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How Effective is Saw Palmetto for Hair Loss?

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  • Written By: Micki Elizabeth
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 14 November 2016
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Many people have questioned the effectiveness of using the herbal supplement saw palmetto for hair loss. The truth is that no well-designed studies have conclusively proven that it stops hair loss or promotes hair growth. The effect of saw palmetto on certain enzymes and hormones, however, may provide hope for those with androgenic alopecia. On the other hand, this herbal supplement may cause a number of unpleasant side effects one should be aware of before using saw palmetto in this manner.

Androgenic alopecia is perhaps the most common form of hair loss. Both men and women can get it; when present in males, it is often called male pattern baldness. To gauge how helpful saw palmetto may be beneficial in stopping the effects of this condition, it may be important to first understand how hair loss happens.

Hair loss typically occurs when an enzyme, called 5 alpha reductase, comes in contact with the hormone testosterone. While testosterone is much more present in men, female bodies also produce this hormone. When it interacts with 5 alpha reductase, a new hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT) may be formed. DHT is the hormone that can largely contribute to hair loss.

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One major reason that people use saw palmetto for hair loss is that it is thought to inhibit production of 5-alpha reductase. Without this enzyme, testosterone will not likely become DHT. Due to this effect, saw palmetto is sometimes referred to as an antiandrogen. “Antiandrogen” is a name that refers to anything that blocks the effects of male hormones.

A couple of different studies have shown beneficial results in using saw palmetto for hair loss, but they used so few test subjects that the data is not highly-regarded. Until saw palmetto’s effect on hair loss has been proven on a larger and more consistent scale, most doctors will not recommend the herbal supplement as an actual treatment.

On the other hand, saw palmetto has seen more promising lab results as a treatment for benign prostatic hyperplasia. Furthermore, both hair loss and benign prostatic hyperplasia are thought to be linked by the same cause: DHT production. Therefore, many who believe in the effects of saw palmetto cite the positive results it has had on treating prostate issues.

A possible drawback to using saw palmetto for hair loss is the list of potential side effects it may cause. Headaches, dizziness and nausea are thought to be just a few side effects, and other issues may be as severe as chest pain and depression. If saw palmetto does, in fact, have a strong influence on hormones, it could also affect people with hormone disorders and certain types of cancer. One should seek professional advice before using this supplement.

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