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Herbal supplements are widely used to enhance prostate health. These supplements may contain several types of plant sterols, vitamins, and minerals. By weight, however, plant sterols make up an abundant ingredient component, with saw palmetto extract or its primary component, beta-sitosterol, often comprising the most abundant sterol. Saw palmetto extract/beta-sitosterol has been shown to promote anti-tumorigenic processes in prostate cancer cells and rodent models of prostate cancer. It has also been shown to inhibit the 5α-reductase enzyme, thereby behaving similarly to finasteride and dutasteride, which are widely used to treat prostatic enlargement, or benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). The aim of this study is to critically examine in vitro, in vivo, and human clinical studies to assess the safety and clinical utility of herbal supplements containing saw palmetto extract/beta-sitosterol for prostate health. The results of this study suggest multiple mechanisms through which beta-sitosterol represses prostate cancer in vitro and in vivo, particularly through its pro-apoptotic effect on prostate epithelial cells. Multiple studies also show that beta-sitosterol significantly improves lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS) associated with BPH, but to an extent that is generally less effective than that achieved by pharmaceutical grade alpha-adrenergic receptor antagonists or 5α-reductase inhibitors. This latter finding suggests that supplements containing beta-sitosterol might be most appropriate for younger men with minimal LUTS who don’t wish to embark on a clinical drug regimen for BPH treatment.

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