Effectiveness: No evidence
Avg. Cost: £166 per year
Time to take effect: Unknown
Saw palmetto is a natural extract that usually comes in tablet form. It is used in many forms of traditional herbal medicine, typically for problems with urinating. These days, saw palmetto is touted as a herbal cure for men suffering from benign prostatic hyperplasia (a condition which causes problems urinating).
It has also been suggested that saw palmetto may work in a similar way to Propecia by reducing the conversion of testosterone to DHT. However there is currently not enough evidence to prove this.
Does saw palmetto work?
There is some evidence to support the claims that saw palmetto can help with urinary problems and benign prostatic hyperplasia (or "BPH"). For this reason, one brand of saw palmetto extract is Prostasan, which purports to ease the symptoms of an enlarged prostate.
It’s important to bear in mind, though, that saw palmetto is not endorsed by the NHS as a treatment for prostate problems. In one study carried out in 2011, little evidence was found to support the claim that it effectively treats problems such as BPH. In fact, the study reported that men who used saw palmetto experienced similar results to men who used a placebo.
As a treatment for hair loss, even less is known about the effects of saw palmetto. It is likely, however, that the association has been made because of the effects of a different treatment, finasteride. Finasteride is a medicine licensed for use in the treatment of both BPH and hair loss, and has been shown to be very effective in both instances. Because saw palmetto is thought to be an effective treatment for BPH, it is therefore understandable that the link would be made to hair loss.
Insufficient research has been carried out on saw palmetto as a hair loss treatment and it is not endorsed by doctors as a viable treatment. Taken in small doses, saw palmetto is unlikely to be harmful, however it’s inadvisable to spend too much time or money investing in this product as a hair loss treatment.
Remember as well to take any rave reviews of saw palmetto as a hair loss treatment with a pinch of salt. Some of these reviews may be fake, written by businesses to promote their product. Others may be genuine, but could be the result of a placebo effect (in which simply taking saw palmetto boosted the user’s confidence in their hair). Seeing positive effects from saw palmetto could also be a mere coincidence (some types of hair loss are only temporary, and regrowth could have occurred at the same time that saw palmetto was being taken).
Though further investigation could reveal that saw palmetto does have a positive effect upon hair loss, at this point in time there is insufficient evidence to back up any claims. For this reason, you’ll probably be better off exploring different avenues of treatment.
Which hair loss treatments really work?
In the UK, there are two main treatments that can effectively combat hair loss: finasteride and minoxidil.
Finasteride and minoxidil are most commonly used in the treatment of male pattern baldness. Minoxidil can also be used to treat female pattern baldness and alopecia areata (a medical condition causing patches of hair loss). Finasteride is a prescription medicine branded as Propecia and comes in the form of a tablet taken every single day. Minoxidil is branded as Regaine (although it is available under other names as well), and is available to buy in high street pharmacies with no prescription. Minoxidil comes in the form of a lotion, liquid or foam that is rubbed into balding areas of the scalp every single day.
Both treatments have to be used every day and hair loss will resume once you have stopped using them. Both are most effective in people suffering from mild to moderate hair loss:
Benefits of Finasteride
- 90% effective in halting hair loss and promoting regrowth in men, according to one study
- Most effective treatment for male pattern baldness available
- Can be taken easily and discreetly
- Effects show in 3-6 months
- Not suitable for women
Benefits of Minoxidil
- Regaine for Men Extra Strength was found to promote hair regrowth in 60% of men
- Regaine for Women Regular Strength was found to halt hair loss and/or promote hair regrowth in 88% of women
- Can be used by women and men
- Can be used to treat alopecia areata
Generally speaking, finasteride is the best choice for men suffering from male pattern baldness, and minoxidil the only choice for women suffering from female pattern baldness. But it’s important to remember that these treatments will not work for everyone and that, as with all medicines, they can come with side effects.
I am suffering from hair loss. What should I do?
The first thing you should do if you are suffering from hair loss is speak to a medical professional. Self-diagnosing the cause of your hair loss and treating it with products such as caffeine shampoo and saw palmetto is not usually wise. This is because there is little medical evidence to back up the efficacy of these products. There are also many different types of hair loss, and some require very specific treatments.
Visiting your GP or consulting another medical professional will help you to accurately diagnose what kind of hair loss you are experiencing. The doctor can then recommend treatment or refer you to a specialist.
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