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A cartoon highlighting the effects of too much or too little testosterone with the words "spotlight" and "saw palmeto.

Too much or too little testosterone?

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One Man’s Saw Palmetto Is Another Woman’s Serenoa Repens…

Today we’re going to look at saw palmetto. So, first:

What is it?

Saw palmetto is a type of palm native to the southeastern United States. Its scientific name is “Serenoa repens”, so if that name appears in studies we cite, it’s the same thing. By whichever name, it’s widely enjoyed as a herbal supplement.

Why do people take it?

Here’s where it gets interesting, because people take it for some completely opposite reasons…

Indeed, searching for it on the Internet will cause Google to suggest “…for men” and “…for women” as the top suggestions.

That’s because it works on testosterone, and testosterone can be a bit of a double-edged sword, so some people want to increase or decrease certain testosterone-related effects on their body.

And it works for both! Here be science:

  • Testosterone (henceforth, “T”) is produced in the human body.
    • Yes, all human bodies, to some extent.
  • An enzyme called 5-alpha-reductase converts T in to DHT (dihydrogen testosterone)
  • DHT is a much more potent androgen (masculinizing agent) than T alone, such that its effects are often unwanted, including:
    • Enlarged prostate (if you have one)
    • Hair loss (especially in men)
    • New facial hair growth (usually unwanted by women)
      • Women are more likely to get this due to PCOS and/or the menopause

To avoid those effects, you really want less of your T to be converted into DHT.

Saw palmetto is a 5α-reductase inhibitor, so if you take it, you’ll have less DHT, and you’ll consequently lose less hair, have fewer prostate problems, etc.

Read: Determination of the potency of a novel saw palmetto supercritical CO2 extract (SPSE) for 5α-reductase isoform II inhibition using a cell-free in vitro test system

^The above study showed that saw palmetto extract performed comparably to finasteride. Finasteride is the world’s main go-to prescription drug for treating enlarged prostate and/or hair loss.

See also: Natural Hair Supplement: Friend or Foe? Saw Palmetto, a Systematic Review in Alopecia

Hair today… Growing tomorrow!

So, what was that about increasing T levels?

Men usually suffer declining T levels as they get older, with a marked drop around the age of 45. With lower T comes lower energy, lower mood, lower libido, erectile dysfunction, etc.

Guess what… It’s T that’s needed for those things, not DHT. So if you block the conversion of T to DHT, you’ll have higher blood serum T levels, higher energy, higher mood, higher libido, and all that.

Read: Standardized Saw Palmetto Extract Directly and Indirectly Affects Testosterone Biosynthesis and Spermatogenesis

(the above assumes you have testicles, without which, your T levels will certainly not increase)

Saw Palmetto Against Enlarged Prostate?

With higher DHT levels in mid-late life, prostate enlargement (benign prostatic hyperlasia) can become a problem for many men. The size of that problem ranges from urinary inconvenience (common, when the prostate presses against the bladder) to prostate cancer (less common, much more serious). Saw palmetto, like other 5α-reductase inhibitors such as finasteride, may be used to prevent or treat this.

Wondering how safe/reliable it is? We found a very high-quality fifteen-year longitudinal observational study of the use of saw palmetto, and it found:

❝The 15 years’ study results suggest that taking S. repens plant extract continuously at a daily dose of 320 mg is an effective and safe way to prevent the progression of benign prostatic hyperplasia.❞

Read: 15 years’ survey of safety and efficacy of Serenoa repens extract in benign prostatic hyperplasia patients with risk of progression

Want a second opinion? We also found a 10-year study (by different researchers with different people taking it), which reached the same conclusion:

❝The results of study showed the absence of progression, both on subjective criteria (IPSS, and QoL scores), and objective criteria (prostate volume, the rate of urination, residual urine volume). Furthermore, patients had no undesirable effects directly related to the use of this drug.❞

  • IPSS = International Prostate Symptom Score
  • QoL = Quality of Life

Read: The results of the 10-year study of efficacy and safety of Serenoa repens extract in patients at risk of progression of benign prostatic hyperplasia

But wait a minute; I, a man over the age of 45 with potentially declining T levels but a fabulous beard, remember that you said just a minute ago that saw palmetto is used by women to avoid having facial hair; I don’t want to lose mine!

You won’t. Once your facial hair follicles were fully developed and activated during puberty, they’ll carry on doing what they do for life. That’s no longer regulated by hormones once they’re up and running.

The use of saw palmetto can only be used to limit facial hair if caught early—so it’s more useful at the onset of menopause, for those who have (or will have) such, or else upon the arrival of PCOS symptoms or hirsuitism from some other cause.

Take The Test!

Do you have a prostate, and would like to know your IPSS score, and what that means for your prostate health?

Take The Test Here!

(takes 1 minute, no need to pee or go probing for anything)

Bottom Line on Saw Palmetto

  • It blocks the conversion of T into DHT
  • It will increase blood serum T levels, thus boosting mood, energy, libido, etc in men (who typically have more T, but whose T levels decline with age)
  • It will decrease DHT levels, thus limiting hair loss (especially in men) and later-life new facial hair growth (especially in women).
  • It can be used to prevent or treat prostate enlargement
  • Bonus: it’s a potent antioxidant and thus reduces general inflammation (in everyone)

Want To Try Saw Palmetto?

We don’t sell it (or anything else), but for your convenience…

Click here to check out saw palmetto on Amazon!

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