Saw-palmetto extract comes from unique berries of a wild, indigenous small palm, Serenoa repens, that grows exclusively in the Southeast United States, predominantly in Florida. Native Americans who used the berries for centuries to treat a host of health conditions, introduced them to settlers. When ripe, the berries turn red and produce an oil that can be extracted without solvents. This extract is why many call the berry a Florida treasure.
Saw-palmetto extract (SPE) is a natural, safe, and effective first line of defense for urinary and prostate health. In Europe, SPE is often prescribed as a pharmaceutical for prostate problems by the age of 50. Most estimates show one out of every two men will struggle with mild-to-moderate prostate-related symptoms. Like accumulating gray hair or wrinkles, the onset of unpleasant urinary issues reveals an aging prostate. Studies show that taking 320 mg of pure SPE daily provides the prostate support that aging men need. That is why saw palmetto continues to be one of the top-20, best-selling, herbal dietary products in the United States.
However, not all products labeled for and claiming to contain saw palmetto are alike.
Prior to ripening, saw palmetto berries are green and do not contain the valued oil. Many manufacturers grind these green berries, label their product as containing saw palmetto, and hope that you don’t know the difference. Obviously, without the oil of the ripe fruit, these products do not provide the clinically proven levels of active compounds necessary to realize the prostate benefits. Many brands claiming to contain SPE have diluted and adulterated their products with cheap vegetable oils, also negating the benefit. In fact, last year the company where I work, Valensa International, engaged in a study to evaluate six other saw- palmetto brands. It found that four of six extracts appeared to be adulterated (engineered) and the remaining two appeared to be outright imitations.
Some harvesters don’t realize the impact that selling green berries has on the market. Ineffective raw material eventually harms land owners, farmers, retailers, manufacturers who extract the oil for other nutraceutical companies, and eventually the consumer, who is desperate for relief. The ground-berry powder sold in capsules, containing only a slight fraction of the efficacious oil, and adulterated SPE both compromise the health of a consumer leaning on saw-palmetto products to improve prostate health and reclaim quality of life.
“We have been watching this latest development,” said Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of American Botanical Council (ABC) and founder and director of the Botanical Adulterants Program, “because more ingredients masquerading as saw palmetto have surfaced on the market. We have heard concerns for many years from ethical, responsible members of the industry about adulteration creating unfair competition in the marketplace.”
Stefan Gafner, PhD, chief science officer for ABC, said that demand for saw palmetto may be outpacing the supply, which brings inherent risks. “When the saw-palmetto berry harvest volume is below expectations, combined with increased demand and rising prices, it is not surprising that some of the saw-palmetto material on the market is not authentic,” Dr. Gafner said. “Suppliers that sell highquality SPE will not be able to compete on price, and may lose lucrative contracts to the providers of low-cost, adulterated materials. Finally, there is also a risk to the reputation of the dietary supplement industry, and the saw-palmetto industry in particular, since potential negative headlines in the media may erode consumer confidence in the industry in general and the saw- palmetto products in particular.”
SPOTTING FAKE SAW PALMETTO
Imported versions. Saw palmetto imported from China, for example, is a red flag because the plant is native to Florida. Look for United States origination and/or “Fresh from Florida” on the label.
Know the difference. Saw-palmetto capsules containing berry powders (not extracts) do not have the concentration or dosage power to deliver the desired effects. Buy pure SPE that meets US Pharmacopeia (USP) Monograph standards.
Look for price. If the price seems too good to be true, then it’s not authentic. SPE crops are seasonal and weather can affect them, so pricing can vary.
Effective dose. Look for products containing 320 mg of SPE in capsules or gel caps. It should be pure, unadulterated with other oils.
Ask for details, even in trusted brands. Knowing these basic guidelines gives integrative medicine practitioners and consumers an advantage that prevents waste and guarantees the most effective product.
HOW SAW PALMETTO WORKS
The suggested mechanism of SPE action is a mild inhibition of the activity of 5α-reductase, the enzyme that catalyzes conversion of testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
DHT in turn, is linked to the development of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), also referred to as an enlarged prostate. In other words, inhibition of 5α-reductase activity results in less DHT synthesized in the body from testosterone, and therefore, reduced chances of BPH development. It has been shown in vivo that the anti-BPH property of SPE is comparable to the commonly used synthetic 5α-reductase inhibitor, Finasteride. In addition, the efficacy of SPE has been decisively confirmed by a significant number of clinical trials.
Valensa was a pioneer in the SPE market, supplying a verified raw material to companies planning to build high-quality supplements. Therefore, you won’t see an SPE product with Valensa on the label. However, you can look for USPlus Saw Palmetto Extract, which is appears in number of different products.
Fighting sham palmetto requires a strategy that spans the entire supply chain, from farm to pill.
Suppliers should test every lot of SPE to confirm compliance with current USP and European Union requirements. Conscientious suppliers, such as Valensa, often choose to apply stricter standards and unique analytical approaches to verify product quality and authenticity.
Furthermore, clinical testing to confirm effectiveness offers the consumer an additional level of certainty. For example, the College of Pharmacy of the Chung-Ang University, Seoul, Korea recently tested USPlus in humans to measure its 5α-reductase inhibition activity. This kind of investment by producers adds credibility and builds trust with consumers. It demonstrates why it is important to put efficacy above price point when shopping for supplements.
Lastly, the market must learn that green-berry powder does not help the prostate. This includes land owners, growers, harvesters, nutraceutical businesses, and consumers. Valensa is taking proactive steps to educate the entire supply chain and improve the quality of the entire industry.
Saw palmetto is a precious natural resource that needs to be handled correctly. Shortcuts in growing and production sabotage the market, benefiting only the profiteers who have little regard for the sustainability of the industry. Through education, SPE can continue to serve men’s health effectively.
Stephen Hill, MS, is vice-president of quality and product development at Valensa International. He has 17 years of experience in dietary supplements and specializes in saw palmetto. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.