Can Saw Palmetto Help Treat Hair Loss?
Saw palmetto is an extract from the fruits of serenoa repens, a small palm tree endemic to the southern part of the US. It has been used for centuries by Native Americans to treat urinary conditions in men and in the past few decades it has become a very popular alternative remedy for treating enlarged prostates (benign prostatic hyperplasia). Its assumed ability to inhibit production of dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which is believed to be the main cause of prostate problems, as well as hereditary hair loss, has recently led to its applications in hair-growth products.
Saw palmetto is often presented as a safe, natural alternative to the medicinal DHT-inhibitor, finasteride. As a principal ingredient, it can be found in numerous popular hair loss remedies, such as Provillus, Procerin, Advecia, Avacor, Revivogen, Scalp Med and many others. Marketers of such products claim that saw palmetto is a safe, natural DHT blocker, whereas finasteride, though assumed to work by the same mode of action, is often associated with severe side effects. However, scientists cannot agree on whether saw palmetto is beneficial in treating benign prostatic hyperplasia, for which it has been used for decades, let alone in treating baldness. The fact is that nobody seems to know.
Saw palmetto is not a regulated pharmaceutical and it has never been clinically tested for treating hair loss. However, this lack of sound scientific evidence is no obstacle when it comes to promoting it as a natural hair loss cure. Since the market for herbal OTC products is little regulated in most countries, in comparison with pharmaceuticals, it allows plenty of room for the marketers' imagination. The promoters of herbal products are in a much better position when it comes to making unrealistic promises compared to pharmaceuticals. In their efforts to maximise revenues, they sometimes forget to mention certain facts. A quick internet search turned up the list of the following side effects that were reported by saw palmetto users: allergic reactions, stomach pain and diarrhoea, severe bleeding during saw palmetto use, difficulty with erections, testicular discomfort, breast tenderness and enlargement, changes in sexual desire and a warning that saw palmetto extract is not recommended for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding because of its possible hormonal activity. Does that differ considerably from what finasteride is frequently blamed for?