Saw Palmetto for Hair Loss | Does it Work?

saw palmetto for hair loss

The name saw palmetto come from the palms ‘saw-toothed’ leaves

What is Saw Palmetto?

Saw palmetto, also called Serenoa ripens, is a dwarf palm plant with small berries native to North America.  Its name is derived from its saw-toothed leaves.

Native Americans are said to have used it as medicine and food for hundreds of years.  Since it was first discovered it has been used to treat a variety of conditions including hair loss, bladder infections, prostate cancer, and decreased sexual drive.

Today the extract is a licensed product in many parts of Europe for treating symptoms associated with benign prostate gland enlargement, otherwise referred to as benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH.  It’s also widely used in other parts of the world and, in the past, was listed in the United States Pharmacopeia and National Formulary.

As far as saw palmetto for hair loss is concerned, it belongs to a class of treatments commonly referred to as ‘natural’ DHT blockers.  Studies demonstrating efficacy of saw palmetto for hair loss are, unfortunately, neither as common nor as well accepted as they are for the treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia.

We’ll be taking a look at orally ingested saw palmetto for hair loss in this article, as opposed to topical application.

How Does Saw Palmetto Work?

We don’t know exactly how saw palmetto works, however most commentators believe it acts in a similar way to finasteride by blocking an enzyme called 5-alpha-reductase.  5-alpha-reductase is required for the conversion of testosterone into dihydrotestosterone, or DHT.

As you will likely know, DHT is often cited as the main culprit in genetic hair loss, or pattern baldness.  DHT contributes to both male (and female) pattern baldness by binding to scalp follicle receptors, causing them to shrink … thus choking off new hair growth and causing existing hair to fall out.

Other theories suggest that saw palmetto works instead by reducing the uptake of DHT at the receptor sites.

Whatever the case, there is agreement that the active ingredients in the saw palmetto berry somehow ‘control’ DHT.  There is also no doubt that saw palmetto for hair loss is big business.

How Effective Is Saw Palmetto for Hair Loss?

As I mentioned above, there is a reasonable body of evidence which indicates saw palmetto might be effective in treating benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH).  Since DHT is implicated in prostate enlargement, there has been an ongoing temptation to conclude that the saw palmetto berry will be equally effective in treating thinning hair.

Indeed, you will often hear proponents of saw palmetto for hair loss comparing its effectiveness to finasteride (sold under the names Proscar for BPH and Propecia for androgenic alopecia). Finasteride is one of only three FDA-approved hair loss treatments.

The problem is that while there’s numerous well-designed clinical trials supporting finasteride’s efficacy, the same cannot be said of saw palmetto.  There are literally a handful (one of which can be found here).

In one small study in 2006, 6 out of 10 participants reported cosmetically significant results.  As part of the study, men aged between 23 and 64 with mild to moderate cases of androgenetic alopecia were given a saw palmetto oral supplement of 200 mg to take twice daily for several months.  Whilst the researcher concluded that the results justified expansion to larger trials I couldn’t find evidence of any.

Certainly, in each of these studies the sample size, duration and other characteristics of the research do not provide a great deal of confidence in the results.

Some will argue that the lack of effective studies is because pharmaceutical companies can’t patent saw palmetto’s use.  I’m not convinced.  For one, there have been well over a hundred studies conducted on its treatment of BPH.  Why not, then, on saw palmetto for hair loss?

The Mayo Clinic rates saw palmetto for hair loss as a ‘C’.  This means there is ‘unclear scientific evidence for this use’ and further research is required before it can be prescribed as an effective treatment for androgenetic alopecia.

Assuming there’s a rationale reason for the lack of studies on saw palmetto for hair loss, however, let’s take a look at the anecdotal evidence.

Anyone who has ever worried about losing his hair and has glanced at the web will have heard of saw palmetto for hair loss.  Even products using scientifically proven ingredients such as Minoxidil include it in their formulas (for example the formula I use from HLCC).

That said, many of those who recommend saw palmetto for hair loss and /or include it in their products, acknowledge that it is likely a mild to moderate DHT blocker.  That is, it’s unlikely to be a primary hair loss treatment for most people.  It’s often recommended that people suffering from pattern baldness use saw palmetto in conjunction with other botanicals or supplements which stimulate hair growth.

In actual fact, no matter which treatment protocol you decide to use to combat your hair loss, this is actually very sound advice.  Treatment protocols that address both hormonal sensitivity (e.g. anti-androgens such as saw palmetto) and stimulate growth (e.g. minoxidil) are likely to be more effective.

