Saw palmetto has been called “nature’s propecia” by those who believe in its ability to increase hair growth and slow down hair loss. We compare the scientific data behind these claims to determine if saw palmetto can promote hair regrowth or stop hair loss.
Propecia is the most well-known brand of finasteride, a medication used to treat hair loss. Saw palmetto is well-tested and approved to treat prostate gland enlargement, a condition also treated by finasteride. Since finasteride treats prostate issues while also being approved to treat hair loss, the assumption is that saw palmetto can also treat hair loss.
How Saw Palmetto Works
Experts believe that saw palmetto treats hair loss in a similar way to finasteride: by blocking the 5-alpha reductase enzyme. This enzyme is required to create dihydrotestosterone (DHT), the main culprit of genetic hair loss. DHT that builds up in the hair follicle can cause a gradual thinning of the hair shaft and eventually kill the follicle completely.
In women, DHT can have the opposite effect on follicles that are not on the scalp. In a condition called Hirsutism, excessive DHT can cause excessive hair growth in areas where men traditionally grow it, like the face, arms and stomach.
Evidence shows that saw palmetto binds to 5-alpha reductase before it can convert testosterone into DHT.
Saw Palmetto Hair Growth Results
Saw palmetto for hair loss has not been through the rigorous testing needed for FDA approval, but smaller independent studies have shown its potential.
In 2002, a study published by the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine showed 60% of patients taking 400 mg. of saw palmetto along with 100 mg. of beta-sitosterol showed more hair growth than the control group. It should be noted that with only 19 test subjects, the sample size was too small to say whether the growth was due to the saw palmetto, beta-sitosterol, or both.
Guidelines for Usage
Saw palmetto can be ingested orally in many forms: whole dried berries, liquid extracts, tablets, and powdered capsules. As with most hair growth treatments, patience is key as it can take anywhere between two months and one year to see the results you’re looking for.
Beware of the potential side effects when taking saw palmetto for hair loss. A small percentage of women have reported experiencing nausea, vomiting, stomach pains and decreased libido. Another potential side effect that women experience is breast discomfort and enlargement.
If you’re experiencing any type of allergic reaction like itching or difficulty breathing, it could be a sign that your body can’t tolerate the saw palmetto herb and that you should stop treatment immediately. Women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant are advised not to use finasteride, so take the same precaution with saw palmetto.
When in doubt, talk to your physician to see if saw palmetto is a viable treatment option for your hair loss.