Saw Palmetto For Hair Loss: Does It Work?

Saw Palmetto For Hair Loss

Hair loss is such a common problem that many of us consider it an inevitable part of growing older. And the main kind of hair loss in men and women is androgenetic alopecia, which is commonly known as male or female pattern hair loss. In fact, it is estimated that in the United States about 50 million men and 30 million women are affected by it.1 In men affected by this condition, you may see a typical pattern with hair loss beginning above the temples to eventually form an “M” shaped hairline; hair is also lost at the crown. In women, hair may slowly thin out at the parting and then all over the head. Women don’t usually get a receding hairline or face total baldness.2Let’s take a look at how saw palmetto may help you deal with this condition.

What Causes Androgenetic Alopecia?

According to researchers, this kind of hair loss is associated with male hormones known as androgens, specifically an androgen known as dihydrotestosterone.


Normally a strand of hair grows for anything from two to six years. It then goes into a resting phase which lasts for a few months before falling out. The hair follicle then begins growing new hair and the cycle starts over. But an increase in the levels of androgens can shorten the phase of hair growth, lead to the growth of thinner and shorter strands of hair, and delay the growth of new hair strands.3

Can Saw Palmetto Help?

Saw palmetto is a dwarf palm tree native to America. The berries of this tree have been traditionally used as a mild diuretic, to treat urinary problems, and enhance sperm production as well as libido. And studies have indicated that it can be effective at addressing the symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia (an enlarged prostate gland).4 There is also some evidence that it can be effective in treating androgenetic alopecia. One study on men found that 60% of participants with mild to moderate androgenetic alopecia showed improvement when they took a combination of a saw palmetto extract and beta-sitosterol (a plant sterol which is present in saw palmetto) orally. 5 Another study showed that topically applying saw palmetto extract in shampoo and lotion base increased the thickness and number of hair strands and reduced production of oil in the scalp. And research also indicates that saw palmetto may be beneficial if you have dandruff.6


How Does It Work?

Saw palmetto works by inhibiting the enzyme 5α-reductase, which plays a role in converting the male hormone testosterone into the more potent androgen dihydrotestosterone. Some studies have indicated that fatty acids in saw palmetto extracts may be responsible for its ability to inhibit 5α-reductase while others have found that phytosterols (β-sitosterol, campesterol, stigmasterol) present in it can inhibit 5α-reductase. It may well be that a combination of phytosterols, fatty acids, and other bioactive components account for its beneficial effects. 7

How Do You Use It?

You can try dried ground or whole berries of saw palmetto. Saw palmetto extracts are also available as capsules and tablets. Saw palmetto is not known to cause serious side effects though it can sometimes cause stomach discomfort or headaches. However, do keep in mind that having saw palmetto may reduce the level of certain proteins (known as prostate-specific antigen) over the course of 6 to 12 months. As high levels of this protein are an early indicator for prostate cancer there is a risk of missing early detection if you’re taking saw palmetto supplements.8 Also remember that certain medical conditions like diabetes and thyroid problems can also cause hair loss, as can stress and poor nutrition. So do check in with a doctor if you have unexplained hair loss.9