Updated: Feb 12
Chances are that if you have been doing a bit of research on how to combat hair loss you have come across saw palmetto. It is a plant that has been used by Native Americans for centuries for medicinal purposes.
The truth is, when it comes to “natural” supplementation with herbs and plants that there is often a lot of claims about various medicinal applications that it may have, usually without scientific evidence to back it. Saw palmetto is no different, so let’s dive in to it.
What medical applications might it have?
There are quite a few conditions that people have claimed saw palmetto treats such as pelvic pain, low sperm count and urinary problems. According to the National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) “the scientific evidence does not support using saw palmetto for any health condition.”
But there have been studies done, some of which show promising results in some areas. There just have not been enough of them done to make any claims.
Most commonly saw palmetto is known for treating and enlarged prostate and hair loss which can be attributed to the boom in popularity. People want their hair back, I get it. The bulk of the claims come from the fact that saw palmetto may inhibit 5-alpha reductase, the enzyme responsible for converting testosterone into DHT.
How DHT affects the prostate
DHT aids in the growth of prostate cells. This is great for when your prostate is developing but if DHT does not slow down naturally a condition called benign prostatic hyperplasia, or enlarged prostate, may develop.
Although studies linking an enlarged prostate to hair loss were largely inconclusive, it is easy to make an inference as to why those two would be linked as DHT is also the main culprit in pattern hair loss.
So, since it blocks DHT it must stop hair loss, right?
Once again back to the common theme here, there just isn’t enough evidence, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any at all.
One study was conducted on 100 people in which one group was given saw palmetto and the other was given finasteride. The results showed that 68% of people who were treated with finasteride showed improvement while a lower, but still significant, 38% showed improvement from saw palmetto.
Another study conducted on 34 men and 28 women had very interesting results. It showed that there was an average 35% increase in hair density as well as a 67% reduction of sebum production.
Why include the statistic about sebum production you may ask? Because it may give more evidence to support saw palmetto’s reduction of hair loss.
Inflammation in the scalp can sometimes be caused by overproduction of sebum. When inflammation occurs, it alters the normal growth process of the follicles, and in rare cases can cause permanent hair loss. Fortunately, inflammation induced hair loss is usually reversible within a matter of months.
Well should I take it?
If you are wanting to take the most effective hair loss treatment, then saw palmetto is probably not for you. The bulk of the claims around saw palmetto and hair loss is that it blocks DHT. The truth of the matter is that finasteride (or as I prefer, dutasteride: more here) is highly likely to be a much more effective treatment. There is a large body of evidence and plenty of success stories proving finasteride’s efficacy.
If you want to go the all-natural route, then saw palmetto may be a good option. Although it does not have enough evidence to make any authoritative scientific claims about hair loss, there is promising data nonetheless. Further research is needed, and is hopefully on the horizon, to dive deeper into this discussion.
Another reason that someone might want to choose saw palmetto over finasteride is due the finasteride’s side effect profile. Although rare, cases of decreased libido and sexual side effects have been reported on finasteride. This is something that you would not need to worry about taking saw palmetto, in fact it’s the latter.
Once again, research is limited, but there is evidence showing that saw palmetto increased sex drive. This supposedly happens because it slows the natural breakdown of testosterone in the body, leading to increased libido. It is important to note that people have reported minor side effects from taking saw palmetto such as dizziness, headaches, nausea, vomiting, constipation, and diarrhea. It is always important to talk to your doctor before taking any supplement, prescription or not.
The meat and potatoes of the whole thing
I hope this article was able to help clear up some common misconceptions and claims about saw palmettos efficacy for hair loss.
In conclusion, there is just not enough evidence backing saw palmetto to cure anything, let alone hair loss. There are most definitely study’s that point in the right direction and it may not be a bad idea to supplement with if you are against taking prescription hair loss medication. But, for now, no natural supplement is going to have quite the effect on your hair that finasteride will.
This is why we chose not include saw palmetto in our own hair supplement. We want to provide our community with the most effective hair loss treatments available. Our supplement is not focused on blocking DHT, we leave that to finasteride, but is instead targeted at other causes of hair loss relating to scalp health and your hairs foundation.