Saw palmetto is a popular herbal remedy. Some people use it to reverse or prevent hair loss, but there is not yet enough scientific evidence to confirm that it is effective.
Serenoa repens, or saw palmetto, is a small palm tree that grows in the United States. Saw palmetto is native to the West Indies, and Native Americans have used it as a healing plant for some time.
In this article, we examine the research into saw palmetto and hair loss. We also explain how to use saw palmetto and discuss other possible remedies for hair loss.
To date, scientific research on saw palmetto for hair loss remains limited. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), there is not enough scientific evidence to support people using saw palmetto for any health condition.
However, some researchers have looked into saw palmetto and hair loss.
According to a 2012 study, saw palmetto might inhibit an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase. A medication called finasteride (Proscar) uses this mechanism to treat hair loss in males. By inhibiting 5-alpha reductase, finasteride blocks the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone, which is the hormone responsible for male pattern hair loss.
Saw palmetto may also have anti-inflammatory effects on the body, which could offer protection from some causes of hair loss.
In a small 2002 study, researchers gave 10 males with androgenetic alopecia a supplement that contained both saw palmetto and beta-sitosterol. The researchers noted improvements in 6 of the 10 males. As this study was very small, additional research is necessary to support these findings.
In a 2012 study, researchers enrolled 100 males with mild-to-moderate androgenetic alopecia. Over 2 years, one group took 320 milligrams (mg) of saw palmetto each day, while the other group received 1 mg of finasteride daily.
In the end, 38% of those who took saw palmetto had an improvement in their hair loss, compared with 68% of those who took finasteride. This finding suggests that both treatments had an effect but that finasteride was more effective. The researchers also noted that the more severe the hair loss, the less likely saw palmetto was to work.
While smaller studies have shown that saw palmetto might have promise as a treatment for hair loss, there is a need for additional, larger scale studies.
Saw palmetto is available in a variety of preparations, including oral supplements and hair care products, such as shampoos and conditioners. As researchers have not proven that saw palmetto prevents or treats hair loss, there is no official recommended dosage.
An article in the Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery cites a recommended dosage of 160 mg twice daily in the form of tablets. Researchers have also used this dosage in a clinical trial setting.
There is no extra guidance on how to use saw palmetto, such as whether to take it with or without food.
According to the NCCIH, research has not shown that saw palmetto interacts with any medications. However, it is still a good idea for people to talk to their doctor before taking saw palmetto in case new information about interactions becomes available.
Another concern for males taking saw palmetto is that the supplement can reduce levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA). One article notes that levels of PSA may decrease by 50% after 6–12 months of taking saw palmetto. Doctors test PSA levels during prostate cancer screening, so saw palmetto could make these tests less accurate.
A person's diet can have an important effect on keeping the skin and hair healthy. Specific foods can help promote the growth of the hair and improve its strength and volume. These foods include eggs, Brazil nuts, and fatty fish.
The American Academy of Dermatology advise people to ensure that they get enough of certain nutrients in their diet. These include protein and iron, which the body uses to build strong, healthy hair. Eating too few calories may also affect the growth and health of the hair.
Few studies have looked into other home remedies for hair loss. However, there is some evidence to suggest that scalp massage and aromatherapy may help.
Like saw palmetto, pumpkin seed oil is a 5-alpha reductase inhibitor. A 2014 study found that males who took 400 mg of pumpkin seed oil daily for 24 weeks had an average hair count increase of 40%. However, more research is necessary before researchers can determine the effectiveness of this supplement.
Many doctors will recommend making lifestyle changes relating to hair care. In some people, these steps may help prevent further hair loss:
- washing and conditioning the hair using gentle and moisturizing products
- refraining from using hot oil treatments, chemical straighteners, chemical relaxers, and heat styling products, such as flat irons, hot combs, and curling irons
- limiting the use of a hair dryer and only using the lowest setting possible
- avoiding adopting hairstyles that pull the hair back tightly — including buns, pigtails, cornrows, or braids — because the twisting and pulling can lead to hair loss
- brushing the hair as gently as possible
Saw palmetto is a supplement that may help the hair grow. However, the current evidence to support the use of this treatment is limited, and official bodies do not recommend it.
Saw palmetto has few side effects, so some people may wish to try taking it despite the lack of evidence. People can buy saw palmetto supplements online.
This supplement can affect PSA levels, so people should always tell their doctor when they take this supplement.