How Long Before I See Results using Saw Palmetto?

Given the view that saw palmetto is a relatively mild anti-androgen it’s not surprising to see many users and commentators recommending prolonged use before visible results are achieved.  I’ve read anywhere from between 2 months to 1 year depending on whether prevention of hair loss or regrowth of hair is your goal.

If you use saw palmetto as a complex containing other ‘natural’ DHT blockers or growth stimulants, however, this time could possibly be reduced.  Good examples of natural DHT blockers often found with saw palmetto are pygeum africanum, stinging nettle, pumpkin seed and beta sitosterol.

Best Suited For

Those suffering from either male or female pattern baldness (androgenetic alopecia).

Saw Palmetto has a special significance for women, for whom finasteride (Propecia) is not prescribed.  Propecia can cause birth defects and may impact hormonal balance.  In fact, women are advised to not even handle a broken tablet!

Guidelines for Effective Use of Oral Saw Palmetto for Hair Loss

Orally ingested saw palmetto comes in several different forms, including whole dried berries, liquid extracts, tablets and powdered capsules.

In the limited research that’s been conducted on saw palmetto for hair loss in live patients, tablets and capsules are the only forms that have been tested for efficacy.  They’re also the easiest to find and can usually be bought from most health stores.

As there is little clinical evidence to support saw palmetto’s effectiveness in treating hair loss, and saw palmetto is not necessarily side-effect free for everyone (see below), I recommend using the guidelines for treating BPH symptoms.  In this case a typical dose is 160 mg of saw palmetto extract standardized to 85% to 95% fatty acids and sterols, taken orally twice a day.

That last sentence is important.  Different brands contain different amounts of the active ingredients.  Make sure the quantity of fatty acids and sterols is standardized to 85% or above.

To avoid nausea I also recommend you take it with food.

It’s worth noting that a recent study in 2013 concluded that it was the liquid form of saw palmetto that had the highest concentrations of both fatty acids and phytosterols.  This is in contrast to the studies cited above conducted on balding men which used solid forms.

Cost of Saw Palmetto

Cost is highly dependent on brand and quality.  You can buy saw palmetto capsules and tablets from as little as USD $2 per month.

If you’re looking for the high-end of the market, such as Solgar, it can cost up to $17 per month.

Saw Palmetto Side Effects

Like most other herbal supplements, saw palmetto has potential side effects.

It is not recommended for use by children and pregnant or breastfeeding women.  It’s also not recommended to take saw palmetto for at least two weeks before a scheduled surgery as it may slow blood clotting.

MedlinePlus, a service of the US National Library of Medicine, states that: “Saw palmetto is LIKELY SAFE for most people. Side effects are usually mild. Some people have reported dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting, constipation, and diarrhea. Some people have reported that saw palmetto causes impotence. But these side effects do not seem to occur any more often with saw palmetto than with a sugar pill.

There is some concern that saw palmetto might cause liver or pancreas problems in some people. There have been two reports of liver damage and one report of pancreas damage in people who took saw palmetto. But there is not enough information to know if saw palmetto was the actual cause of these side effects.”

Pros

  • Relatively inexpensive, depending on which brand you buy
  • It can be used in conjunction with other treatments (with the exceptions noted under references in the side effect section above)
  • Provided you take saw palmetto orally (not topical), it’s easy to fit into your existing routine
  • Unlike some more powerful anti-androgens, can be used by both men and women

Cons

  • Likely not a primary hair loss treatment
  • Assuming it works for you, you need to keep taking the product for as long as you wish to control your hair loss or regrow hair

My Experience Using Saw Palmetto for Hair Loss

I took saw palmetto capsules and tablets for a significant number of my eight years of hair loss, using the best quality supplements I could find.  I took saw palmetto by itself and as a saw palmetto complex which included other natural hair growth and DHT blockers.  (I’ll talk about some of these in a future article.)

I’ve said this numerous times in my other articles, but it bears repeating here.  My hair loss started at age twenty-eight.  I stopped it at age 36.   Until that time, although eventually limp and lifeless, I managed to retain enough hair to avoid looking like the quintessential balding man.

Now, at age 45, having found something that worked for me, it would also be very difficult for anyone to know I had lost a lot of hair.

I very much doubt if I could have retained, and now regrown, that much hair if something hadn’t worked along the way.  Although I can’t give you proof (as I didn’t isolate this treatment), my strong suspicion is that saw palmetto, and / or other natural DHT blockers, were, at least in part, responsible.

