There are several different ideas about how saw palmetto might work. One theory suggests that it works by inhibiting an enzyme called 5-alpha-reductase, blocking the conversion of testosterone into DHT (dihydrotestosterone), thereby decreasing the amount of DHT in the body.
Since DHT is important for enlargement of the prostate, this may be how saw palmetto works for BPH. In fact, several prescription medications for enlarged prostate work in a similar way. Since these prescription medications are also effective for hair loss (particularly male pattern baldness), saw palmetto may also work for hair loss.
The herbal supplement may also inhibit a few different growth factors (proteins in the body that encourage cell growth) and may also have anti-inflammatory properties. Some researchers think that saw palmetto may work by slowing down the growth of prostate cells or decreasing inflammation.
Saw Palmetto Uses in Women
Although this supplement has traditionally been used only in men, it is starting to show up in herbal supplements for women as well. It is sometimes claimed to be useful for the following problems in women:
Also, saw palmetto is sometimes claimed to help with breast enlargement.
However, saw palmetto has not been adequately studied in women. Because of its effects on hormones, the supplement may cause problems during pregnancy. Until more information is available, it is probably not a good idea for women to take saw palmetto.
Can Children Use Saw Palmetto?
It is not known if saw palmetto is safe for children. As with many medications or supplements, children may be more sensitive to the effects and toxicities of it. Because saw palmetto affects hormones, it may have negative effects on developing children.
Written by/reviewed by: Kristi Monson, PharmD;Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last reviewed by: KristiMonson, PharmD;
List of references (click here):
Jellin JM, editor. Pharmacist's Letter/Prescriber's Letter Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database Web site. Available at: http://naturaldatabase.com/. Accessed January 4, 2008.
National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine. National Institutes of Health. Herbs at a glance: saw palmetto (May 2006). NCCAM Web site. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/palmetto/. Accessed January 4, 2008.
eMedTV serves only as an informational resource. This site does not dispense medical advice or advice of any kind.
Site users seeking medical advice about their specific situation should consult with their own physician. Click