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Is saw palmetto the secret ingredient to preventing hair loss?

Saw palmetto is a type of palm.

Written by
Gemma Kaczerepa
Medically reviewed by
Last updated
May 15, 2024
min read
Is saw palmetto the secret ingredient to preventing hair loss?
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Is saw palmetto the secret ingredient to preventing hair loss?

By now you probably know all about hair loss treatments, like hair transplants, but one you may not be as familiar with is saw palmetto. 

This alternative hair loss solution is popular for its potential to combat issues like a receding hairline, hair thinning or hair loss, with more hair loss products incorporating saw palmetto as a star ingredient to support hair health and foster growth.

But, what exactly is saw palmetto and is it as effective as more conventional treatments when it comes to hair growth? Can you use saw palmetto to treat hair loss? Are there any other benefits to taking it, or are there circumstances where you should steer clear of it entirely? Let’s find out.

What is saw palmetto?

Saw palmetto is a type of palm that comes from the southeastern parts of the US. Thanks to its stout, shrubby appearance, it’s also known as the American dwarf palm tree, cabbage palm, or by its Latin name, Serenoa repens. Typically, saw palmetto is available as an extract from the palm’s berries.

Saw palmetto may be relatively new to a lot of us, but it’s actually been used as a folk medicine for eons — we’re talking since BC times.

The Native Americans utilised saw palmetto as both a food and medicine to treat issues including reproductive problems, coughs and other ailments. It appears the ancient Egyptians employed it as a medicinal treatment too, dating all the way back to the 15th century BC.

What is saw palmetto commonly used for?

Saw palmetto is a bit of an all-rounder. Most commonly, though, it’s associated with benign prostatic hyperplasia, also known as BPH or an enlarged prostate. 

Saw palmetto is often prescribed as a natural supplement to help treat the urinary tract symptoms associated with BPH such as frequent or painful urination, dribbling after urinating, and weak or interrupted urine flow. While the research is still quite limited and has shown mixed results, some studies have demonstrated that saw palmetto can reduce these symptoms.

Other things saw palmetto is used for include:

  • Addressing thyroid problems
  • Relieving migraines
  • Helping treat prostate cancer
  • Speeding up metabolism
  • Stimulating appetite
  • Improving nutrient absorption
  • Boosting sex drive
  • Easing respiratory problems like asthma, congestion and chronic bronchitis
  • Curbing hair loss and encouraging hair growth

What are the benefits of saw palmetto?

At the moment, there's not much solid research into the benefits of saw palmetto. While it’s certainly used to address a bunch of different ailments, there’s limited proof of its effectiveness in treating many of them.

That being said, on top of easing urinary tract symptoms, some research shows there could be some benefits to prostate health, soothing inflammation and maintaining healthy hormone levels by taking it regularly. Here’s what we know so far.

Saw palmetto may nurture the prostate

The prostate may be small, but its role is huge: it helps make semen, which mixes with sperm to allow them to thrive and survive during the reproductive process. Unfortunately, though, the prostate is prone to issues like BPH and cancer.

When it comes to BPH, we know saw palmetto may assist with the associated urinary tract problems. But there’s a bit of research showing it can reduce the inflammation connected with BPH, as well as thwart BPH’s progression. 

There’s also some indication that saw palmetto may help ward off prostate cancer by hindering the growth of cancer cells.

Saw palmetto may be anti-inflammatory

To date, there hasn’t been any research done on humans, but studies on mice and rats show that saw palmetto may be an effective anti-inflammatory. A couple of studies looked at mice and rats with enlarged prostates, and in both cases, saw palmetto reduced the inflammation caused by BPH.

Saw palmetto might keep hormones in balance

Studies have shown that saw palmetto can block 5-alpha-reductase, the enzyme behind the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT). In case you’re not familiar with it, DHT is the hormone linked to hair growth and male and female pattern hair loss. In turn, this may help keep testosterone levels in check.

Other research has found that taking a supplement containing saw palmetto and astaxanthin (a natural antioxidant) actually increased serum testosterone levels by 38 per cent after two weeks of use.

Saw palmetto to treat male pattern hair loss

Now for the big question: can saw palmetto treat hair loss? And while we're at it, can it promote hair growth?

