Mechanism of Action
Serenoa berries contain fatty acids known collectively as liposterols and named individually as lauric, oleic, myristic, and linoleic acids. All of these fatty acids have been shown to inhibit the 5 alpha-reductase enzyme, found in the adrenal glands (and in men, the prostate as well) that converts testosterone into its most active form, dihydrotestosterone. Women with hirsutism and elevated testosterone may have excessive 5 alpha-reductase enzyme activity. Male pattern baldness, also known as androgenic alopecia in men, and thinning of the hair in women may also be initiated and promoted when 5 alpha-reductase is up regulated. Saw palmetto has been shown to promote hair growth compared to placebo in men with androgenic alopecia, and the herb might benefit women as well.
Elevated androgens is the hallmark of PCOS in women. Serenoa has been shown to reduce the uptake of androgens, including dihydrotestosterone and testosterone, into tissues by 40%. Prolactin is typically elevated in women with PCOS and a leading cause of amenorrhea and infertility.
In women with PCOS, elevated prolactin can suppress follicle maturation, ovulation, and contribute to ovarian cysts. Animal studies show Saw Palmetto to inhibit prolactin receptors on ovarian cells and reduce the basal activity of K(+) channels and of protein kinase C involved with the transduction of prolactin signals.
Evidence Based Research
There has been a great deal of research regarding Saw Palmetto and its ability to treat diseases of the prostate in men, but very little research in women. Environmental toxins can disrupt reproductive development and function by both mimicking and inhibiting endogenous steroids contributing to infertility, polycystic ovarian syndrome, hormonal cancers, thyroid disease, and other ailments.
Saw Palmetto may help reduce elevated androgens and prolactin typically seen in women with PCOS. Animal studies show Saw Palmetto to block prolactin receptors on ovarian cells over-expressing prolactin receptors.
Safety in Pregnancy and Breast Feeding
There is no information on the safety of Saw Palmetto in pregnancy or lactation in the scientific or traditional literature.
There has been an anecdotal report of a single incidence of cholestatic hepatitis in a patient using Saw Palmetto, however dosage ranging within normal human dosage (9.14 or 22.86 mg/kg/body weight/day) did not elevate liver enzymes or any other biomarkers of liver toxicity in rats. Another rat study showed no evidence of hepatotoxicity at 150 and 300 mg/kg. A detailed safety assessment on 225 men using 160 mg of Saw Palmetto twice a day found no significant side effects or toxicity compared to placebo. Saw Palmetto may interact with pharmaceuticals via cytochrome p450 effects.
Dosage: 160 to 450 mg twice daily of an extract containing 45-95% fatty acids.
How should I take saw palmetto?
When considering the use of herbal supplements, seek the advice of your doctor. You may also consider consulting a practitioner who is trained in the use of herbal/health supplements.
If you choose to use saw palmetto, use it as directed on the package or as directed by your doctor, pharmacist, or other healthcare provider. Do not use more of this product than is recommended on the label.
Saw palmetto may be taken with food if it upsets your stomach.
Do not use different forms (capsules, tablets, tinctures, topical forms, etc) of saw palmetto at the same time without medical advice. Using different formulations together increases the risk of an overdose.
Saw palmetto can affect blood-clotting and may increase your risk of bleeding. If you need surgery, dental work, or a medical procedure, stop taking saw palmetto at least 2 weeks ahead of time.
Call your doctor if the condition you are treating with saw palmetto does not improve, or if it gets worse while using this product.
Can Women Take Saw Palmetto?
Saw palmetto is a type of small palm tree featuring small berries that has been used medicinally for hundreds of years, but in modern times, the extract from saw palmetto’s berries have been applied to a wide range of medical issues. In men, saw palmetto is most prominently prescribed as a natural remedy for prostate issues, including symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia (an enlargement of the prostate gland).1
Studies and reviews of scientific literature have found that most of these effects are caused by saw palmetto’s interactions with androgen hormones and intermediaries. In particular, saw palmetto is known to inhibit 5-alpha reductase, the enzyme responsible for converting testosterone into DHT (dihydrotestosterone).2 While DHT has its functions, excess DHT levels are known to contribute to the aforementioned prostate problems as well as androgenic alopecia, better known as male or female pattern baldness.3
The fact is, testosterone is not just a hormone found in men. Women also produce testosterone, which plays a vital role in several bodily functions, but too much testosterone can cause hormonal imbalances that may result in a whole host of problems. Saw palmetto can help to inhibit testosterone and other androgen hormone and maintain a hormonal balance in women.4 Take a look at some of the health benefits of saw palmetto for women.
