A slow-growing, evergreen shrub, saw palmetto berries have historically been used for a variety of conditions, including disorders of the male and female reproductive organs, as well as inflammation in the skin, body, coughs, and headaches.
Regarded for its anti-androgenic effects and the ability to reduce the impact of hormonal imbalances, saw palmetto is being used today for various hormonal-related issues, including inflammatory skin conditions like acne that are sometimes related to elevations in certain hormones in our body.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the effects of saw palmetto and investigate the science behind it, whether it truly can make a difference when treating acne, and how you can get the best results if you decide to give it a try.
What is Saw Palmetto?
Saw palmetto is a small palm with fan-shaped leaves that produces fleshy, blackberries in late summer.
Native to the southeastern United States, some of its purported effects are helping to reduce symptoms of urinary issues, such as enlarged prostate and overactive bladder, hair loss, hormonal imbalances, chronic pelvic pain, migraines, and even improve the appearance of some skin conditions, thanks to its anti-androgenic properties.
What Are Anti-Androgens?
Anti-androgens are a group of drugs and compounds that reduce the levels of androgen activity within the body.
Androgens are a male group of hormones responsible for various functions in the body, including bone and muscle development, as well as regulating metabolism and affecting physical changes like hair growth.
When this happens, what should be a normal function driven by androgens can become a disorder that interferes with our daily life.
This is where anti-androgens come in. They help reduce the excess androgen activity in the body and stabilize the functions regulated by androgens.
Some common conditions that could potentially arise from androgen abnormality include polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), hirsutism or excessive hair growth in women, inflammatory skin conditions like acne, and endocrine-related cancers such as carcinoma of the prostate.
Some common anti-androgens often prescribed to treat these conditions include spironolactone, finasteride, and flutamide.
On the other hand, herbal or natural alternatives are becoming more and more popular due to the general concern of potential side effects from drug-based anti-androgens.
Saw palmetto is one of these natural alternatives, and while its use hasn’t been proven effective for all of the conditions mentioned above, it is believed to be beneficial in reducing excess androgen activity, which could, in return, help improve some of the symptoms associated with excess androgen activity.
Benefits of Saw Palmetto
While saw palmetto is most commonly used for treating male and female reproductive issues, it may also have other benefits, such as:
Saw Palmetto Regulates Hormones
As an anti-androgen, saw palmetto can help reduce androgen overactivity in the body, thus helping to regulate hormones and reduce the symptoms of hormonal imbalance.
Saw Palmetto Lowers Inflammation
Saw palmetto’s berries are rich in active ingredients like fatty acids, plant sterols, flavonoids, and polysaccharides, which are natural polymers that play essential roles in our health, including lowering inflammation, strengthening the immune system, aiding digestive functions, and promoting detoxification.
Saw Palmetto Improves Skin Health
Saw palmetto berries contain several fatty acids, including palmitate, oleate, and linoleate, which aid in nourishing our cells and cell membranes.
Additionally, fatty acids are essential for the production of healthy skin oil, which has natural protective, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial benefits for the skin, along with helping to strengthen the skin barrier, preventing moisture loss, and keeping the skin hydrated, plump, and younger looking.
Additionally, the essential fatty acids in saw palmetto may be beneficial for improving inflammatory skin conditions due to their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Saw Palmetto Improves LUTS
Lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS) describe many different urination problems in men. Some of these include:
- Poor urine stream.
- Straining to urinate.
- Sudden urge to urinate.
- Having to urinate too frequently.
- Feeling like you can’t fully empty your bladder.
These symptoms are unpleasant, to say the least, and result from an enlarged prostate, which is a benign condition, or prostate cancer, which is a more serious one.
However, while more research is needed in this area before definitive conclusions can be drawn, multiple studies confirm the compound’s safety, so trying it out if you’re dealing with any of these symptoms is a safe way to help reduce some of the uncomfortable symptoms.
Saw Palmetto May Help Improve PCOS Symptoms
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that causes women to produce excess amounts of androgenic hormones, resulting in a range of symptoms such as irregular or absent periods, excessive hair growth (hirsutism), inflammatory skin conditions like acne, and difficulty conceiving due to the small sacs of fluid that develop on the ovaries, causing them to fail to release eggs regularly.
While PCOS is a chronic condition, its symptoms can be managed through a variety of treatments, including lifestyle changes, medications, or herbal supplements.
Saw palmetto is one of the latter options, with studies suggesting that this compound may help reduce elevated androgens as well as inhibit the production of prolactin, a hormone that can be elevated in women with PCOS, from the pituitary gland, and potentially prevent it from causing reduction of ovarian follicles and ovulation.
This could help improve fertility; however, more research is needed to confirm these findings.
Additionally, a combination of zinc and saw palmetto can help the body eliminate extra testosterone, which is one of the hormones causing PCOS, by reducing the enzyme 5-alpha reductase that converts testosterone into an androgen known as dihydrotestosterone or DHT, which is known for amplifying the effects of testosterone.
Saw Palmetto May Help Prevent Androgenic Alopecia
Saw palmetto may improve the symptoms of androgenic alopecia, a common condition known as male pattern baldness that affects one out of two men over 40.
By decreasing the effects of DHT, a byproduct of testosterone that affects the hair follicles and causes bald patches along with thinning at the front of the head, this compound can help reduce the speed of hair loss and allow existing hairs to remain on the head longer.
Saw Palmetto Side Effects
While saw palmetto is generally safe to be ingested in supplement capsules, powders, dried, liquid, or tea form, there are still some potential side effects you should be aware of before taking it.
The most common side effects may have to do with overusing this extract and can include an upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, constipation, or diarrhea, as well as headaches and dizziness.
