Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 6/23/2021
Hey. C’mere. I got this new herb -- it’s that good stuff. All you need to know is it’s legit. Don’t ask questions. Just give me your money.
Buying hair growth products online can feel like a bit of a back alley deal. Once you’re hip to the fact that many folks are peddling the hair loss equivalent of snake oil, it’s difficult to believe that anything is legitimate.
But you’re a discerning man. When you’re presented with facts and scientific evidence, you can make wise decisions. So, what are the facts and evidence surrounding saw palmetto?
We’ll get into those in a moment. But first, understand: when it comes to supplements, you won’t find anything on the market that can unequivocally cure your baldness.
It won’t happen because such a product doesn’t exist. However, there are hair loss supplements and other treatments that may slow down the hair loss process, stop you from losing even more hair and, in some cases, promote hair regrowth.
Many of these are backed with solid scientific evidence suggesting their effectiveness. Your job, as a customer, is to decipher which products are backed with the most sound scientific evidence and which are actually worth trying.
Below, we’ve explained what saw palmetto is, the different forms it’s sold in and how it may help to treat male pattern baldness.
We’ve also shared other science-based hair loss treatments that you may want to try if you’re starting to lose your hair.
Saw palmetto is an herb that’s no newb to medicinal applications. It has a long history as a folk medicine ingredient, with records showing it was used by Native American tribes in order to treat coughs and other ailments.
Although saw palmetto isn’t as well-studied as hair loss medications such as finasteride and minoxidil, there’s some scientific evidence that it may help to slow down or stop hair loss.
Some researchers believe that saw palmetto works by inhibiting the effects of DHT, the hormone that causes male pattern baldness.
Although some scientific research on saw palmetto is promising, it shouldn’t be viewed as a 100% proven hair loss treatment right now.
Saw palmetto is a safe supplement for most men. However, it’s best to check with your healthcare provider before using it with hair loss medications such as finasteride.
Saw palmetto is a herbal supplement that’s promoted as a treatment for inflammation, hair loss, urinary tract health and as a testosterone booster.
It’s also promoted as a natural treatment for benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH, or prostate enlargement).
The herb used in saw palmetto supplements is extracted from the fruit of the saw palmetto plant -- a small palm that’s often referred to as Serenoa repens.
You can find this plant throughout the Southeastern United States, where it tends to grow in coastal areas.
Saw palmetto has a lengthy history as a folk medicine. Historically, it’s been used as a treatment for coughs, reproductive disorders and other diseases.
Before your eyes glaze over at the thought of us suggesting you crush saw palmetto and use it on your head, sleep with a bundle of it under your pillow or bathe with it to absorb its “essence” for your wellbeing, relax.
We’re not one of those websites and we’re not a new age celebrity sharing junk pseudoscience for profit.
Unlike many other much-hyped herbal supplements, there’s some evidence that saw palmetto is actually effective for certain health conditions, including hair loss.
We’ve explained these in more detail below, as well as the numerous forms of saw palmetto that are available.
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Saw palmetto comes in several different forms. It’s widely available as a health supplement and is also used as an ingredient in topical shampoos and other products.
If you search for “saw palmetto” online, you’ll come across dietary supplements that feature saw palmetto.
These are usually marketed as prostate health tablets, testosterone boosters or supplements for improving urinary flow and control.
They come in capsule form and usually contain saw palmetto extract in various dosages, either on its own or with other herbs, vitamins or minerals.
Saw palmetto is also available as a liquid extract. Like saw palmetto capsules, this is formulated for oral consumption, usually mixed with water.
When it comes to hair loss, saw palmetto is most commonly used as an ingredient in shampoos, conditioners and other hair care products.
For example, we include saw palmetto as one of several ingredients in our hair thickening shampoo for reducing scalp buildup and promoting volume and moisture.
You can also find saw palmetto in various skin care products and topical treatments designed to improve male health and vitality.
Although research is mixed on the effectiveness of saw palmetto as a hair loss treatment, some studies have found that it may offer benefits for men affected by male pattern baldness.
To understand how saw palmetto may be helpful for treating hair loss, it’s important to quickly go over the basics of how and why male hair loss happens in the first place.
Contrary to popular belief, there’s no scientific evidence that male pattern baldness, which is the most common cause of hair loss in men, is caused by things like using too much hair product or wearing your hat too tight.
Instead, experts have found that the causes of male pattern baldness are a combination of your genes and the effects of a male sex hormone called dihydrotestosterone, or DHT.
DHT is produced as a byproduct of testosterone, your body’s primary sex hormone.
As a child and during adolescence, DHT plays a key role in the development of your male secondary sex characteristics, such as facial and body hair.
However, as you get older, DHT can bind to receptors in your scalp and cause your hair follicles to stop producing new hairs.
We’ve talked about this process more in our guide to DHT and its effects on male hair loss.
Interestingly, DHT also has other unwanted effects in your body. For example, as an adult, DHT is the primary hormone responsible for the growth of your prostate gland.
Currently, the most effective treatments for hair loss, such as the medication finasteride, work by stopping your body from converting testosterone into DHT.
Finasteride does this by blocking the effects of 5-alpha-reductase, an enzyme that’s responsible for producing DHT from testosterone.
Researchers think that saw palmetto also blocks the effects of 5-alpha-reductase and stops the conversion of testosterone into DHT within your body.
