Transitioning to patient: Disrupted sleep finds welcome relief | Columnists

This is a strange point in my life.

For more than 40 years, I have been a practicing medical doctor. As such, I did not think of myself as a patient.

Although I have had a family doctor all of that time, I have only made a few appointments to see him over those years. I am not even sure he knows that he is my family doctor.

Fortunately, the genes I inherited are allowed for only a few significant health problems.

In addition, I have gotten away with the hubris of thinking that the doctor I saw in the mirror every morning could take care of the vast majority of health care needs that might pop up in my life.

However, I no longer engage in any kind of patient care, which means that I will need to make a more complete transition to patient mode.

One of the first steps has been to admit that getting up to go to the bathroom several times each night was messing up my sleep pattern, not to mention the frequent bathroom breaks throughout the day.

With that in mind, I decided to experiment with a plant product called saw palmetto after consulting a website produced by the National Institutes of Health.

The website said saw palmetto is also called the American dwarf palm tree or the cabbage palm.

“Saw palmetto is a shrublike palm native to the southeastern US Historically, it was used for a variety of conditions, including disorders of the male and female reproductive organs and coughs due to various diseases.

“Currently, saw palmetto is promoted as a dietary supplement for urinary symptoms associated with an enlarged prostate gland (also called benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH), as well as for chronic pelvic pain, migraine, hair loss and other conditions.”

“Many studies have evaluated various preparations of saw palmetto for urinary tract symptoms associated with prostate enlargement in men.

“Much less is known about the use of saw palmetto for other health purposes.”

That information was consistent with my intentions for the product and what I had seen many patients use saw palmetto for in the past.

However, the website further said, “Two large, high-quality studies funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), each using a different preparation of saw palmetto, found it was no more effective than a placebo (an inactive substance) for BPH symptoms. Saw palmetto products are made in a variety of ways and differ in composition. Some studies of saw palmetto products other than those used in the NIH-sponsored studies have suggested that they might be helpful for BPH symptoms, but many of these studies were of low quality. No saw palmetto product has been conclusively shown to be effective for BPH.”

They also said that saw palmetto is generally well tolerated and has not been shown to interact with other medications.

I found it to be inexpensive at a local pharmacy. So, I decided to be a guinea pig and try it on myself.

After a couple of days of taking the recommended dose of saw palmetto, I was able to sleep until morning without needing to get up to go to the bathroom. I was also able to decrease the frequency of my bathroom breaks during the day, though the level of change seemed less impressive.

With these results, I plan to continue to take saw palmetto regularly. But I will be adjusting the daily dose down to the lowest amount that allows me uninterrupted sleep for at least six hours.

For others who might consider using saw palmetto, it is important to remember that urinary tract symptoms can have several causes, including conditions such as prostate cancer that need prompt treatment.

If you are having problems with urination, it is important to talk to your health care provider to make a safe, shared, and well-informed decision.

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