Additionally, there have been two reports of liver damage and one report of pancreas damage in people who took saw palmetto, although it’s unclear if these incidents were related to this compound or not.
Therefore, it is important to consult your health provider before starting to supplement with saw palmetto and discuss any potential side effects if you decide to take it.
It’s also recommended to keep your doses at a moderate level, as higher doses can increase the risk of side effects without necessarily providing more benefits quicker, so keep that in mind as well.
Can Saw Palmetto Get Rid of Acne?
Saw palmetto hasn’t been researched for this particular issue; however, this compound could potentially help clear hormonal acne due to its ability to reduce androgen activity.
Androgens, among other things, are also responsible for stimulating the sebaceous glands to produce sebum, an oily substance that lubricates the skin and protects it from external pathogens and environmental aggressors.
However, when androgens are overactive, they will cause an excess production of sebum, which, instead of traveling through the pore and coming through to the skin’s surface, remains stuck inside the pores, where it stiffens and becomes food for the acne-causing bacteria.
The overgrowth of bacteria then triggers the immune system to send inflammatory signals, which leads to swelling, redness, and pus-filled bumps on the skin’s surface.
Therefore, by helping to balance these hormones and lowering the pro-inflammatory environment that enables the formation of pimples, saw palmetto could help reduce acne, especially if the issue is truly hormonal and is caused by an excess of androgens.
However, it’s important to note that saw palmetto is not a miracle cure, and it must be taken alongside a healthy diet and lifestyle, sufficient hydration, and the right skincare routine, as all these would help target the multiple factors involved in the formation of acne.
Acne is a complex condition that, more often than not, will require you to make many changes in your day-to-day life, so trying only to target the hormones, or focusing on destroying the bacteria on your skin without considering what caused them to overgrow in the first place, will never provide a lasting solution.
Therefore, it’s essential to take a holistic approach, and saw palmetto can be just one of the many tools you have at your disposal to help manage this condition.
How to Use Saw Palmetto for Acne?
Here are the three best ways to incorporate saw palmetto into your daily routine and help reduce the appearance of acne:
Saw palmetto is a shrub-like plant that produces black berries that ripen in late summer. They can be eaten whole or dried, mixed with food, or added to beverages like water or tea.
This can be a great way to include this potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound into your diet, especially if you’re not a fan of taking supplements or relying on store-bought alternatives like powders and extracts, which often contain additives that could potentially cause inflammation in the body.
Capsules or Extracts
Supplements containing saw palmetto as a powder, extract, or liquid solution are readily available in health stores, pharmacies, and online shops.
Most of these are standardized to contain around 85-95% fatty acids, and sterols, as these are the main active components of saw palmetto.
However, when choosing a supplement, it’s always important to look for reputable brands that offer third-party testing, so you can be sure that the product contains what it’s supposed to and won’t include any contaminants or unnecessary additives like fillers, binders, or artificial colorants and flavorings, as these, as mentioned above, can be inflammatory.
Saw palmetto is becoming a popular ingredient in skincare products; however, although the herb may help soothe the skin, it won’t directly influence hormonal changes. This means that it also won’t help reduce acne, especially if the condition is triggered by a hormonal imbalance.
Therefore, although an excellent skin-soothing agent, it’s important to remember that topical saw palmetto won’t address the root of the problem, and it should be considered a complementary rather than a primary acne treatment.
The best way to reduce acne with topicals is to use products containing exfoliating agents and retinoids, as these can help stabilize oil production while clearing congested pores and normalizing skin cell function.
Who Should Not Use Saw Palmetto?
Overusing saw palmetto might result in an increased risk of bleeding, especially during surgery, as is the case with many other herbal compounds that affect hormones.
This is why saw palmetto should not be taken by those taking anticoagulant medications or those with bleeding disorders. Additionally, if you are scheduled for surgery, you should stop supplementing with saw palmetto at least two weeks before the procedure.
It’s also recommended to avoid using saw palmetto if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, as this compound has not been tested in a supplement form on this demographic, and its effects, whether positive or negative, are currently unknown.
Finally, those with liver or kidney disease should talk to their doctor before taking saw palmetto, and let them know if they are taking any other medications, supplements, herbs, or vitamins before starting to supplement with this compound.
Frequently Asked Questions
Depending on your goals, the effects of supplementing with saw palmetto may take up to several weeks to show.
If you are using saw palmetto to improve acne, visible results may take up to 4-6 weeks or at least one skin cycle, which usually lasts 30 days.
On the other hand, saw palmetto used to improve fertility, LUTS, BPH, or reduce the effects of androgenic alopecia may take up to 3-4 months before showing some results.
Saw palmetto may help reduce the overactivity of DHT, a byproduct of testosterone that affects the hair follicles and causes androgenic alopecia, or male pattern baldness.
However, while saw palmetto may help existing hairs to remain on the head longer, it is unknown whether it can stimulate new hair growth.
The only compound currently proven capable of stimulating hair growth is minoxidil, an antihypertensive vasodilator that increases blood flow around the follicles and stimulates movement to the growth phase.
Avoid using saw palmetto together with other herbal supplements that can also affect blood clotting. Some of these include chasteberry, ginkgo, ginseng, horse chestnut, turmeric, vitamin E, etc.
Additionally, due to its anti-androgenic properties, avoid taking saw palmetto along with anti-androgenic drugs such as spironolactone, finasteride, and flutamide. Combining these won’t lead to better results and might cause a dangerous interaction instead.
Finally, avoid taking saw palmetto along with anticoagulant medications, as this can increase the risk of bleeding.