Many hair loss products tout the benefits of saw palmetto, mainly its ability to control androgenetic alopecia, which is the technical name given to male and female pattern hair loss. It’s believed that saw palmetto berry extract’s combination of fatty acids and sterols can actually improve pattern baldness and hair thinning, and thicken existing hair.

But what about the evidence? Well, the proof around saw palmetto for hair loss and hair growth is somewhat limited, but there is some promising research indicating that saw palmetto could very well help with treating hair loss.

In 2002, there was a very small study done on 10 men who were suffering from male androgenetic alopecia. The goal of the study was to look at the ability of saw palmetto to block 5-alpha-reductase, which we know is associated with hair loss

After taking an oral saw palmetto supplement over the course of the study, 60 per cent of participants detected an improvement. Interestingly, it’s also been found that the way saw palmetto blocks 5-alpha-reductase is similar to how some clinical hair loss treatments function.

A study from 2004 produced equally encouraging results. The researchers gathered a bigger group of both men and women (34 of the former and 28 of the latter, to be exact) to examine the effects of shampoo and lotion containing saw palmetto extract. The result was a 35 per cent jump in hair density after three months of use. 

More recently, a 2014 study found saw palmetto could actually treat hair loss by increasing hair count. The 25 male participants — who had male androgenetic alopecia, or male pattern baldness — were required to apply a hair lotion containing saw palmetto and 10 per cent trichogen veg complex. After four months of use, almost half of them had a boosted hair count by 11.9 per cent.

And lastly, a 2020 review of various studies on saw palmetto for hair loss mentioned a few positive results. The researchers referred to studies where patients with androgenetic alopecia used a mix of oral and topical saw palmetto treatments.

They saw a 60 per cent improvement in hair quality, a 27 per cent improvement in hair count, more hair density in over 83 per cent of participants and a slowing of hair loss in just over half of participants.

So while there’s still work to be done in investigating the link between hair loss and saw palmetto, the research that has come out is pretty optimistic. 

What are the different forms of saw palmetto?

There are several ways to reap the potential benefits of saw palmetto, with the ingredient available in both topical and oral supplements.

As an oral supplement, saw palmetto comes as tablets or powdered capsules. You may also see it sold as soft gel capsules, a liquid extract (often as drops), powdered tea, or whole or ground dried berries. Generally, a daily dose of between 160-320mg split in two — ideally in the form of a dried supplement or liquid — is considered most effective.

When it comes to hair loss, saw palmetto is also available as a topical treatment, like a serum, or as an ingredient in hair loss products such as shampoos and conditioners. Oh hey, that’s us! Pilot’s Hair Growth Booster Kit contains saw palmetto, along with biotin, panax ginseng and niacinamide, to support healthy hair growth and nourish the scalp and hair follicles.

Our Thicken Shampoo & Keep Conditioner create a scalp environment where your hair follicles not only survive but thrive. This duo has been created to give your new hair follicles the best start to life and encourage hair growth.

The addition of saw palmetto alongside ingredients like zinc and caffeine in the Thicken Shampoo & Keep Conditioner helps with treating hair loss.

Alongside the saw palmetto-infused products, the Hair Growth Booster Kit contains the Derma Roller, which includes tiny needles that you roll over the scalp to rupture the outer layer of the dermis to encourage a healing reaction.

This activates the scalp's stem cells and hair follicles in order to boost hair growth.

Rounding out the kit is the Biotin Hair Gummies, which are packed with vitamin B7, also known as biotin. Biotin is important as it supports the synthesis of keratin — a protein that makes up your hair. Increasing biotin helps make your hair stronger and less prone to damage.

Are there any side effects of saw palmetto?

For the most part, side effects from taking saw palmetto by mouth aren’t overly common. However, oral supplements may lead to mild headaches or stomach aches, the latter of which can be helped by taking supplements with or after food.

Some men also notice nausea, constipation, diarrhoea, vomiting, fatigue, dizziness, decreased sex drive, pain in the testicles and/or erection issues.

There’s also a chance that saw palmetto could interact badly with other medications. This is particularly important to take note of if you're on blood thinners, as saw palmetto has been shown to thin the blood itself.

Topical saw palmetto solutions for hair loss can usually be used safely on all hair types and are easy to integrate into your hair care routine.

If you choose to take saw palmetto as an oral supplement, make sure to chat to a medical professional first. They can recommend the right dosage and advise whether saw palmetto is compatible with any other medications you’re taking.

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