Saw palmetto is a plant that was originally used by Native Americans to treat ailments. It produces small berries which is what is found in most supplements.
There is research that shows this plant can help with an enlarged prostate. This is similar to the way the drug Propecia works, which was also originally intended to treat an enlarged prostate.
Does it work?
This herbal supplement works in much the same way as the drug Propecia does, except that obviously it’s 100% natural so there are less side-effects generally associated with its use.
The mechanism of action is inhibiting the enzyme 5-alpha-reductase. 5-alpha-reductase converts testosterone to DHT, which is generally accepted as the hormones responsible for pattern baldness.
There is still debate around how effective saw palmetto is at preventing further hair loss and no conclusive studies have been undertaken. A small study did show positive results in 6 out of ten subjects.
You can download a PDF file of that study here if you’re interested. The caveat of this study is that the men were asked to rate how their hair loss had improved after a few months taking the herb orally – No empirical checks were taken, such as a hair count.
Is there any medical evidence?
It is more difficult to conduct reliable studies on the effectiveness of saw palmetto for MPB, one of the reasons is that no one in particular wants to fund the studies.
Merck (the company that makes Propecia) will happily fund a study on the drug, since they have the patent on the drug, so proving its effectiveness will certainly have an return on investment for them.
However, proving saw palmettos effectiveness won’t benefit any one company in particular.
That’s not to say that there aren’t available studies to consider, though.
University of Naples, Italy (2004)
A (brief) study was performed on this topic in 2004 by researchers at the University of Naples. Its goal was to determine whether Serona Repens (saw palmetto) had any effect on AGA hair loss.
To carry out this study, 34 men and 28 women were recruited and split into three groups:
- Used three products (shampoo, lotion, and supplements) enriched with saw palmetto;
- Used three products (shampoo, lotion, and supplements) without saw palmetto; and
- Used two products (shampoo and lotion) enriched with saw palmetto and a placebo supplement.
The study took place over a three-month period, and researchers tracked the results using trichograms, phototrichograms, and computerized analysis of the scalps.
As suspected, Group 2 (the placebo group) saw no significant results in either hair growth or sebum production.
Group 1 received the best results, with a 35% increase in hair number and mass, and a 67% decrease in sebum production.
Group 3 received relatively positive results, with a 20% increase in hair count and a 35% decrease in sebum production.
What do these results tell us?
Overall, they’re quite promising as it relates to saw palmetto in the treatment of AGA-related hair loss.
Rome, Italy (1998)
A more in-depth study was carried out in 1998, which sought to determine whether saw palmetto and gelatin-cystine could make a positive impact on hair growth.
This study included 48 volunteers (24 male and 24 female) who were instructed to apply the lotion (either active, or placebo) over a period of 50 weeks. Some participants (12 in total) were also given an oral supplement (which did not contain saw palmetto).
All 48 patients were diagnosed with AGA (Stages III to IV on the Norwood-Hamilton scale).
The study consisted of five groups, and here was the breakdown:
- Group 1: Active lotion A;
- Group 2: Inactive (placebo) lotion B;
- Group 3: Active diet supplement C;
- Group 4: Inactive (placebo) diet supplement D; and
- Group 5: Active lotion A and active diet supplement.
The lotion was applied twice daily, and the volunteers also received a mild shampoo which they were instructed to use throughout the study.
The mean percentage variation of hair number per squared centimeter of scalp was recoreded throughout the study, and these were the results:
As to be expected, the placebo groups performed quite poorly, but the active groups (lotion, diet, and lotion + diet) all performed quite well. In fact, an increase of almost 40% was seen in the lotion + diet group, and the other two active groups saw increases of between 25% and 30%.
As saw palmetto wasn’t the only active component in this study, it’s hard to tell exactly how much of a role it played. However, the results are enlightening and can help to guide further research.
Rome, Italy (2012)
Finasteride is a popular drug treatment for AGA, as it works to inhibit 5AR and reduce DHT levels. It’s used by many men throughout the hair loss community, and its results can be quite amazing.
However, finasteride does have some side effects associated with its use.
This next study will be of interest to finasteride users and non-users alike, as it directly compares the efficacy of saw palmetto with finasteride.
