Like a lot of guys suffering from hair loss, you’ve probably looked for some natural solutions to your problem. While there are lifestyle changes you can make to stop your hair loss, there aren’t many naturally occurring foods or chemicals that will put hair back on your head.
Saw palmetto may be the exception. What is this strange plant, and will it bring back your youthful head of hair?
What is Saw Palmetto?
Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens or Sabal serrulata) is one of the most commonly consumed supplements. It comes from the berries of a plant found in the Caribbean and in a few places in the southeastern United States (mostly Florida and Georgia). The plant can grow up to 10 feet high in the right climate. It has white flowers and yellow berries that turn black when the plant is ripe.
Indigenous populations have used saw palmetto for centuries for food and medicinal purposes. Its active ingredients include fatty acids, plant sterols and sugars. You can get it as capsules, oil, pills, dried berries, or liquid form. You can steep it into a tea made from the berries, but it’s unlikely to be effective because the active compounds are not soluble in water.
In the early 1900s, men took saw palmetto to fight urinary tract infections, boost their libido, and even increase sperm production, though there’s no clinical data that it does any of those things.
Saw Palmetto for Hair Loss
Scientists believe that saw palmetto is a 5-alpha reductase inhibitor that blocks the conversion of testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT), similar to finasteride.
DHT is the primary cause of hair loss. It binds to the receptor sites on your hair follicles, choking them off from blood and nutrients. Over time, so much DHT binds to the follicles that they can’t produce a hair shaft at all. The existing hair loses support from the follicle and withers away. By limiting the amount of DHT in your body, your hair follicles have a better chance to survive and continue producing hair.
Since there’s no debate that finasteride inhibits DHT and improves your hair, the assumption is that saw palmetto does the same.
Many guys turn to saw palmetto for its hair loss properties because it’s natural and inexpensive. It doesn’t require a complex procedure like a hair transplant. You can also buy it in a store without the embarrassing fear that you’ll run into someone in the checkout aisle.
(By the way, that fear of purchasing hair loss treatments in a brick-and-mortar store is one of the primary reasons we created Hairmop. We give guys the chance to treat their hair loss discreetly.)
According to the Mayo Clinic, saw palmetto is also used to treat other health conditions, such as bronchitis, migraines, low sex drive, diabetes, and inflammation, but its effectiveness in treating these issues is still undecided.
If you purchase saw palmetto in a store, make sure you’re buying from a reputable company. The label should indicate that the contents are 85% to 95% fatty acids and sterols. It should also be standardized, meaning every bottle contains the same ingredients.
Research Into Saw Palmetto
As you know, we prefer a scientific approach to everything - especially hair loss. We don’t recommend solutions that aren’t backed by science, and we certainly don’t promote things just because we have a financial interest in their use.
Admittedly, there isn’t a ton of research into saw palmetto and its effect on androgenic alopecia, but there are three interesting cases worth knowing.
We’ll be honest with you: These studies are not overwhelmingly conclusive, but they do demonstrate that saw palmetto plays some role in treating hair loss.
A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (1991) found that saw palmetto improved hair loss conditions when taken for five months. What’s interesting is that the men didn’t report immediate improvements (which is what you’d expect if they were seeing results due to the placebo effect). Instead, they saw results consistent with the natural growth cycle of hair.
Nevertheless, this study wasn’t perfect. First, the results were self-reported, which means no objectively graded the hair recovery. They just asked the men for their own rating. Second, only 19 men participated in the study, and only half were given saw palmetto (the others received a placebo). That’s a pretty small sample.
A study published in the Australasian Journal of Dermatology (2015) found an increase in hair counts after 12 and 24 weeks using topical products containing saw palmetto.
This study wasn’t without its shortcomings either. For one, the topicals contained saw palmetto in addition to other ingredients, so we can’t be sure the saw palmetto was entirely responsible. Also, the study lacked a placebo control.
A study published in the International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology (2012) compared the effects of saw palmetto to the effects of finasteride. 38% of men in the study saw an increase in hair growth.
Currently, saw palmetto is not an FDA approved treatment for hair loss. That doesn’t mean it won’t halt or reverse hair loss, but there isn’t enough clinical data to draw that conclusion. This also means there’s no widely accepted dosage.
Safety and Side Effects
There are almost no safety concerns associated with saw palmetto. Some people have reported acne and gastrointestinal symptoms, but not serious cases. It’s possible to be allergic to saw palmetto, just like everything else.
Potential gastrointestinal problems include upset stomach, nausea, gas, heartburn, vomiting, indigestion, constipation, and diarrhea. But those effects generally occur if you take saw palmetto with an empty stomach. Taking it with a meal minimizes those side effects almost entirely.
The only serious concern with saw palmetto is that it may delay the discovery of prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is almost always discovered due to an enlarged prostate, but as a 5-alpha reductase inhibitor, saw palmetto treats prostate enlargement. This means cancer may go undiagnosed longer than usual. It’s smart to have regular prostate screenings once you reach 50 years old to catch prostate cancer as early as possible.
Saw palmetto is not recommended for young men who are still developing in puberty because it affects the endocrine system. Even though young guys can experience hair loss and thinning, it’s best if they avoid any treatment that affects their hormones.
Should You Take Saw Palmetto for Hair Loss?
So is saw palmetto the cure for hair loss?
While there’s evidence that saw palmetto is a useful tool to treat hair loss, unfortunately, it won’t single-handedly stop your hair loss and regrow your hair. But it does have properties that can support hair recovery when used with other products, like a proper DHT blocker and a hair growth stimulant. It’s usually a positive addition to a man’s daily supplement regimen.
It also comes with almost no risk because it’s an inexpensive treatment, and the side effects are mild. If you experience any, they quickly abate after you stop taking the saw palmetto.
Nevertheless, it’s always important to speak with a doctor before adding anything to your daily regimen. This is especially true for a substance like saw palmetto that affects an important hormone for men (in this case, testosterone). Your doctor will be able to tell you if saw palmetto is safe for you.
Before you start taking saw palmetto, talk to one our online doctors. The consultation is free. We’ll tell you whether saw palmetto is right for you.