Many supplements are marketed to the general public without any overt reference to gender. Sometimes, however, a product is earmarked to treat problems affecting only one gender, and saw palmetto has garnered some of this gender-specific attention. Originally sold to men as a treatment for enlarged prostate, saw palmetto products are now available for women and are sold as a natural treatment for conditions such as acne, hair loss and polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS.
Saw palmetto is a plant that has the physical appearance of a small palm tree. The oil extracted from the berries of this plant is used therapeutically. The plant also goes by the names American dwarf palm tree, cabbage palm, Serenoa repens, Sabal serrulata and ju-zhong.
Uses of Saw Palmetto
People have used saw palmetto to treat a variety of ailments, including cold, asthma, bronchitis and migraine headache. They have also used it as a sedative and to increase sex drive. The most common use is to treat the symptoms of benign prostatic hypertrophy, or BPH, a non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate gland. Except for BPH therapy, there is no scientific evidence to support the use of saw palmetto for health conditions.
Saw palmetto is marketed to women for treating a number of female-specific problems such as PCOS, hair loss, low milk production and acne.
How Saw Palmetto Works in Women
Saw palmetto suppresses the production of dihydrotestosterone, or DHT. This is accomplished by inhibiting the enzyme 5-alpha reductase, which catalyzes the conversion of testosterone into DHT. Excess DHT production results in acne and hair loss. Using saw palmetto will improve these conditions by lowering DHT production in the body. Saw palmetto also stimulates prolactin production, which in turn increases milk production in lactating women. The Nutritional Supplements Health Guide website clearly points out, however, that none of these treatments for women have been scientifically proven.
Types of Saw Palmetto
Saw palmetto is available in a variety of supplement forms including liquid extracts, tablets, capsules and teas. Ground and dried berries or whole berries are also used. There is no recommended dosage for women; hence, it will come down to trial and error. What might work for one woman might be ineffective for you. One gram of crushed berries or 160 mg of standardized extract should typically provide positive results, according to the Nutritional Supplements Health Guide website, although no scientific evidence was cited to support the claim. This is half the dosage the National Institutes of Health's Library of Medicine reports had been used in BPH research studies, where men were given 160 mg twice per day.
What to Buy
The type of saw palmetto that you buy will depend on the condition you are attempting to treat. If you want to use saw palmetto for hair loss, you will need an oil extract that can be massaged directly into the scalp. To increase milk production, you will need a dietary supplement. The other factor influencing your purchase will be personal choice. Tea drinkers might prefer teas infused with the extract, while other people might prefer to just pop a tablet.
Saw palmetto can decrease the estrogen level in your body. It may also decrease the effectiveness of some birth control pills, so you may want to use additional protection. Saw palmetto can slow blood clotting, so be careful if you also take any blood-thinning medication. Talk to your doctor before taking any supplement, and be aware that the usefulness of saw palmetto in women has yet to be verified by scientific research.