The 2012 study consisted of 100 men total, all of which were diagnosed with AGA (mild to moderate). The participants were split into two groups.
The first group received 320mg of saw palmetto per day, while the second group was prescribed 1mg of finasteride per day. Both groups continued treatment for 24 months.
The participants were studied throughout the trial, and global photographs were taken at each stage and studied by three experts (two dermatologists, and one junior dermatologists). These photographs were ranked using a 7-point scale.
These were the total scores, as tallied, by the end of the 24-week study:
Overall, results show that 38% of patient treated with saw palmetto saw hair growth while 68% of those treated with finasteride saw hair growth.
Does this mean that saw palmetto doesn’t work? Of course not!
While the results aren’t that impressive, they still do show that saw palmetto plays a role in hair growth. This is likely via the inhibition of 5-alpha-reductase, though further studies should be carried out.
And, while finasteride may prove to be more effective in this study, this may not be true if various concentrations of saw palmetto were tested or if different measurement techniques were utilized.
The main point I think from these studies is that the herb can be effective for hair growth, but one needs to take a double pronged approach to solving the problem.
Saw Palmetto Dosage
Saw palmetto comes in many different forms, and considering the point above you may want to consider a few of the options:
- powder capsules
- dried whole berries
- liquid extracts
In the first study mentioned the subjects took 200 milligrams twice daily, which is quite a large dosage. Something that I think it very important to remember when taking supplements is that everybodys digestive system will absorb the herb differently.
For example, many of us have guts that are coated in undigested matter. This comes from a modern diet lacking in fibre, and the over-consumption of processed foods that are devoid of enzymes.
Dairy, grains (which irritate the lining of the GI tract) and red meats all contribute to a gut that will have a hard time processing the foods and extracting the active ingredients from any supplements you take.
I would personally recommend a slightly different approach then simply taking saw palmetto straight away.
This would involve at least a few days of a juice fast detox where you refrain from eating any foods and only drink freshly made vegetable juice.
If you’re serious you can even try colonic irrigation and maybe you’ll experience ‘first hand’ the truly amazing amount of waste and sludge that is lining the digestive system. (Well, have to ever felt bloated, constipated, brain-fogged or tired?) This could be one of the reasons.
Psyllium husk can also be used during the detox to provide fibrous bulk that effectively sweeps the colon out. Talk about feeling like kid with endless energy again!!
The main point is that no herbal supplement will ever be effective if you’re body can’t use the ingredients contained within it through a healthy and effective digestive system. Go from there.
Saw Palmetto Side Effects
Although saw palmetto is generally considered to be safe, people have reported a few side-effects of taking it. The most commonly heard one is that is can cause an upset stomach.
This isn’t something you should worry about since it either happens or it doesn’t and can be avoided by taking it with food.
Saw palmetto does interact with your body on a hormonal level (albeit naturally, unlike finasteride) so you should pay attention to how your body feels in the following few days and weeks when you start. Always consult a doctor if you do decide to take it. (I am not a doctor btw.)
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Saw palmetto may reduce the effectiveness of oral contraceptives.
The tannins in the supplement can supposedly affect iron absorption, leading to iron (ferritin) deficiency, so you might consider taking an iron supplement as well or being sure to eat foods high in iron such as liver, sunflower seeds, nuts, beef, lamb, beans, whole grains, clams, dark leafy greens to counteract the lack of absorption.
Are there any alternatives?
Are there complimentary supplements for saw palmetto? Yes, there are certainly other supplements that you should take as well, and other things you should be doing to help with hair loss.
In fact, that’s why this website is here. I teach you how I personally cured my hair loss using natural methods and how you can do the same.
As a side-note, I wrote an in-depth article about the best natural DHT blocker here, although it’s probably not what you’re expecting, the overall approach is incredibly effective.
How much does it cost?
You can find saw palmetto relatively cheaply on Amazon. I would recommend browsing the reviews and picking one that you like. I could give my own recommendation but it may change by the time you read this so it’s better to do have a look yourself.
Saw palmetto isn’t a hair loss breakthrough, but it may help to reduce DHT both orally and topically when used consistently. There are studies that show it is no more effective than a placebo, and studies that have promising results.
Whatever you decide to do, remember that supplements should only form a small part of defence against pattern baldness.