Saw Palmetto for Hair Loss and Its Side Effects

Are you looking to use saw palmetto to treat hair loss? Also known as “androgenic alopecia”, hair loss is common among men and women, especially as you get older. The condition is caused when the hormone testosterone is converted to DHT (dihydrotestosterone). DHT is an androgen and serves various functions in shaping male characteristics. Since males have more testosterone, they are more likely to experience hair loss.

DHT forms when the enzyme 5-alpha-reductase converts testosterone. Over the years, doctors have formulated DHT blockers that prevent 5-alpha-reductase from converting testosterone. There are various other treatments for hair loss, including hairpieces, extensions, surgery, and medication (pills). We will focus on the side effects of hair loss pills, which almost often contain saw palmetto.

What is Saw Palmetto?

Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) is a dwarf palm tree native to the West Indies and grown by Native Americans for its therapeutic benefits. It is generally considered a healing plant and has been shown to help reverse hair loss. Studies on the efficacy of saw palmetto are limited but promising. The herb is also used to treat enlarged prostate, bladder infection, and decreased sex drive. It is available in many forms, including whole dried berries, liquid extracts, tablets, and powdered capsules. However, studies have been done on tablets only. Using tea made with saw palmetto berries isn’t considered effective since the active compounds aren’t water-soluble.

How Does This DHT blocker Prevent Hair Loss?

Saw palmetto is a DHT blocker. Like other medications, it prevents the enzyme 5-alpha-reductase from converting existing testosterone to dihydrotestosterone. DHT molecules are responsible for hair loss and enlargement of the prostate. In one study, nearly half of the participants experienced an increase in their hair count by 11.9% after four months of taking topical saw palmetto mixed with 10% trichogen veg complex. Another 2012 study also showed that saw palmetto inhibits testosterone conversion to DHT. The herb also has anti-inflammatory properties that can prevent other causes of hair loss. However, the NCCIH insists there isn’t sufficient research to support the use of saw palmetto for any health condition.

Side Effects of Saw Palmetto for Hair Loss Treatment

There are many treatments for androgenic alopecia, including popular medications like Propecia and finasteride (Proscar). Hairpieces and extensions are also popular in America and other regions. Finasteride and other hair loss pills contain saw palmetto as the main ingredient and have been shown to work for male pattern baldness. However, most remedies come with many adverse effects. Here are some of the common side effects of using saw palmetto for hair loss:

  • Diarrhea and stomach upsets
  • Headache and fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Prostate cancer
  • Decreased libido and sexual dysfunction
  • Vertigo

Other side effects are rare but have been reported in isolated cases. This includes:

  • Liver damage
  • Pancreatitis


Although saw palmetto is possibly safe when taken orally, there’s limited research to prove it works to reverse hair loss. Saw palmetto hair loss pills also contain 70% to 90% fat and considered unsafe for children and breastfeeding mothers. As such, it is vital to consult a doctor before using it for any health condition.

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