Hair loss in both men and women is called androgenetic alopecia, and it’s common as everyone ages. It’s caused by the hormone testosterone, and its conversion into a molecule called DHT. This alteration causes hair follicles to shrink, resulting in hair loss. Men have more testosterone than women do, so balding is more common in men.
Men typically experience an M-shaped pattern of thinning hair, known as male pattern baldness. Thinning usually occurs all over the scalp in women and rarely results in complete baldness. Because hair loss is so common, it’s no wonder people turn to herbal remedies. Saw palmetto is one of the most popular that people use to try to slow down hair loss or to regrow hair.
There are many treatments for hair loss. In recent years, hair pieces and hair extensions have gained popularity. Topical medications and oral drugs are other popular methods people use to treat thinning hair. Surgical procedures such hair plugs also work well. But medications can have side effects and surgery can be expensive.
Saw palmetto is an alternative remedy used to treat hair loss. It’s a plant with small berries that has been used by Native Americans as medicine and food for hundreds of years. There’s evidence that this herbal remedy may treat an enlarged prostate. It also has been used to treat:
- hair loss
- bladder infections
- prostate cancer
- decreased sex drive
Research on whether saw palmetto works to treat hair loss is limited but promising. An extract of saw palmetto berries may block 5-alpha-reductase, an enzyme that converts testosterone to DHT. DHT is the molecule responsible for hair loss and also is involved in the enlargement of the prostate.
One study showed promise in saw palmetto’s ability to treat an enlarged prostate. Researchers hope it can slow or stop hair loss too. In fact, the components of saw palmetto that block the enzyme work in a similar way as synthetic ingredients in prescription medication for hair loss.
But research is 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.
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 milligrams, twice daily, for treating an enlarged prostate.
Saw palmetto generally is considered to be safe, but it’s not recommended for children, or pregnant and breastfeeding women. Rare side effects include mild headaches and stomach pains. Stomach irritation can be avoided by taking the extract with food.
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. Because it’s been shown to thin blood, 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.
Saw palmetto works in a similar manner as the medication finasteride, which is used to treat hair loss and an enlarged prostate. You should not take them together, unless directed by your doctor. Saw palmetto may reduce the effectiveness of oral contraceptives because it interacts with hormones.
Despite limited research, saw palmetto has been used for years to cure many things, including hair loss. It works in a similar way to some hair loss prevention medications. As with all supplements, be sure to talk to your doctor first before taking any. Also, stop taking them if you notice any severe side effects.