Saw palmetto extracts and supplements have a number of benefits for women, most of which have to do with hormonal balancing. Some patients say that taking the herb enhances breast size and can improve milk supply in nursing mothers; it may also be used to regulate periods, reduce cramps, and regulate hair growth. It is also a popular treatment for acne. Not all women will see benefits, and the supplement often takes a few months to begin delivering results in any event. Though most preparations are all natural, it is not without its side effects, either. Women are usually encouraged to talk with a healthcare provider before starting a saw palmetto regimen in order to better understand the risks and benefits that they personally are likely to experience.
Focus on Hormones
Research for the herb has mostly centered around its usefulness for men, specifically the plant's ability to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), a condition in which the prostate gland is enlarged and urination may be difficult. Saw palmetto is thought to work on BPH by lowering levels of testosterone, a male hormone, and it is believed to work in the same way for women, namely, by regulating and equalizing hormone levels in the blood.
Breast Augmentation and Lactation
Saw palmetto for women is often marketed as having estrogenic activity, making it useful for treating issues related to the ovaries, the major female sex organs. Estrogen is produced in the ovaries and a number of researchers have speculated that an increase estrogen secretion can often lead to more naturally plump and perky breasts. The supplement is believed to trigger estrogen production while suppressing testosterone, which can lead to breast augmentation in some women. The results are usually relatively minor, though, and often take a lot of time to become noticeable.
Women sometimes also take the herb as a way to naturally stimulate the production of breast milk. Lactation is a process driven in many respects by hormones, and any number of things from stress to illness can cause drops or surges in production. The plant doesn’t usually itself help create more milk, but it can promote better milk production by helping keep hormone levels in balance.
The herb also has a reputation for being able to ease cramps and help regulate the menstrual cycle. Women using it for this purpose often brew the extract as a tea or take it in capsule form a few days before their period is set to begin. Alternative medicine practitioners often say that it can help keep a woman’s energy balanced, leading to less tension and fewer muscular cramps. With prolonged use it might also lead to lighter periods thanks to its ability to regulate testosterone levels. Many women experience a surge of testosterone during their menstrual cycles.
As a Cure for Acne
Some women suffer from hormone-related acne, in which an imbalance of blood chemicals causes rash-like markings and scars over much of the body, particularly the face. Saw palmetto can sometimes help relieve breakouts and make them go away faster. It isn’t usually a cure, but will often lessen the symptoms.
One of the more documented uses of saw palmetto for women is the treatment of hirsutism, a condition in which women have excessive hair growth, on their heads but also over other portions of their body, like on the arms, legs, and face. Many of these women also have high levels of androgens, which are male sex hormones. Over time, regular doses of saw palmetto can provide anti-androgenic effects which can treat this condition.
Somewhat paradoxically, these properties also make the supplement helpful for women with thinning hair. The supplement doesn’t actually cause hair to grow or stop growing, but can impact the chemicals and signals in the body that are either shutting down or increasing production at the hair follicles. Women who are losing their hair can sometimes restore thickness with the herb because of this.
Clearing Internal Passageways
Palmetto can also used as something of a cure-all for inflammation or congestion. It is popular in many places as a treatment for pelvic inflammatory conditions and is commonly used use as a diuretic to treat fluid retention problems. Some women also turn to saw palmetto when they have viruses and irritations of the air passageways, as caused by common colds or bronchitis.
There are a number of possible side effects that women should be aware of before taking the supplement. Most are relatively minor, and include headaches, dizziness, and constipation. Using the herb with other remedies, whether natural, over-the-counter or prescription, can be a recipe for trouble, though. Saw palmetto, like most herbs, can impact the potency of different medications, and can cause sometimes serious interactions. It’s usually a good idea for anyone interested in the supplement to talk with a qualified healthcare provider before beginning a course of treatment.