressure can cause great discomfort when it comes time to void the bladder, and along with pain there is sometimes a decrease in overall flow and therefore a more frequent feeling of needing to urinate since the body still needs to expel toxins even when BPH is present.
Shockingly, almost 75% of men over 75 will develop this condition. Many men will suffer from this condition even sooner – as early as 45 years of age. The underlying cause of an enlarged prostate is inflammation. The review that seems to have rendered Saw palmetto useless came from University of Minnesota Medical School and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (Macdonald et al. 2012). The lead researcher for the review is Timothy J. Wilt, MD, a long time employee from Veterans Affairs and a medicine professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School.
He and his fellow researchers concluded that Saw palmetto was no better than a placebo at stopping enlargement of the prostate. This research, along with Dr. Wilt’s previous exploration of the subject (he did a similar review in 2009 which whittled down over 30 studies to just 18) eliminated all but three studies to include in the ‘review’ that covered only 661 patients. He eliminated studies that did not use “the American Urological Association’s Symptom Index or the International Prostate Symptom Scores method to evaluate prostate improvement.”
In this study, researchers arrived at the conclusion that Saw Palmetto was indeed effective at reducing urinary tract problems.
While some studies have been thrown out due to increasingly stringent research protocols, the results are still proving that Saw Palmetto works. It’s hard to utilize subjective feedback from men for example, in a study that asks “did you have to urinate more or less frequently after taking Saw Palmetto?” This is considered ‘anecdotal or experiential evidence’ and is not admissible in most pharmaceutical trials.
While it would seem tighter protocols are helpful, it is actually a boon to pharmaceutical companies because other ‘anecdotal’ evidence coming from people who participate in trials, such as “I feel nauseous, or dizzy or doped up, etc.” are thrown out, and their current drug-du-jour can be approved by the FDA.
The use of traditional herbs is almost purely experiential for many people who use them, and while even with peer-reviewed trials proving the effectiveness of Saw Palmetto and other herbs , too often they are ignored since they don’t pass pharmaceutical rigors. So when a drug company says a natural herb ‘works no better than a placebo’ they can say this confidently, and legally since first-hand responses from their study subjects is considered ‘insignificant’ in a clinical setting.
The herb has been used for 12000 years – is that enough ‘significant data’ for the pharmaceutical companies? Likely not.
Christina Sarich is a humanitarian and freelance writer helping you to Wake up Your Sleepy Little Head, and See the Big Picture. Her blog is Yoga for the New World. Her latest book is Pharma Sutra: Healing the Body And Mind Through the Art of Yoga.