Saw Palmetto, also known as cabbage palm or the American dwarf palm tree, has a history of medicinal use by the Mayans and the Seminole Tribe of Florida as a tonic, antiseptic, supplement for sexual health, and was even formulated to be an expectorant. The plant was introduced to Western medicine in the 1870’s and were noted to be a useful expectorant as well as nutritive tonic. The plant picked up in popularity and was noted in publicly accessible directories for health information such as the US Pharmacopeia, in 1906 and 1916, as well as the National Formulary from 1926 to 1950. Due to the natural and un-patentable origin of the medicinal herb, it fell out of vogue as a prescribed drug, however it has recently come back into use as an ingestible supplement for testosterone regulation and prostate health.
More is known now about the chemistry behind the benefits of this plant, and new benefits have been discovered. Saw Palmetto has been shown to inhibit 5- alpha reductase. Alpha-5 reductase is a process in the body the converts testosterone, the most well known male sex hormone, to dihydrotestosterone, most commonly referred to as DHT. DHT is a naturally occurring hormone in men that makes its first appearances while the fetus is still in the womb. While men are typically more appreciative of the DHT their bodies have produced in-utero, as it helps the penis, scrotum, and prostate to form, they are a bit less appreciative of the effects of DHT later in life, as they can contribute to prostate enlargement and cancer risk, facial and body hair growth, male pattern baldness, and increased sebum production.
Saw Palmetto is also effective for maintaining healthy sebum levels, which is important for hair retention. Sebum is a blanket term used to refer to the natural oils that the body produces in order to waterproof and lubricate skin and hair. Sebum is naturally produced by the body. As an imbalance in sebum levels can be problematic for facial skin causing acne which may get inflamed, similarly high amounts of sebum in the scalp can lead to localized inflammation as well. Not only can this be uncomfortable, it has been known to exacerbate hair loss. Whenever considering medicinal herbal remedies, be sure to seek advisement from a trusted doctor who has comprehensive knowledge about your medical history.