Saw palmetto is an herb used to inhibit a steroid metabolizer called 5-alpha reductase, which is responsible for the formation of an androgenic compound called dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Excessive amounts of DHT have been implicated in many medical conditions, such as acne, hirsutism, hair loss and prostate issues. The connection between saw palmetto and DHT reduction was first observed in the late 19th century and later confirmed by several clinical trials. It was found that, in order for saw palmetto supplements to be effective in reducing the amount of DHT in the human body, it must contain 85-95 percent fatty acids and sterols.
Acne caused by a hormonal imbalance affects both men and women. In many cases, acne results when the oil-producing sebaceous glands are over-stimulated by the excessive production of DHT. As a result, the pores in the skin become blocked with oil containing propionibacterium acnes bacterium, leading to infection and inflammation. When taken regularly, saw palmetto will eventually lower DHT production and in turn lower sebaceous gland production.
In the case of DHT-induced hair loss, it is the hair follicle instead of the sebaceous gland that is affected. Androgen-sensitive hair follicles are located in areas such as the face, head, chest and lower back. Excessive DHT levels activate the androgen receptors in the scalp hair follicle, causing follicular miniaturization, or thinning of the hair. Continued DHT induced hair loss might lead to varying degrees of baldness.
In theory, saw palmetto can minimize or even prevent hair loss by blocking the conversion of testosterone into DHT. Hair loss studies involving saw palmetto and DHT-induced hair loss have not been entirely proved. Limited trials have suggested that saw palmetto might help those with DHT-induced hair loss, but more research is needed.
Underlying conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) in women cause an increase of male circulating hormones, such as DHT. Although it can cause devastating hair loss in women, DHT causes equally distressing hair growth in androgen-sensitive areas, a condition called hirsutism. The connection between saw palmetto and DHT in hirsutism is the herb’s ability to inhibit the binding of DHT to cell receptors in hair follicles.
For centuries, men have been using saw palmetto as an alternative treatment for benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Enlarged prostate, or BPH, might lead to serious issues, including recurring urinary tract infections and even kidney damage. There seems to be a correlation between saw palmetto and DHT in reducing prostate size in BPH sufferers. The herb works by reducing DHT concentrations in BPH tissue, leading to a relief of symptoms and size.