Unfortunately, as with many treatments relating to hair loss, you’ll need to reach your own conclusions.  This was mine.

Bottom Line

Saw palmetto for hair loss, as a standalone treatment, is likely only mildly effective.  That said, you may be able to potentiate results with the addition of other herbs or treatments.  I’ll cover that possibility more fully in a future article.

Provided you’re under no illusion that natural equals harmless, and don’t expect rapid results, by all means experiment with saw palmetto as a secondary treatment option.  You might be pleasantly surprised.

 

photo credit: dno1967b via photopin cc

Comments

  1. Justin Barnuevo says

    This article is quite beneficial. Plus, it’s not one of those articles that would only inform you partly, and then entice you to buy stuff from them 😛

  2. Chandan says

    i want to know how much time did it take to stop hairfall in your case. and does saw palmetto works against dandruff too, as DHT is a reason behind dandruff also? i had acne issue in my teenage which was gone gradually bt hairfall has started by that time and i have lost many hairs since then. i hv just started to take saw palmetto tablets.
    waiting for ur reply.

    • HTTT says

      My hair was falling out for around eight years. When I finally found the solution however it stopped very quickly (in around 6 weeks, give or take) as I describe . As I note in my article on Saw Palmetto I’m not really sure how effective it was. Certainly it didn’t have a dramatic effect. Regarding whether Saw Palmetto is effective in fighting dandruff I’m not aware of any research on this, I’m afraid.

  3. adam says

    i have started taking saw palmetto tablets within the last month! I am not using any other hair loss treatments and i have scene a positive step in regrowth ( i have lost almost all hair on the top and crown of my head) I went into this with no expectations because i did not want to be disappointed in the end if it did not work. Now with that said i decided that i would try it out over the course of a year and see what happens because from different posts I have read some people took months before they really saw results and some saw non at all! I am very happy with the hair growth that I have scene thus far (its not like a massive change but i can tell when i look in the mirror and see lil hairs popping up all over the place where i was completely bald). I am not sure if this will be the answers to my balding needs but it would be nice if it was cause it is very inexpensive compared to what most hair regrowth options out there cost! Rogaine is a complete mess putting that liquid or foam on ur head sucks and its expensive and propeca has too many nasty side affects that i am not willing to deal with! I have come to terms with being bald years ago although it took me a very long time to be ok with it so if this doesnt work then there really is no loss! I started loosing hair very early probably at 19 and i wish that i had tried something back then but better late then never (i am 33 now)! I would recommend that u make sure to take saw palmetto with food because it has made me feel quite sick if I dont but other then that it hasnt had any negative effects on me! I am thinking of adding another vitamin to the mix like B12 for healthy hair down the road! I wanna give this a chance for at least 6 months to see what happens before i change the formula! If after a year i dont see anything more then some scattered new hairs like i have now then I will most likely stop taking it! Hope this helps anyone else that is on the journey to try and regrow or stop their hairloss! I know what it feels like to be bald and there are alot of ppl out there that once i take my hat off lose interest in me sexually and its a terrible feeling that once they find out i am bald they cant be bothered anymore!

    • HTTT says

      Many thanks for sharing. Agree with your point on taking saw palmetto with food. Makes you feel ill if you don’t!

  4. AP says

    I am taking Saw Palmeto once a day, before sleep, capsules, for about 8 weeks. It didn’t stop my hair loss however, the new hair is growing thicker and the same thickness as the existing hair.

    • AP says

      Rosemary oil, apple cider vinegar, cayenne pepper will help too…mix all let it sit for one hour before bath. You can apply after bath too with the clean scalp.

    • HTTT says

      That sounds to me like it is working. Have to say I’ve heard of similar treatments but haven’t ever seen any convincing evidence that it works. But, hey, what3ever works for the individual, well, works for the individual!

  5. michelle says

    i read in a comment on another hair regrowth web site that a guy was telling others to get the gel caps and to take the gel out of the capsules and rubbing it on his scalp and he got great results of hair regrowth.. he urged not to try the crap from the website cause it didnt work for him but the saw palmetto did.. only commenting so those who are taking it orally can try this method and maybe get results.. hope it helps

  6. Poonam says

    Informative post.cleared my doubts.l am a female at 50.My hair started falling in my teens. I tried minodoxil for in between but hair fall didn’t stop.Also it caused me headaches so I stayed away from minodoxil.Last few months I started taking saw palmetto and grape seed extract tablets.Also am applying capixyl serum once in frontal area of scalp.Small growth I am feeling but not much satisfactory.I don’t know how long it will take to give some result.

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