What Saw Palmetto and Hair Loss Have In Common?

At one point in time, saw palmetto berries were a staple in the diet of the Seminole people. Although we would think the taste was disgusting, apparently, these Native Americans enjoyed eating them and also used them for medicinal purposes. The berries could be gathered, dried, and then eaten year-round, which was important back in a time when there were no grocery stores and no refrigerators. Although people eventually stopped eating the saw palmetto berries as food, early settlers did use them to treat miscellaneous ailments as well as urinary problems in cattle.

Saw palmetto for androgenic alopecia

By 1907 a facility was built in Florida by Lilly and Company to industrially-dry saw palmetto, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that drug companies started to use it in the medications they produced. Originally these preparations were used as a treatment for an enlarged prostate. When used in the early stages of the disease, they proved quite effective, and they became popular because there were fewer side effects with saw palmetto products than with other drugs for the same problem. Later on, it was discovered that saw palmetto could also be used to fight hair loss. It works by limiting 5-alpha-reductase actions, which in turn creates healthier hair follicles. In recent years it has become the top herbal remedy used to treat alopecia androgenic.

How it works?

Saw palmetto is reputed to work in treating baldness by breaking signals from the hormones that cause the hair follicles to absorb the harmful chemical dihydrotestosterone (DHT). There are oral and topical products containing saw palmetto that can be used alone or in conjunction with each other to reduce DHT in the body and, thereby, promote the healthy growth of hair.

Scientific evidence

If you’d like clinical proof about the effectiveness of saw palmetto, you can look at testing done by scientists Nelson Prager, Karen Bickett, Nita French, and Geno Marcovici in 2002. This study was conducted using a group of 19 men between the ages of 23 and 64. Half of the group was given a daily dose of oral medication containing a saw palmetto extract in addition to beta-sitosterol and other nutrients, while the other was given a placebo. After five months of use, 60% of the men taking the product showed improved hair growth as compared to only 11% of the group receiving a placebo. Although this was a relatively small study, the results are still significant.

How to find saw palmetto

Today there are a number of different companies that produce hair loss treatments containing saw palmetto. Since it’s a natural product, the amount of the active ingredient can’t be strictly controlled because berries contain different amounts. Manufacturing standards for these products are not yet regulated or tested for safety by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Due to these facts, the purity and effectiveness of any given product containing saw palmetto can’t be guaranteed. There is also a lot of variation in both quality and effectiveness from company to company. If you buy a product that contains saw palmetto, make sure it only contains saw palmetto extracts which have fatty acids, oils, waxes, and steroids. Never buy products that aren’t manufactured by reputable companies.


Treatments for baldness that contain saw palmetto has become very popular in the United States because they only have low toxicity. When used during the early stages of male pattern baldness, saw palmetto is a relatively safe alternative to harsher prescription drugs. The ingredient is still also being used to treat enlarged prostate. Women who are pregnant or lactating should avoid using products containing saw palmetto.