Is Saw Palmetto Worth Supplementing With?
By Tyler Woodward
Saw palmetto is a type of palm tree that is native to the southwestern United States. Saw palmetto has been used for hundreds of years as a natural form of plant medicine by native american indians and has been used to treat issues from lower urinary tract infections to fertility. Within saw palmetto its believed that a group of chemicals are responsible for its biological effects such as sterols, fatty acids, flavonoids, and polysaccharides (also known as complex carbs).
Potential Benefits Of Saw Palmetto:
There are typically 4 proposed uses for saw palmetto supplementation including:
- Reduce the likelihood of developing male pattern baldness (male androgenic alopecia) -
- May help treat BPH (benign prostate hyperplasia) and lower urinary tract symptoms -
- Can increase testosterone levels -
- May be anti-inflammatory
How Saw Palmetto Works:
The majority of the benefits of Saw Palmetto are as a result of its function of inhibiting the 5a-reductase enzyme. This enzyme is responsible for converting testosterone into its “big cousin” DHT. DHT is a potent anabolic and androgenic hormone that is often blamed for causing conditions like male pattern baldness and prostate issues. In these conditions, DHT is consistently elevated in these conditions, but it’s very likely falsely blamed as the causative factor in these conditions. DHT levels elevate in response to increased estrogen levels. Estrogen upregulates another enzyme known as aromatase which is responsible for converting testosterone into estrogen. The rise in DHT levels is as a result of elevated estrogen levels as a protective mechanism to prevent further escalation of estrogen levels which is also elevated in these conditions.
This is likely what is responsible for many of palmetto's benefits although evidence on the effectiveness of the plant isn’t clear cut. One study found that over 12 weeks saw palmetto was very effective in relieving symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia, but another found that it pretty much completely ineffective.
Additionally, there is not a lot of research on saw palmetto’s effectiveness in regards to male pattern baldness, but most of the arguments come from the perspective that DHT is what causes baldness yet this also lacks non-correlation evidence.
Lastly, saw palmetto likely is effective at increasing testosterone levels at the expense of decreasing DHT levels which may also result in potential anti-inflammatory effects.
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How To Supplement With Saw Palmetto:
Due to its inconclusive evidence as a supplement and potential drawbacks including the inhibition of DHT production I would not recommend supplementing with saw palmetto, particularly for men. For women, saw palmetto may be useful if they are having androgenic symptoms like facial hair growth which could result from excess DHT, but again I’d ask if this is solving the root cause of the issue. If you are looking for supplements that may aid in boosting your testosterone levels check out our Definitive Guide To Testosterone Boosting Supplements.
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