Some herbs that are used to treat prostate complaints have a theoretical use for hair loss as well. Saw palmetto is often used for benign prostate hypertrophy and may even be useful for treating prostate cancer. In fact, Germany’s Commission E, that country’s regulatory body for herbs, approves saw palmetto for prostate complaints. Always consult a health care professional before trying a new supplement.
Some scientific studies say saw palmetto works by reducing uptake of dihydrotestosterone, or DHT, in your body and by blocking conversion of testosterone to DHT. Saw palmetto’s possible effect on the hormone DHT is what gives it a theoretical benefit for treating hair loss. This hormone plays a role in male-pattern hair loss because it shrinks hair follicles. Finasteride, a medication used for male-pattern hair loss, is effective because it blocks conversion of testosterone into DHT.
Mechanism of Action
Testosterone is converted to DHT via the enzyme 5-alpha reductase, or 5AR. This metabolic pathway is a factor in male-pattern hair loss. It’s also central to the onset as well as the progression of benign prostatic hyperplasia, which some people take saw palmetto to treat. Agents such as saw palmetto that block conversion of testosterone to DHT work by inhibiting 5AR, according to a study published in 2002 by “Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.”
Although more studies are needed, limited research has demonstrated the effectiveness of saw palmetto against hair loss. A study published in 2011 by "Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine" states that saw palmetto extract has been shown to be useful against androgenic alopecia -- male-pattern hair loss.
Saw palmetto can cause side effects. These include vomiting, gastrointestinal complaints, nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea, breast tenderness, erectile dysfunction and loss of libido. Rarely, it can cause intraoperative hemorrhage. Saw palmetto also may increase your chance for bleeding or bruising, especially if it’s taken along with blood-thinning medicines like aspirin or warfarin. Saw palmetto also may reduce or prevent absorption of some iron supplements.
- Sloan-Kettering Memorial Cancer Center: Saw Palmetto
- Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Inhibition of Inflammatory Gene Expression in Keratinocytes Using a Composition Containing Carnitine, Thioctic Acid and Saw Palmetto Extract
- “Patient Guide for Hair Loss and Hair Restoration”; D.J. Verret; 2009
- Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial to Determine the Effectiveness of Botanically Derived Inhibitors of 5-Alpha-Reductase in the Treatment of Androgenetic Alopecia
- “The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide”; George T. Grossberg and Barry Fox; 2007