To date, scientific research on saw palmetto for hair loss remains limited. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), there is not enough scientific evidence to support people using saw palmetto for any health condition.
However, some researchers have looked into saw palmetto and hair loss.
According to a 2012 study, saw palmetto might inhibit an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase. A medication called finasteride (Proscar) uses this mechanism to treat hair loss in males. By inhibiting 5-alpha reductase, finasteride blocks the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone, which is the hormone responsible for male pattern hair loss.
Saw palmetto may also have anti-inflammatory effects on the body, which could offer protection from some causes of hair loss.
In a small 2002 study, researchers gave 10 males with androgenetic alopecia a supplement that contained both saw palmetto and beta-sitosterol. The researchers noted improvements in 6 of the 10 males. As this study was very small, additional research is necessary to support these findings.
In a 2012 study, researchers enrolled 100 males with mild-to-moderate androgenetic alopecia. Over 2 years, one group took 320 milligrams (mg) of saw palmetto each day, while the other group received 1 mg of finasteride daily.
In the end, 38% of those who took saw palmetto had an improvement in their hair loss, compared with 68% of those who took finasteride. This finding suggests that both treatments had an effect but that finasteride was more effective. The researchers also noted that the more severe the hair loss, the less likely saw palmetto was to work.
While smaller studies have shown that saw palmetto might have promise as a treatment for hair loss, there is a need for additional, larger scale studies.
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