TUESDAY, Sept. 27 (HealthDay News) -- For men suffering from urinary problems related to an enlarged prostate, saw palmetto extract doesn't seem to relieve symptoms any better than a placebo, even when taken at high doses, a new study finds.
Many men in the United States and Europe use plant extracts to relieve lower urinary tract symptoms related to benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), a condition that enlarges the prostate gland. Saw palmetto is the most commonly used extract, but its effectiveness has not been proven.
"Despite pushing the dose up to three times what's traditionally been used, we couldn't find the extract we studied lowered urinary tract symptoms more than placebo," said lead researcher Dr. Michael J. Barry, chief of the General Medicine Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
Men with BPH experience bothersome symptoms such as frequent urination, urgency and hesitation. Medical treatments include drugs, minimally invasive therapies or surgery, but natural treatments have a strong following.
A 2007 survey found that 17.7 percent of U.S. adults had used a natural product in the previous 30 days, and just over 5 percent had taken saw palmetto, the researchers said. The frequency among older men would be even higher, they added.
In the current study, no side effects were seen with saw palmetto extract, which is a plus. "With no side effects and some men getting improvement, there may be some men who want to give it a try to see if it will work for them even though it's no better than placebo," Barry said.
"For me, I don't think I would take it," he added.
The report was published in the Sept. 28 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
For the study, Barry's team randomly assigned 369 men with BPH to increasing doses of saw palmetto extract or placebo. The men were 45 or older -- average age 61 --
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