Serenoa repens, the American dwarf palm tree, or the saw palmetto is a small palm-like tree endemic to Florida and other southeastern states in the United States. It usually has a sprawling trunk and grows in dense thickets. Saw palmetto is a slow-growing plant with long, green, and pointed leaves like other types of palm trees with branches and small berries.
Traditionally, Native Americans notably from the Seminole tribe ate its berries as a food crop as well as to treat reproductive and urinary problems associated with enlarged prostate glands. Sometimes it was used to treat indigestion, infertility, cough, and colds. The fruits of the American dwarf palm tree are enriched with phytosterols and fatty acids. This high enrichment has made the extracts of the fruits to be subjected to intensive research especially in the research of treating benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH).
Clinical trials have shown that the fruits’ extracts are safe and effective in treating mild BPH in comparison to the use of tamsulosin and placebos. The extracts of the fruits have been widely used in decreasing symptoms of enlarged prostate as well as treating various types of prostate infections and in combination with other herbs to treat prostate cancer.
Saw palmetto is widely used in medical fields as a diuretic (to increase flow of urine), as a sedative (to promote relaxation), and as an aphrodisiac (sex enhancing drug). With respect to BPH, clinical trials show that the fruits’ extracts are used to shrink the inner linings pressuring the tubes carrying urine but not to shrink the size of the prostate gland itself.
The fruit of serenoa repens is harvested and processed in several forms for easy use including capsules and liquid tablets. Saw palmetto is more widely used in Europe than it is in America, where it naturally grows. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommend its use as an alternative treatment for BPH. Regardless of this, palmetto is still the most common herbal therapy for BPH.
The fruits’ extract works by stopping the breakdown of testosterone into its common byproduct, dihydrotesterone. This action stops or slows down the growth of the prostate gland. Naturally, the prostate gland grows bigger with age. Unfortunately, a very big prostate gland places undue pressure on the urethra and bladder. A big gland causes urinary problems. Thus, with the action of saw palmetto it is possible to alleviate symptoms of BPH such as frequent urination and inability to empty the bladder completely.
Saw Palmetto for hair loss
Saw palmetto or Nature`s Propecia’ is used mostly by men. In essence, Propecia is a product which is derived from finasteride and used to treat hair loss in males. Studies reveal that many men use saw palmetto to avoid developing side effects that are associated with finasteride products.
Chemical analysis of saw palmetto shows that it contains fatty acids and phytoglycerols which are thought to treat BPH or prostatic hyperplasia. While few studies have been done to ascertain whether this product can unravel hair loss problems, one case study presents encouraging results. The common belief is that this product is only helpful for males because prostate cancer and DHT only affects men.
Case studies on the effectiveness of saw palmetto
Some studies have shown that saw palmetto berries can treat an enlarged prostate- an indication that it could remedy hair loss problems as well. Additionally, its components are thought to block 5-alpha-reductase and other enzymes which can cause hair loss. The hypothesis that if saw palmetto can work as a prostate treatment, it should work as a hair loss remedy as well although it has not been demonstrated satisfactorily and many experts give a ’fifty percent’ rating for this use because the scientific evidence is unclear.
How effective is saw palmetto for hair loss?
Only few researches have been conducted to determine the effectiveness of saw palmetto for hair loss treatment, although, in one preliminary study, six out of ten participants demonstrated promising results. In the study, men with moderate levels of baldness took an oral supplement of saw palmetto twice every day for some months. The oral supplement included a combination of 100 mg of beta-sitosterol and 400 mg of saw palmetto. After the study, the participants were asked to rate their balding levels before and after the study, over sixty percent said their hair growth had improved.
In the study, which was published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, it was seen that men who took the combination showed improved hair growth patterns than those who received a placebo. Still, it is imperative to note that this study used nineteen test subjects, which is too small and unreliable. Besides, the addition of beta-sitosterol into the saw extract makes it hard to tell if the improvement in hair growth is due to beta-sitosterol or saw palmetto.
How it works
Saw palmetto for hair loss might come in many different forms which include powdered capsules, liquid extracts, whole dried berries and even tablets. For hair loss regimen, the user should take a dose of Minoxidil two times a day, Hairmax Lasercomb and Nizoral shampoo three times per week. In a study that was run over the course of six weeks, participants who used this regimen reported that they stopped shedding their hair after about three weeks. Other participants also reported that their hair thickness had improved after using the product.
In essence, if online reviews and other testimonials are anything to go, then it is safe to say that saw palmetto is good for hair loss. In any case, no serious side effects were reported by participants, although it is not recommended for use on children. Some users reported mild side effects such as headaches and stomach irritation, which can be avoided by taking saw palmetto extract with food.
However, users are recommended to talk to a doctor before taking the supplement. Research shows that using the extract can cause blood thinning, which can cause excessive bleeding during surgery.
The general idea is that using saw palmetto can slow the rate of hair loss and improve hair thickness, allowing other hair re-growth products such Lasercomb and Minoxidil to develop new hair.
The use of Saw Palmetto is associated with some allergic reactions. A study was conducted among the users of the herbal plant to test its allergic effects. It was reported that three out of 70 participants in the study developed allergic reactions. The allergic reaction presented with swellings, itching, and shortness of breath. Individuals that are allergic to Saw Palmetto or sensitive to any part of the herbal plant should not use it. Other signs if the allergic reaction may include hives. The swelling may take place in the face, lips, or even tongue.
· Gastrointestinal side effects
Patients tend to complain mostly about stomach and intestine disturbances. Saw Palmetto users may complain of abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. The patient may produce a vomit that looks like coffee grounds. The patient may also experience bad breath, constipation, gas, and heartburn. The herbal remedy should be taken with food to reduce the stomach upset. Reports also indicate that Saw Palmetto may cause other serious gastrointestinal side effects such as liver damage, liver inflammation, and even jaundice (yellowing of the skin). However, the role of Saw Palmetto in causing these side effects is not well understood.
· Side effects associated with the central nervous system
Reports have also indicated that Saw Palmetto may result in adverse reactions that present in the central nervous system. Patients may complain of headache dizziness, insomnia, and confusion. Saw Palmetto may also lead to weakness which may make the patient faint. Individuals having hormone-sensitive conditions should use the herbal drug with caution. Other rare side effects linked to the herbal product’s effect on the central nervous system include the development of seizures due to muscle spasms. The patient may also present with depression symptoms such as lack of sleep and boredom.
· Side effects associated with the reproductive system
Saw Palmetto is associated with the occurrence of genital and urinary problems. Men may experience sexual dysfunction such as ejaculation issues, erectile dysfunction, or even impotence. Patients may also present with decreased sex drive or libido. Testicular pain is also a common adverse effect of the herbal remedy. Pregnant women should not use the herbal product due to its ability to cause malformations to the unborn child. Saw Palmetto has hormonal effects giving it the capacity to disrupt the development of pregnancy. Breastfeeding mothers should not use Saw Palmetto due to lack of sufficient information on its potential effects.
· Side effects associated with the cardiac system and the blood system
Saw Palmetto is said to be able to reduce the levels of blood cells such as hemoglobin, hematocrit, red blood cells, and platelets. The herbal product has a blood thinning effect. Individuals that intend to undergo surgery or dental work should avoid the herbal product due to its effects on the platelet cells. The patient may experience excessive bleeding that may lead to other medical problems. The health care provider should make dosing adjustments.
Patients may also experience other cardiac problems such as heart failure, abnormal heart rhythm, and high blood pressure. The product users may also experience chest pains also known as angina. Respiratory tract problems are also common.