Saw palmetto is one of the most popular and commonly used over the counter nutritional supplements. In 2010 alone, it had over $700 million in total sales.
Saw palmetto, also commonly known as Serenoa repens or American dwarf palm tree, is a plant native to the southeastern regions of the United States. The medicinal part of the saw palmetto plant is its maroon colored, oblong shaped berry. Saw palmetto extract is composed of fatty acids and phytosterols that are responsible for its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects.
Saw palmetto, which has been used since the 1800s, is a commonly recommended phytotherapy (“phyto”, meaning plant) in the United States, Canada, and Europe. Saw palmetto has been shown to benefit men struggling with urinary tract and prostate issues, females affected by hormone imbalances, and individuals with hormone-related hair loss.
Saw palmetto is often used to balance hormone levels and combat hair loss. According to one study, saw palmetto may help block the activity of 5-alpha reductase, an enzyme that converts testosterone into another sex hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT) that is linked to hair loss. Saw palmetto may prevent hair loss by reducing the uptake of DHT in your hair follicles, which decreases DHT’s ability to bind to specific hormone receptors.
One review of 7 studies found that oral and topical supplements containing saw palmetto improved hair quality by 60%, raised total hair count by 27%, and increased hair density in 83% of people with hair loss.
A small 2014 study of 25 males showed positive results when the participants used topical saw palmetto and 10% Trichogen as a treatment. The study showed an 11.9% hair count increase after 4 months.
A second small study of 50 males confirmed the effectiveness of topical saw palmetto for treating male baldness. Hair count increased at weeks 12 and 24 compared with the baseline.
Saw palmetto has been widely used by men with prostatic conditions, such as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), a condition caused by a non-malignant enlargement of the prostrate that can reduce or inhibit the flow of urine from the bladder. By inhibiting the 5-alpha reductase enzyme, saw palmetto may slow or prevent the growth of the prostate gland and promote healthy urine flow through the urinary tract, which reduces the occurrence of urinary tract symptoms in men and supports a healthy prostrate.
A nine week study showed that men who received saw palmetto supplementation demonstrated a decrease in urinary tract symptoms and an increase in urine flow when compared to a placebo. (There are also studies that show that saw palmetto didn’t help any more than a placebo for BPH. Please check with your doctor before starting a supplement.)
Research has shown that saw palmetto acts as an anti-androgen, also known as a testosterone blocker. Testosterone is an androgen hormone necessary for numerous body functions, including growth and reproduction. Testosterone levels in women vary throughout their menstrual cycles and life stages. While testosterone is essential for both men and women, excess testosterone levels can lead to harmful health effects.
Saw palmetto may help relieve symptoms associated with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a condition characterized by elevated testosterone levels, irregular or absent menstrual cycles, infertility, acne, hirsutism, cardiac disease, and insulin resistance.
Saw palmetto has been shown to be safe for the majority of healthy individuals; however, mild headaches and digestive side effects have been reported. Saw palmetto has not been shown to interact with other medication.
Combining saw palmetto with Proscar or Avodart has unknown effects. The cumulative effects could potentially additive (and positive) but may also increase the risk of certain side effects. You should discuss the use of saw palmetto with your doctor if you are already taking a 5-alpha-reductase inhibitor.
Saw palmetto may interact with hormone containing drugs, including testosterone and estrogen. Multiple studies show that saw palmetto has both antiandrogenic and anti-estrogen effects. Therefore, in theory, saw palmetto could antagonize the actions of these hormones, so potential drugs that could decrease in effectiveness include testosterone or estrogen replacement therapy and oral contraceptive pills.
Saw palmetto should be used cautiously with anticoagulant and antiplatelet drugs, including:
- NSAIDs (e.g. aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen)
- Coumadin (warfarin)
- Plavix (clopidogrel)
How to Buy
As a dietary supplement, saw palmetto can be obtained in many different forms, including whole dried berries, capsules, soft gels, tablets, topical creams, tinctures, and powders. It is recommended to look for saw palmetto products that contain plant sterols and 80% to 90% fatty acids.
Saw palmetto is often combined with other ingredients that help enhance prostate health, such as pumpkin seed extract.
Most research is conducted using saw palmetto in dosages of 320 mg per day, often divided into 2 doses.
Some experts recommend taking the supplement with food, which may minimize digestive issues and prevent adverse effects.
How to Store
Store all supplement in a cool, dry and dark cabinet.
How to Cook
Many saw palmetto teas are available on the market.
Look for organic saw palmetto in bags on your co-op shelves or online from Bulk Apothecary.