ORLANDO – Across the state of Florida, they’re easy to find: the weed-like plant that grows berries. Most people hardly even notice this unexceptional plant.
But to Joe Veilleux, it’s not only a plant worth saving and preserving, but one that has the added benefit of improving people’s quality of life, particularly men’s health.
“For us, the key is having the raw material available,” said Veilleux. “It’s only found in Florida. It’s in our interest to protect its habitat.”
Veilleux is the general manager of U.S. operations for EuroMed, a firm based in Barcelona, Spain, that makes the ingredients for health supplement products. Veilleux works at the firm’s U.S. office in Pittsburgh.
EuroMed is taking a special interest in Florida because it’s the only state where they can readily find the palm-like plant that produces the berries used to make the capsule form of saw palmetto. Historically used to sooth stomach or intestinal problems, saw palmetto has also been used to treat symptoms of enlarged prostate, and, Veilleux said, can be helpful to men experiencing prostate problems as they reach the age of 50 and older.
But to ensure that this product is readily available, a firm with a primary focus on pharmaceutical products is now increasingly turning its attention to environmental protection and conservation – in the Sunshine State.
“We don’t know the in’s and out’s of conservation,” Veilleux said, which is why his company has formed a partnership with the Everglades Restoration Foundation, a nonprofit agency founded in 1993 to lead efforts to restore and protect the greater Everglades ecosystem. Money raised by the foundation gets used for scientific research, advancing an understanding of the Everglades ecosystem and to provide grants to others involved in conservation efforts.
Veilleux said EuroMed recognized that the foundation was the perfect partner to collaborate with, since their goal is to ensure the long term well-being of the saw palmetto plant.
“It can be found all throughout Florida,” Veilleux said. “All over the state, it grows like a weed.”
And while “It’s not like the saw palmetto is endangered,” he added that Florida is “literally the only place in the world you can get it.”
So by joining forces with an environmental protection foundation, “We want to make sure environmental laws are enforced. We want to get a little insurance here in Florida.”
A pharmacist by training, Veilleux has been working for EuroMed for the past two decades. The firm produces the ingredients for what are commonly considered health care supplements, including saw palmetto. Even as the nation’s economy has struggled to shake off the impact of a steep recession, Veilleux said the nutritional supplement industry has done well.
“People continue to be interested in their health, even in a down economy,” he said. “A good example would be garlic tablets. Garlic also has the ability to affect the way your blood clots.”
Supplements, he said, include “the usual list of herbs that you see normally in health food stores, like Ginseng. All of these have been well used for two decades now.”
Dr. Darren Hollander, who runs Orlando Family Chiropractic in downtown Orlando, said he’s recommended these products to his patients, including saw palmetto.
“The benefits of saw palmetto are well documented,” he said. “They’ve been shown to reduce the size of the prostate and to help with any problems involving the prostate or other things relating to men’s health. I’ve recommended it to my patients on a semi-regular basis, and I’ve seen the results in it clinically. My patients who have used it notice a difference. Let’s say they’re waking up in the middle of the night to use the restroom because they have an enlarged prostate. If they’re on saw palmetto for a time, a lot of men notice they don’t have to do that anymore.”
To ensure the berries remain available for manufacturing this product, Veilleux said EuroMed even built an argicultural facility in Okeechobee, Florida to harvest it.
That led to the partnership with the Everglades Restoration Foundation. As Veilleux noted, EuroMed donates a portion of its earnings from saw palmetto products to the foundation, to ensure their environmental conservation work continues.
“What we would like to do is get people to donate as much money as they can to the Everglades Foundation,” he said. “The money would come from those companies that buy our saw palmetto to put into their products. We want our customer companies to get behind this foundation. For us, it’s a win-win situation. By helping the foundation, we’re able to do some things to ensure we have this raw material around for years to come.”
Their major concern, he said, is with rapid development. Florida has been one of the nation’s fastest growing states, and in the past decade that’s led to a building boom that produced a sharp rise in commercial and residential development, particularly in Central and South Florida. That means every year, more rural land disappears in Florida – and with it, the natural habitat for plants like saw palmetto.
“We need to have some sort of protections in place,” Veilleux said. “The agriculture you have in Florida, from oranges to saw palmetto, is impacted by growth. When we opened our agriculture facility five years ago, saw palmetto existed in every town south of Okeechobee. Now the development is creeping up that way.”
Veilleux said he hopes people recognize that by preserving this product, they’re not only helping to protect Florida’s environment, but also to ensure that a product that aids in men’s health sticks around longer, too.
“In this case,” he said, “what is good for the environment is good for your health.”
To learn more about the work of the Everglades Restoration Foundation, log on to http://www.evergladesfoundation.org/.
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