A specific type of palm tree, saw palmetto grows in the Southeastern region of the United States. Offering a wide range of health and beauty benefits, it continues to interest those in the medical community and beyond.
Studied throughout history, the berries produced from this palm-like plant have the potential ability to improve various symptoms associated with the prostate and urinary tract system.
What Is Saw Palmetto and What Is It Used for?
Commonly referred to as cabbage palm and the American dwarf palm tree, saw palmetto — known as Serenoa repens in the scientific community — has a deep connection with the Seminole tribe of Florida, who utilized its properties throughout history. Today, it is often used as a dietary supplement. However, the extracts from the fruit of saw palmetto trees are available in varying forms, including ground, dry, as a tea, and as a liquid extract.
Identified by its thorn-shaped leaves, which look like a fan, saw palmetto is approximately 6 to 10 feet in height. The berries are maroon in color and oblong in shape. The extract itself comes from the berries of this tree, and its benefits have been well-understood for centuries. Its active ingredients include flavonoids, fatty acids, and plant sterols, all of which support a healthier immune system.
Once purified, saw palmetto extract contains approximately 85 to 90 percent fatty acids and sterols. There is an abundance of tannin, lipases, carotenoids, and sugars. In terms of fatty acids, the berries contain oleic acid, beta-sitosterol, caprylic acid, and palmitic acid.
Often studied in relation to prostate health, research has shown that saw palmetto may slow down the production of 5-alpha-reductase, an enzyme that impacts prostate health and scalp hair loss. It is this enzyme that converts testosterone into DHT. While important for male development, too much DHT can have the opposite effect, resulting in common health issues in men.
That is why researchers continue to study saw palmetto in relation to more balanced testosterone levels, reducing the conversion of testosterone into DHT. Similarly, this effect is also studied in regards to prostate health and the urological system in men.
The research shows that saw palmetto may have a number of uses, including but not limited to:
- Issues involving men, including significant thinning of hair and the risk associated with prostate enlargement.
- The strengthening of tissue and an increase in metabolism.
- Improved urinary flow.
There will need to be more research conducted before deciding that any definitive associations exist.
The History of Saw Palmetto
Used historically by the native tribes of Florida, mainly by the Seminoles, as discussed, saw palmetto’s benefits aren’t anything new. Not only did the berries offer benefits from a medicinal perspective, but the fruits of this tree were also an important food source. In fact, more than 100 birds, 25 amphibians, 61 reptile species, and 27 mammals feed on saw palmetto.
Traditionally taken with pumpkin seeds and nettle root, these ingredients are sometimes incorporated into modern formulations. Historians also state that Native American medicine men used to store a bag of saw palmetto to use as a tonic or antiseptic.
By the 1870s, the Western world of medicine began to utilize saw palmetto. Once again, it was mainly studied in relation to urologic and prostate-related conditions. Although interest grew during the late 19th century and saw palmetto was officially introduced in the U.S. Pharmacopeia, following World War II the use of this plant diminished. However, Europe continued to utilize its favorable effects.
It wasn’t until recent years that saw palmetto became of key interest in the United States once again, particularly in response to male-focused conditions, including poor libido and male pattern baldness. Research has shown that saw palmetto is well-tolerated and continues to be of interest among researchers and the medical community alike.
The Benefits of Saw Palmetto
Today, saw palmetto can potentially target a wide range of issues. Although it is often discussed in the medical community in relation to testosterone, saw palmetto also offers a number of benefits within the beauty and grooming industry — especially in regard to hair health.
Saw Palmetto and Male Pattern Baldness
While more research is still needed, the most common association between saw palmetto and hair health is the plant’s ability to promote thicker, healthier-looking hair.
Male pattern baldness may develop due to a range of variables, including medical conditions, genetics, hormonal imbalances, and even the use of certain medications. That is why if you’re experiencing hair loss, you should speak with a professional who can provide more personalized guidance.
For those who experience hair loss, DHT is likely to blame. There are a number of theories associated with DHT and hair loss, and researchers believe that the higher the level of DHT, the more significant the hair loss. Since men have more testosterone than women, balding is more common in men.
As stated above, saw palmetto has the ability to block the enzyme known as 5-alpha-reductase (5-AR). Topical saw palmetto continues to be researched for this reason. In a separate review, published in Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery, saw palmetto was of interest based on being one of the naturally occurring 5-AR inhibitors. In fact, it is often reported to be the most popular and common 5-AR inhibitor.
In this review, various small studies showcased improvements in hair density when saw palmetto extract was topically applied. When applied as an extract in shampoo and lotion, after three months, the participants experienced a 35 percent increase in hair density, as well as a 67 percent increase in sebum reduction.
Best of all, side effects are uncommon — especially when applied topically. The most common side effect was a mild stomach ache, which is often alleviated by taking saw palmetto after food — which would require ingestion. Of course, this isn’t an issue when using topically.
