Saw Palmetto has been causing some waves and increasing interest in the recent years as a remedy for male pattern hair loss. We explore the biochemistry and mechanism of work of this supplement for both, men and women, in the journey of hair re-growth.
Androgenetic alopecia: Male and female hair loss
Men typically experience an M-shaped pattern of thinning hair, known as male pattern baldness. This geography of hair loss relates to areas of scalp tension and higher density of androgenic receptors in those areas. Thinning usually occurs all over the scalp in women – due to the density and distribution of androgenic receptors in female scalp – so rarely results in complete baldness as it does in men.
Saw palmetto has been gaining prominence in recent years as the population grows and problem of balding becoming more acute, possibly due to increased every day demands of looking a certain way from both genders. Saw palmetto is one of the popular ingredients that people use to try to slow down hair loss or to regrow hair.
Saw palmetto plant and hair loss
There are many treatments for hair loss. In recent years, hair pieces and hair extensions have gained popularity. Topical medications such as minoxidil and oral drugs, such as finasteride are other popular methods people, predominantly male, turn to treat thinning hair. Surgical procedures such hair plugs and hair transplants also offer solutions to those suffering from hair loss and hair thinning. But medications do have side effects and surgery is expensive.
Serenoa repens, commonly known as saw palmetto, is a small berry-bearing palm, growing to a maximum height around 7–10 ft (2.1–3.0 m). It can be found in the subtropical Southeastern United States along the south Atlantic and Gulf Coastal plains and sand hills. The berries were also used in Native American culture as treatment for various conditions. Saw palmetto gained its prominence is hair loss and hair growth communities after a series of studies treating urinary symptoms relating to prostate cancer higlighting the link between testosterone and saw palmetto.
Saw palmetto as DHT blocker
- Saw palmetto blocks 5AR enzyme responsible for turning testosterone into hair follicle-minituarising DHT molecule.
- It increases activity of the 3α-hydroxysteroid-dehydrogenase, the enzyme is responsible for the conversion of DHT into the weaker androgen androstanediol (Koch, 1995; Bach & Ebeling, 1996). This reduces the potency of the by-product of this conversion. The principle molecules responsible for the aforesaid actions of Saw palmetto are phytosterol.
Research remains limited on saw palmetto’s efficacy in treating hair loss. Still, one study showed positive results for men treated with topical saw palmetto and 10 percent trichogen veg complex. Nearly half of the 25 participants increased their hair count by 11.9 percent after four months of treatment.
The different forms of saw palmetto
Saw palmetto comes in several different forms, including:
- whole dried berries
- liquid extracts
- powdered capsules
Tablets and capsules are the easiest to find and are the only forms that have been examined by researchers. Tea made from the dried berries of saw palmetto is unlikely to be effective because the active compounds aren’t water soluble.
Before taking any new supplement, it’s important to consult your doctor about safe dosage amounts. Experts recommend 160-320 mg, daily. However most of these studies were performed on men, so the conclusion of its efficacy on women remains unclear. There is insufficient research done in applying saw palmetto extract topically – which may reduce side effects that can accompany oral ingestion.
Side effects and interactions
Saw palmetto generally is considered to be safe, but it’s not recommended for children, teens, pregnant and breastfeeding women. Rare side effects include mild headaches and stomach pains. Stomach irritation can be avoided by taking the extract with food as opposed to an empty stomach.
Saw palmetto may thin your blood and can cause excessive bleeding during surgery. Always tell your doctor all of the supplements you’re taking before beginning any new type of treatment and before surgery.
Interactions may occur between saw palmetto and some other medications. For example, it can act as a blood thinner, so saw palmetto should never be taken simultaneously with other blood thinners. In particular, it shouldn’t be taken with aspirin and prescriptions such as warfarin.
In terms of its interaction with DHT conversion process, saw palmetto works in a similar manner as the medication finasteride, which is used to treat hair loss and an enlarged prostate as well. Though with reduced, if any, side effects as opposed to finasteride. Saw palmetto may reduce the effectiveness of oral contraceptives because it interacts with hormones – so women on birth control should discuss the intake of saw palmetto with their physician and use other preventative, possibly non-hormone-based and barrier-based contraceptive methods.
Outlook for saw palmetto as remedy for hair loss
Despite limited research, saw palmetto has been used to cure many things over the years, including hair loss. It works in a similar way to some hair loss prevention mesdications, including the FDA-approved minoxidil and finasteride with lesser side effects. As with all supplements, consulting with your physician first before taking any comes highly advised. Monitor your side effects and stop taking the supplement if you notice any adverse and severe reactions to the supplement.
In addition to exploring supplementing your hair growth with saw palmetto, you can take a deeper dive into your micronutrients and ensure you consume enough protein and amino acids to support your hair growth journey.
Natural Hair Supplement: Friend or Foe? Saw Palmetto, a Systematic Review in Alopecia, (1)
Treatment of male androgenetic alopecia with topical products containing Serenoa repens extract, (2)
The Evaluation of Efficacy and Safety of Topical Saw Palmetto and Trichogen Veg Complex for the Treatment of Androgenetic Alopecia in Men, (3)
Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) in androgenic alopecia: An effective phytotherapy, (4)
A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial to Determine the Effectiveness of Botanically Derived Inhibitors of 5-apha Reducatse in the Treatment of Androgenetic Alopecia, N. Prager, K. Bickett, N. French, G. Marcovici, 2002