Saw Palmetto has played an important role in traditional herbal treatments across the world for many years.
It was used in the ancient Mayan culture in Central America as a tonic and antiseptic, and American Indians traditionally used the herb to promote reproductive health and improve urinary tract issues.
With that in mind, we want to take a closer look as to whether Saw Palmetto is all it is talked up to be, or is it just another one of those superfood fads…
What is Saw Palmetto?
Saw Palmetto is an extract of the Serenoa Repens fruit, which grows on a small palm tree commonly found in pinewoods and coastal areas. The tree is endemic to the southern states of the USA, particularly Florida where the majority of commercial Saw Palmetto trees are currently grown.
The name Saw Palmetto is thought to originate from the saw-toothed leaves found on the tree. The white flowers of the palm produce small yellow berries, which are often dried and then used for their medicinal properties.
The Benefits of Saw Palmetto
There are a number of reported benefits to regularly consuming Saw Palmetto. According to the American Dietetic Association, it is one of the most commonly used supplements amongst Americans aged between 50 and 76, for a variety of reasons.
Saw Palmetto extract is commonly rich in flavonoids, phytosterols and fatty acids, which may help to ease symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia, more commonly referred to as an enlarged prostrate. It is also sometimes used alongside other treatments to treat prostate cancer.
It is thought that the regular consumption of Saw Palmetto may also help to boost the immune system, reducing the risk of developing a number of different illnesses, from the common cold to more serious chronic diseases.
The extract can also act as an anti-inflammatory. Inflammation is the precursor to many unwanted chronic diseases, including cancers, diabetes, and heart disease. Minimising inflammation may help to reduce the risk of developing these conditions, increasing the quality and quantity of your life.
Reduced inflammation can also help athletes recover quicker from workouts, improving performance and reducing the risk of injury.
Saw Palmetto has also been used to improve sex drive, improve bladder control, and reduce symptoms of asthma, although there is no solid evidence to back up these claims.
How Saw Palmetto can help to Prevent Hair Loss
Saw Palmetto is often promoted as a way to prevent hair loss, which occurs in 35 million US men and 21 million US women every year.
Just like in many over the counter hair loss treatments, it is believed that the extract can help to stop testosterone in the body combining with an enzyme called type ll alpha reductase.
When testosterone and type ll alpha reductase combine, they form another hormone called dihydrotestosterone (commonly know as DHT). The sex hormone DHT is known to contribute to both male and female pattern baldness by binding to scalp follicle receptors, causing them to shrink.
Men have much more testosterone in their bodies than women, which may explain why baldness is more common in males.
Are the Qualities of Saw Palmetto Proven?
Although some people swear by Saw Palmetto for maintaining healthy hair, it lacks the large-scale studies needed to provide evidence, and it does not have the approval of the US Food and Drug Administration.
One small trial study in 2002 showed that the extract had positive effects on hair loss in six out of ten male participants. After two months of taking a twice-daily 200 mg oral Saw Palmetto supplement, sixty percent of the males reported improved symptoms.
However, the study was carried out on a very small sample, and the participants were all male and only suffered from mild symptoms of baldness. The extract was also used in conjunction with another drug called beta-sitosterol, so it is hard to determine whether the positive results were due to the Saw Palmetto alone.
A German study in 2004 took a group of 34 men and 38 women aged 18-48 and gave them a variety of Saw Palmetto products to use over a three-month period. The study showed more promising results, indicating that the use of Saw Palmetto shampoo, lotions and a dietary extract may improve symptoms of baldness by altering 5a reductase activity. Again though, the sample size for the study was not large enough to take any conclusive evidence.
Some professional stand by the herb, despite the lack of scientific evidence. Author of the book ‘Essential Herbs’, Dr James Duke PhD is a strong proponent of Saw Palmetto for hair loss, claiming that he has established a number of case studies indicating the herb’s effectiveness.
The Mayo Clinic is not quite as convinced. They rate Saw Palmetto for hair loss with a ‘C’ grade, meaning that they feel there is unclear scientific evidence for it’s use, and that further research is needed before it can be considered an effective treatment.
Those who have seen results from the herb often recommend combining it with other natural DHT blockers such as stinging nettles, pumpkin seeds and pygeum africanum.
Saw Palmetto Dosage
Saw palmetto supplements come in various forms, including dried berries, tablets, powder capsules, and liquid tinctures.
Some users choose to make a tea using the ground berries, although this is largely ineffective as the active ingredient of Saw Palmetto dissolves in water.
As it is not approved as an effective hair loss treatment, any recommendations on Saw Palmetto dosage should be taken with caution. People who take the extract for prostate issues will typically consume 320 mg of saw palmetto extract daily, taking two 160 mg tablets.
If you do decide to try Saw Palmetto, care should be taken to ensure it is a high quality product. When choosing a supplement, read the label carefully to ensure the content is standardized to contain 85% to 95% fatty acids and sterols. Different brands often contain lower amounts of the active ingredients, rendering them completely ineffective.
Even though Saw Palmetto is regarded as a natural ingredient, it does come with a few potential side effects. Some experience symptoms of constipation, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhoea.
It is also beloved the herb may have an anticoagulant effect on the blood, which may increase the risk of severe bleeding. For this reason people who are taking anticoagulant medications should avoid taking Saw Palmetto extracts unless under medical supervision.
Saw Palmetto is definitely a supplement that has its uses. It has been shown to be effective in maintaining prostate health, boosting the immune system, and reducing inflammation.
But although some people have reported great results from using Saw Palmetto as a hair loss solution, many more large-scale scientific trials and studies are needed to confirm its effectiveness.
If you feel like it’s worth a try, by all means give it a go alongside other hair loss treatments, but ensure you do so under the supervision of a medical professional.
Have you ever used Saw Palmetto as a treatment for baldness? If so, did it work for you?