More on Testosterone Levels
Outside of hair health, testosterone levels impact numerous aspects of your everyday health, including your mood, cognitive ability, sex drive, and even your body composition. As you age, testosterone levels begin to decline, influencing disease risk, particularly in relation to your heart.
Once again, by decreasing 5-AR activity, the enzyme that is responsible for converting testosterone into DHT, preservation of testosterone results. The association between saw palmetto and testosterone is an area that continues to spark interest, leading to a wide range of potential benefits.
Saw Palmetto May Reduce Inflammation
Inflammation can happen anywhere in or, in the case of your skin, on your body. This can cause a wide range of health issues and symptoms, including an itchy scalp.
Saw palmetto contains two key compounds that can help ward off inflammation, including methyl gallate and epicatechin — both of which are antioxidants. Some research has shown that saw palmetto may offer anti-inflammatory properties.
In one key study, published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the researchers focused on the chronic inflammation of the hair follicle — which may influence androgenetic alopecia. This common type of hair loss impacts both men and women, and in men is most often referred to as male-pattern baldness. As stated by the researchers, inhibitors of 5-AR produced a positive impact on thinning hair, which is why saw palmetto is of interest.
According to the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, outside of the active ingredients listed above, saw palmetto berries also contain a high molecular weight of polysaccharides which may target inflammation and, in turn, help boost immune function.
Effectiveness of Saw Palmetto
As is the case with most dietary supplements, there remains debate over the effectiveness of saw palmetto. When compared to other supplements, however, the extract of this palm plant consistently shows promise in nearly every condition it’s believed to treat. While its efficacy in treating cold-like symptoms still requires thorough research, the following effects are fairly well-documented.
1. Hair Loss
One area that the ingredient has shown particular promise is in its relation to hair loss treatment. One of the most thorough studies involved patients suffering from androgenetic alopecia (AGA). In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 60 percent of patients whose treatment included saw palmetto saw improved hair growth.
The placebo group? Only 10 percent reported positive effects.
Once again, in order to establish a more definitive link in terms of causation, in comparison to correlation, there will need to be more available research.
Potential benefits outside of hair health include:
2. Sex Drive
In regard to sex drive, the results were similar. A two-year study focusing on 120 men saw improved sexual functions after taking saw palmetto. The bulk of these positive effects took place within the first year.
3. Prostate Issues
When it comes to effectiveness on prostate issues, there’s a fairly significant amount of debate. Some studies have shown saw palmetto to be no more effective in treating prostate problems than a placebo. However, additional studies reported differences in prostate effects based on the delivery method used and added substances.
This means there’s still promise that positive prostate health is one of the main benefits associated with saw palmetto. In fact, a review of available research concluded that it’s an “efficacious short-term (and, probably, medium-term) therapy for symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia.”
As a final note on this subject, the effectiveness of saw palmetto can also depend heavily upon the dosage. Research on its prostate-beneficial effects used 320 mg of the substance every day. The right dosage for you could depend upon your condition, gender, age, and medical history.
It’s important to note, however, that side effects, even at relatively high doses, are still often minimal.
Choosing the Best Saw Palmetto
In a perfect world, saw palmetto purchased anywhere would have the same great benefits and efficacy. Unfortunately, this isn’t a perfect world. And since you don’t need a prescription to buy the supplement, you’ve got to be mindful of where you make your purchase. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says any saw palmetto or any other dietary supplement you purchase should have a Supplement Facts Label.
You’ll also want to make sure that you purchase your supplements from a reputable source. In this case, you’re likely looking for topical products that utilize this beneficial ingredient — particularly in regard to hair health.
Considering a physician with years of experience in hair loss treatment created Barber Surgeons Guild, you can feel confident, knowing that you’ll receive a quality product made from ingredients that specifically target optimal hair and scalp health.
If your main focus is fighting back against hair loss, it’s important to manage your expectations. While research has proven the effectiveness of saw palmetto time and again, hair loss can get to a point where supplements and even prescriptions don’t get the job done.
If you believe you’ve reached this point, schedule a consultation with a hair loss professional to learn what options are available.
Saw Palmetto: The Sooner, the Better
While every dietary supplement has its proponents and detractors, saw palmetto is one of the few that science has proven effective while still avoiding major side effects. Native Americans made use of the plant long before Europeans stepped foot on the continent, so it’s not as if the benefits of saw palmetto are anything new.
The health advantages of saw palmetto are numerous. But if you’re losing your gorgeous mane, the properties that can make your hair look fuller are undoubtedly what’s most important to you. To learn more about how this ingredient can keep your head of hair looking great and adding it as part of your hair care strategy, check out what we have to offer at Barber Surgeons Guild today!