Saw Palmetto Hair Loss Products Review: Side Effects

Saw palmetto fan leaf

It’s ironic isn’t it? You don’t want to risk using Propecia, but then suffer saw palmetto side effects instead!

This review explains the possible side effects from saw palmetto hair loss products, and what the risks are for men and women.

1. Is Saw Palmetto Safe for Women?

The drug product Propecia (finasteride) carries a warning that it shouldn't be used by women. If any pregnant woman (or woman likely to become pregnant) comes into physical contact with this drug, she runs the risk of causing sexual defects in her unborn baby if it’s a boy.

So, whilst saw palmetto is often cited as being a safe alternative to finasteride, it does work the same way: by blocking DHT. So it does seem likely that the same effect could occur if a pregnant woman were to take saw palmetto.

However, most saw palmetto hair loss products do not state "for men only".

If anything, I would have thought that taking a regular concentrated dose of saw palmetto extract might have an even greater effect than finasteride. That's because it blocks 5-alpha reductase types I and II whereas finasteride only blocks type II.

2. A Hidden Side Effect for Men?

The previous page explained how saw palmetto can be successfully used to treat prostate gland growth (BPH) in men. And BPH can, unfortunately, later develop into prostate cancer.

Small palm tree with fan leaves

So, BPH patients are regularly blood tested for prostate-specific antigen (PSA) - high levels of which can indicate possible prostate cancer.

But, saw palmetto might* lower PSA levels, which means that, if the results of a PSA test are low, it could be that any saw palmetto being taken by the patient could hide the signs of prostate cancer.

And, quite obviously, early detection and treatment of cancer is extremely important.

So, if you’re a man with prostate problems, and you’re taking saw palmetto for hair loss, then you’d better make sure your doctor knows you’re taking it.

* Note: Most studies show that saw palmetto does not decrease PSA levels. But, some medically qualified concerns have been voiced which warn that, given time (6 to 12 months), it does.

3. Upregulation

The reason why people use saw palmetto hair loss products is to try and reduce DHT levels in their hair follicles. The idea being that, since DHT is involved in the hair loss process, lower DHT levels might help.

Well, nice idea, but there’s a potential problem – upregulation (or hyperandrogenicity). This simply means that your body can react to saw palmetto (or any other DHT blocker you might use) by producing even more DHT.

The result?

Even more hair loss!

And some saw palmetto side effects reported do include an increase in hair loss (as is often the case with other DHT blocker agents such as finasteride).

After some unknown period (weeks? months?) this extra shedding might reduce back down again as DHT levels finally start to stay low. But, this can lead to another problem…

4. Estrogen Instead of DHT?

Most research suggests that saw palmetto decreases estrogen levels, but an FDA warning states that DHT blocker products (like finasteride) can increase estrogen levels.

That’s because, by blocking the enzyme 5-alpha reductase from converting testosterone into DHT, it may well be that another enzyme (aromatase) can convert some of that surplus testosterone into estrogen instead.

Here’s a very simplified look at the normal, predominant pathway for men and women:

Men: Testosterone + 5-alpha reductase = DHT
Women: Testosterone + aromatase = Estrogen

Note: both men and women produce testosterone and the enzymes 5-alpha reductase and aromatase.

So, if excessive levels of testosterone get converted into estrogen in men, that can be a problem because, like DHT, the role of estrogen is to promote growth - elevated estrogen levels in men might cause prostate gland growth. And this is a big concern, as highlighted by the following statement:

"…some scientists question the wisdom of using these 5-alpha reductase inhibitors in younger men who have no problem with their prostates. Evidence is mounting that the existence of a high estrogen/androgen ratio - a condition common in older men - is highly correlated with the development of BPH."


Also, in 2011, the FDA issued a warning that men using DHT blocker drugs are at greater risk of developing an aggressive form of prostate cancer. So, since saw palmetto acts in the same way as these drugs, you might do well to avoid taking any type of DHT blocker, be it a drug or natural alternative.

Bottom line?

You might not want hair loss, but you definitely don’t want prostate cancer! 

5. More Saw Palmetto Side Effects

Most people don’t experience any problems taking saw palmetto. But some do, and have reported the following:

  • Dizziness or headaches

  • Feeling sick (including vomiting)

  • Constipation or diarrhea

Some websites also state that saw palmetto can cause sexual dysfunction in men (breast enlargement, impotence, etc). But most sites state that there are no such side effects.

To compare the saw palmetto side effects on this page with Propecia side effects, read this list.

Fan palm berries

But It Did Help the Indians!

Native American Indian

Despite all the potential saw palmetto side effects mentioned above, this herb has long been used as a health aid. For example, some Native American Indians used saw palmetto for urinary tract and prostate gland health. And many people today take saw palmetto supplements for the same reason.

But, I'm pretty sure that American Indians didn't take supplements! Instead of riding on down to their local health food store, they just ate the berries.

And this would probably have given them a much smaller dose of the active ingredients when compared to people today, where popping two 160 mg capsules of a standardized extract is generally considered to be appropriate.

But, taking 320 mg of a standardized extract every single day will clearly give quite a considerable dose of the active ingredients. And overdosing on herbs can be like overdosing on drugs.

Whether or not the American Indians suffered any saw palmetto side effects from eating a few berries, I don't know.

But I do know that they didn’t suffer hair loss as much as Caucasians. And the reason why has got nothing to do with saw palmetto. You can find out why by reading this article.

If, having learnt all about the possible side effects of saw palmetto, you're still interested in trying this herb, you can compare some of the most popular topical and oral saw palmetto hair loss products on the next two pages.

This page 2 of 4.

Read next page? Oral Saw Palmetto Supplements.

Read previous page? Saw Palmetto for Hair Loss - Does it Work?

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