Saw Palmetto Benefits
1. Saw Palmetto for Women’s Hair Loss
As with men, androgenetic alopecia in women is caused by the conversion of testosterone into DHT. The excess DHT causes hair follicles in the scalp to shrink. This shortens the hair cycle’s growth phase while lengthening the resting phase, resulting in lost hair.
Men naturally have more testosterone than women, but balding can still occur in women, especially as they get older. In men, balding typically starts at the temples and the top of the head. Women usually experience thinning hair that starts at the part, where hair goes down either side of the head.5
Saw palmetto for women’s hair loss may work the same as it does for men. As mentioned, saw palmetto extract has been found to inhibit 5-alpha reductase in the scalp, preventing the conversion of testosterone into DHT. One study suggested that combining 5-alpha reductase inhibitors (like saw palmetto extract) with anti-inflammatory agents could offer an effective approach to reducing the symptoms of androgenetic alopecia.6
2. Saw Palmetto for Hirsutism in Women
Where excess DHT shrinks the hair follicles in the scalp, it can have the opposite effect on hair follicles around the body, resulting in the excess body hair characterized by hirsutism. Hirsutism refers to the presence of coarse hairs on the body. It is believed to affect about 5 to 10 percent of women. Women with a buildup of DHT may experience sudden excess hair growth in areas where men usually grow hair, including on the abdomen, face, and arms.7 Saw palmetto’s potential to block DHT and regulate hormonal balance may help to prevent the growth of excess body hair in women.
3. Saw Palmetto for Acne
While there is no singular known cause for acne, science understands that hormones can play a large role in acne formation. Studies show that the glands that produce sebum are readily stimulated by androgen hormones produced in the skin. DHT happens to be one of the most powerful of these androgens and can be found in sebaceous glands. This suggests that excess DHT could lead to an overproduction of sebum.8 While sebum is necessary for protecting the skin and locking in moisture, too much of it can clog pores, resulting in the blackheads, whiteheads, and cysts characteristic of acne.
If you suffer from hormonal acne, your doctor may suggest saw palmetto in oral or topical forms. Topical forms may help to control DHT production on the skin’s surface and within pores and sebaceous glands, while oral forms of saw palmetto can help to regulate DHT (and sebum production) from the inside.
4. Saw Palmetto for Symptoms of Menopause
Menopause marks the end of a woman’s menstrual cycles. On average, menopause occurs at the age of 45. A woman officially reaches menopause one year after her last period. Chemically, menopause occurs because the ovaries stop creating reproductive hormones, namely estrogen and progesterone. This can result in a variety of physical and emotional symptoms leading up to and after reaching menopause. Symptoms can include:
Changing or irregular periods
While testosterone levels do go down with age, it does not see as drastic of a decline as estrogen and progesterone during menopause.10 Saw palmetto has been shown to interact with estrogen receptors12 and can help support hormonal balance during menopause.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that is characterized by enlarged ovaries that contain follicles (fluid) surrounding the eggs, causing the ovaries to malfunction, which can lead to hormonal problems. This occurs in women of reproductive age and can result in prolonged or infrequent menstrual periods and high androgen levels. The high androgen levels can contribute to hirsutism, female pattern baldness, and severe acne. If left untreated, PCOS can result in a variety of complications, including mood disorders, infertility, sleep issues, and metabolic syndrome (noted by high blood pressure, high serum sugar levels, and other symptoms that could increase the risk of cardiovascular disease).11
Studies have found that saw palmetto extract may be beneficial for women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Saw palmetto contains several fatty acids known as liposterols (lauric, oleic, myristic, and linoleic acids) that are known to inhibit 5-alpha reductase, thus preventing the conversion of testosterone into DHT. DHT may contribute to the hirsutism and androgenic alopecia associated with PCOS.
Side Effects of Saw Palmetto
1. Interferes with contraceptives: Saw palmetto is generally considered to be safe for use, but it is not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women. Its interaction with your hormones means it may also reduce the effect of oral contraceptives.
2. Pain: In rare instances, saw palmetto may cause mild headaches or stomach pains.
3. Interferes with coagulation: It has also been shown to affect coagulation5 so use with caution if you are taking blood thinners.
Saw palmetto for women can provide a variety of benefits to health and wellbeing. Consult your doctor if you think saw palmetto is right for you.