Although more associated with men, hair loss is a common issue for both women and men, one that approaches with age. Male pattern baldness is the most widely known; its moniker comes from the distinctive “m” shape this genetic form of hair loss takes as the hairline recedes. Women experience age-related hair loss slightly differently, with each hair becoming smaller in diameter, vs. follicles halting production of hair altogether.
Testosterone and DHT
DHT is a chemical compound that shrinks hair follicles. It’s created as a reaction to testosterone. This explains why complete baldness is much more common in men; men have much more testosterone than women.
The immense variety of treatments for hair loss are a testament to how many people suffer from it. While it’s not a physiologically debilitating condition, it can be crippling to the self-esteem. People are even willing to resort to costly surgery for implantation of hair plugs in order to combat the appearance of hair loss.
There are also drugs available to help stop hair loss, but they have mixed results at best and are known to have serious side effects. In one study, over 95% of male participants experienced negative sexual side effects after using a prescribed hair loss drug.
With the high cost of surgery as well as the potential for dramatic, negative side effects of drugs, it’s perfectly logical that hair loss sufferers are seeking alternative treatments in droves. One that has experienced a surge in popularity in recent years is saw palmetto, a berry-laden plant utilized in Native American medicine for centuries. Saw palmetto is utilized in the treatment of dwindling sex drive, prostate issues, bladder infections, and hair loss.
Because of the breadth of other, more serious conditions treatable by saw palmetto, research regarding its effectiveness at combating hair loss is limited. Research has determined that it does alleviate an enlarged prostate, and since, this, like hair loss, is a testosterone-related issue, there is significant hope that saw palmetto can be an effective hair loss treatment, as well. An introductory study has determined that 75% of a small sample of participants did experience improvement when taking saw palmetto, which can be ingested in whole dried berry form, tablets, liquid extracts, or in powdered capsules.
Unlike many herbal treatments, saw palmetto cannot be used effectively when brewed as a tea, because the enzymes that are most useful are not water soluble.
Just like with prescription drugs, it is important to use saw palmetto with guidance from an experienced practitioner – in this case, a naturopath. Your practitioner must be made aware of any other drugs you are taking, even outside of his/her expertise, because saw palmetto and other herbal hair loss treatments can negatively interact with prescriptions. Of particular concern is hormonal birth control. Because saw palmetto is a hormonal treatment, it can limit the effectiveness of hormonal birth control. Research has also demonstrated saw palmetto’s capabilities as a blood thinner, and thus it should never be taken with another blood thinner (like aspirin).
Ultimately, saw palmetto may be the right treatment, or the right one combined with other treatments. With more research, it has the potential to help stop hair loss altogether.