Does Saw Palmetto Help Prevent or Reverse
The Saw Palmetto
What is Saw Palmetto? It's scientific name is
Serenoa repens or Sabal serrulata and it is a type of small palm with
large fan shaped leaves that is found growing in lowland areas and in the
undergrowth of forests from the Mexican Border to Georgia. it was named for the
botanist Sereno Watson.
The berries, which are the most common form of
the herb used commercially, were a part of Native American medicine as well as
part of the general diet.
Saw palmetto berries contain a high concentration
of compounds known as phytosterols. These are thought to be responsible for the
reduction of the baldness causing hormone DHT or
Dihydrotestosterone. DHT is also thought to be responsible for BPH (benign
prostatic hyperplasia,) or enlarged prostate syndrome which is common in many
men over 40.
The commercial drugs Propecia and Proscar, are
used to treat baldness and enlarged prostate syndrome respectively. Propecia is
just a smaller does of the drug Finasteride which is found in Proscar. Because
Propecia inhibits the enzyme 5-alpha reductase, which is converted in the body
to DHT, which causes hair loss, it is effective against baldness. Because saw
palmetto has a very similar effect on 5 alpha reductase it is thought that it
could be effective against alopecia or male pattern baldness as well. Saw
palmetto is available both in whole herb form, which consists of ground up
berries, and standardized extracts which are guaranteed to contain a certain
amount of phytosterols.
Extracts of saw palmetto contain more of the
active ingredient thought to be responsible for fighting hair loss. Saw Palmetto
Extract has been shown in numerous studies to work as an antiandrogen. Saw
palmetto extract is the liposerolic extract of the Saw Palmetto fruit. Saw
Palmetto has shown to effectively block the formation of DHT and is also
believed to prevent the binding of dihydrotestosterone (DHT) to androgen
receptors which are also found at the follicles. There are also topical
treatments such as Revivogen that contain saw palmetto extract.
Studies On Topical Saw Palmetto Extracts
A study was recently conducted at the University Of Naples on
a mixed group of 34 men and 28 women experiencing various degrees of
baldness. Some subjects received oral and topical saw palmetto, some only
topical and some a placebo.
At the end of the study
subjects using the lotion and oral supplements containing saw palmetto
extract had an average 35% increase in hair density compared to what was
measured at the beginning of the study. The subjects in the lotion only
group showed a 20% increase in hair density compared to the group using the
placebo which saw no new growth. While this increase is not necessarily
exciting, it does show that saw palmetto extract most likely reduces hair
loss in some people.
Not Enough Studies On Saw Palmetto
Many sites on the internet as well as alternative
healing books tout saw palmetto as a cure for baldness. There have been several
small studies done on the effect of saw palmetto extract on male pattern
baldness such as the one at the University of Naples. The reason that
more studies have not been conducted on saw palmetto is that there is little
financial motivation to do so. Highly potent drugs such as Proscar and Propecia
can be mass produced much cheaper than saw palmetto berries can be harvested and
processed into standardized extracts. Why would a drug company want to spend
millions on a clinical trial of a natural compound that is expensive to produce
when a pharmaceutical equivalent exists that is proven to be effective and is
cheap to produce.
There have been a number of studies conducted on
the effect of saw palmetto extract on BPH. Most of these studies were done in
Europe. They show that the effect on BPH from using saw palmetto was virtually
identical to that of the drug Proscar. One would think that since both
conditions are caused by the same enzyme that there would be a similar effect on
review of the clinical trials also showed that saw palmetto provided similar
response as finasteride (Proscar) in terms of urine flow measures and urinary
symptoms. A large, double-blind study (neither the patient nor the doctor knew
which drug was used) involving 1,069 participants with moderate BPH was recently
conducted with subjects treated with either saw palmetto or finasteride for six
months. Similar efficacy was found between the two treatments in terms of
self-rated quality-of-life scores and urinary symptom scores. The symptom score
improved by 37% with saw palmetto and by 39% with finasteride; and the
quality-of-life score improved by 69% with saw palmetto and by 73% with
finasteride. Thus, it appears that the saw palmetto extract is more effective
than placebo, and the extract is similar in effectiveness to finasteride for
symptoms of BPH." Source:
Thought some studies show saw palmetto to be
effective against baldness others are inconclusive. One major study was done by
the pharmaceutical company Merck and showed no reduction in serum DHT levels.
Other researchers have argued that saw palmetto works by stopping the re-uptake
of DHT into tissues such as the prostate and scalp and it does not matter if
serum DHT is reduced. Saw Palmetto appears to work in a different way and
because of this it takes longer to see results.
So, does saw palmetto cure baldness? There is
some evidence that it could be a valuable part of a holistic, or multi pronged approach to
the problem. Laser combs, Rogaine, Propecia and other baldness remedies might be
considered in tandem. Rogaine for example does not reduce DHT, only increases
circulation to the hair follicle. A plan of DHT reduction involving saw palmetto
pills, topical solution or the drug finasteride may help you see more results
from using Rogaine alone
Hopefully there will be more clinical trials of
the effect of saw palmetto on male pattern baldness in the future.
Side Effects Of Saw Palmetto
Like any other herbal supplement there are some
possible side effects to saw palmetto. Some users have reported bad breath,
upset stomach, loss of sex drive, breast tenderness, constipation, nausea and
diarrhea among other symptoms. Rare cases of liver inflammation, jaundice and
depression have been reported however these symptoms have not been proven in any
case studies to be a result of saw palmetto. The evidence of side effects of saw
palmetto is as lacking as any evidence of benefits due to lack of clinical
trials. Saw palmetto is used by millions of people around the world and is one
of the most popular over the counter herbal supplements, however you should
always consult your physician before taking any nutritional supplement,
especially if you have any health conditions.
Below is a one year time lapse video of one
person's success with the drug Propecia. Results are not from saw palmetto but
It is worth noting the power that DHT blocking agents can have on hair growth;
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