The idea that saw palmetto blocks DHT production isn’t just an assumption. Instead, it’s backed up by a modest but compelling amount of scientific evidence.
Currently, there isn’t a particularly large body of scientific research on the relationship between saw palmetto and androgenic alopecia (a term used to refer to male pattern baldness). And of the studies that exist, none are perfect.
However, there are three that are frequently cited as possibly demonstrating the positive effects of saw palmetto extract as a treatment for hair loss in men.
The first of these is a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2002.
In this study, researchers found that men with hair loss who used saw palmetto capsules over a period of five months reported improvements in their hair.
While this study is interesting, it has numerous shortcomings. Only 19 men completed the study, with half of these men given the saw palmetto and the other half a non-therapeutic placebo.
The men were also asked to self-assess their progress via a six-question survey.
In other words, the men were asked to rate the results of the supplement rather than having the results assessed by a professional.
Although these factors don’t necessarily undermine the study’s findings, they’re definitely worth noting when assessing its outcome.
The second study was published in 2012 in the International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology.
In this study, researchers compared the effects of saw palmetto with finasteride, a well-known medication for treating hair loss.
The study was carried out over 24 months and involved 100 men with mild to moderate male pattern baldness.
At the end of the study period, the researchers found that 68 percent of the men treated using finasteride showed improvements in hair growth compared to 38 percent of the men who were treated with saw palmetto extract.
They concluded that although finasteride was more effective at producing hair growth, the saw palmetto extract also produced noticeable improvements.
The third study, which was published in the Australasian Journal of Dermatology in 2015, also found that products containing saw palmetto may be effective at treating hair loss.
Unlike the first two studies, which looked at the effects of oral saw palmetto supplements, this study involved the use of a topical product containing saw palmetto extract.
In this study, 50 men with male pattern baldness used a topical saw palmetto treatment over a period of 24 weeks.
The men experienced an increase in average hair count after 12 and 24 weeks of treatment.
One major shortcoming of this study is that there was no control group, meaning the scientists could not compare their findings with men given no active ingredient.
Still, it’s another interesting data point that suggests that saw palmetto may offer benefits as a treatment for hair loss, whether it’s used orally or topically.
Saw palmetto is a common nutritional supplement that’s marketed as a natural treatment for a variety of ailments.
One well-known potential benefit of saw palmetto is its purported ability to treat the symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH).
While evidence is mixed overall, some research has found that saw palmetto may help to make certain BPH symptoms, such as weak urination, post micturition dribble (dribble after urinating), urinary retention and others.
Research published in the journal American Family Physician notes that saw palmetto appears to be equally as effective as finasteride at managing the symptoms of BPH.
However, this does not mean that saw palmetto should be used in place of finasteride or other medications to treat BPH.
If you’ve been diagnosed with BPH, you should not switch from your existing prescription medication to saw palmetto.
Proponents of saw palmetto also claim that it has other benefits, such as improving fertility and reducing inflammation in certain types of cells.
However, there’s currently no reputable scientific evidence to support these claims.
Saw palmetto is generally safe. However, like other health supplements, it can potentially cause certain side effects.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, saw palmetto may cause headache and/or digestive symptoms. Saw palmetto may affect your ability to properly absorb iron.
Currently, most of the research on saw palmetto’s potential side effects comes from studies of its use for men with BPH.
Although saw palmetto is safe for most men to use, it may interact with other medications and supplements.
Because saw palmetto may have similar effects on DHT as finasteride, use of their oral forms in combination should be avoided.
Saw palmetto may also interact with certain blood thinner medications, such as warfarin (sold under the brand name Coumadin®), clopidogrel (Plavix®) and aspirin.
In women, saw palmetto may interfere with the effects of oral contraceptives, such as the birth control pill.
Make sure to talk to your healthcare provider before you use saw palmetto if you’re prescribed any medications.
Perhaps the biggest concern with taking saw palmetto or any medication that reduces levels of 5-alpha reductase is that it may delay the discovery of prostate cancer.
Because these substances treat the symptoms of prostate enlargement, a cancerous prostate may go undiagnosed.
It’s important to undergo regular prostate screenings, especially if you’re at a heightened risk of developing prostate cancer.
Although there’s no “smoking gun” study to prove that saw palmetto treats and prevents male pattern baldness, the data that’s currently available is certainly interesting.
Currently, there’s a small amount of evidence that saw palmetto may slow down hair loss and encourage hair growth.
However, like other natural hair loss solutions, the scientific community remains unconvinced. Scientists are a tough crowd, and it understandably takes a serious amount of evidence to get them to change their minds from a “maybe” to a “yes.”
Right now, it’s best to think of saw palmetto as a natural substance that may reduce hair loss, not as a sure-thing treatment that’s guaranteed to protect your hair.
If you’re beginning to lose your hair, saw palmetto may be a helpful addition to your hair loss prevention stack.
One easy way to add it to your hair care routine is with our hair thickening shampoo, which uses saw palmetto as an active ingredient.
However, you'll get the best results from proven, FDA-approved hair loss medications such as finasteride and minoxidil.
These medications are scientifically proven to slow down and stop hair loss from male pattern baldness.
In some cases, they can even help you to regrow hair in the parts of your scalp with recent thinning.
As medications rather than supplements, these treatments go through much stricter trials than supplements and hair care ingredients like saw palmetto.