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Sep 20, 2012 at 8:00am MST by Dr. Heather DeLuca ND
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) consists of a distressing number of PCOS symptoms, ranging from infertility and weight gain to acne, facial hair growth and scalp hair loss. These last symptoms--acne and hair problems--can wreak havoc on a woman's sense of attractiveness and femininity.
While there are medical treatments for PCOS symptoms, saw palmetto is being studied as a natural approach in terms of treating the hormonal imbalances that accompany Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.
Why Acne, Facial Hair Growth and Scalp Hair Loss are Common PCOS Symptoms
Acne, unwanted hair growth and hair loss are all PCOS symptoms that are often caused by hormonal imbalances. Women with Polycystic ovarian syndrome commonly have high levels of male hormones (androgens). Indeed, PCOS hair loss is known as a form of androgenic alopecia. 1
Forty to 70 percent of women with Polycystic ovarian syndrome suffer from scalp hair loss. 1 Acne affects 10 to 34 percent of women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. 2 Besides breaking out on the face, half of these women develop acne on the chest, neck and back. 2
In Polycystic ovarian syndrome, testosterone is converted to dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a more potent form of male hormone, with the help of the enzyme 5-alpha reductase. 2,3,4 DHT promotes excess oil production and inflammation causing PCOS acne. 2 DHT also builds up in hair follicles, clogging and shrinking them so that new hair cannot grow, or if it does--it can't survive. 3 This hormonal imbalance also contributes to male patterns of hair growth, thick and dark growth in areas that don't normally occur in women without PCOS.
What Saw Palmetto Does
Saw palmetto is thought to work as an anti-androgen and suppress 5-alpha reductase activity, limiting conversion of testosterone to DHT. Saw palmetto can correct hormonal imbalances in women with Polycystic ovarian syndrome, preventing PCOS symptoms. 4,5
Evidence for Saw Palmetto's Effectiveness
According to Intelihealth.com, there have been many small studies of the effects of saw palmetto on prostate enlargement, urination problems in men and prostate cancer. 6 These conditions are also related to androgen excess. The problem is, most of these studies were poorly designed and so better clinical research on saw palmetto is now underway. 6
A 2002 study published in The Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine has paved the way for more research concerning saw palmetto and androgenic alopecia. 7 The scientists found that saw palmetto extract helped 60 percent of the male participants in terms of hair loss. 7
There haven't yet been any studies concerning saw palmetto and acne related to hormonal imbalances but plenty of studies are certainly on the way.
The Natural Approach for PCOS Symptoms
You should always contact a doctor before taking any supplement, natural or synthetic. Saw palmetto can have adverse side effects in some people and it can interact or interfere with other conditions and medications. Saw palmetto can increase estrogen levels in women with Polycystic ovarian syndrome, increasing other PCOS symptoms. 5
A healthy diet and a plan for weight loss is the best way to rectify hormonal imbalances if you have PCOS. 1,5
1. Please check with your health professional for recommended dosages.
2. It is really important to purchase "standardized" supplements to ensure that the dosage is correct and consistent.
1. Walter Futterweit, MD, "A Patientís Guide: Management of Hair Loss in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome", OBGYN.net, October 11, 2011, Accessed August 10, 2012, http://hcp.obgyn.net/infertility/content/article/1760982/1968476
2. "Acne and PCOS", Women's Health, Accessed July 21, 2012, http://www.womens-health.co.uk/acne.html
3. Nancy Dunne, ND, "Natural Solutions for PCOS and Hair Loss", Naturopathic Medical Care, Missoula, September 13, 2010, http://www.drnandunne.com/?p=1053
4. "Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: PCOS Nutritional Protocol", Life Extension Foundation, Accessed August 5, 2012, http://www.lef.org/protocols/female_reproductive/polycystic_ovary_syndrome_02.htm?source=search&key=PCOS
5. Dr. Nancy Dunne, "Natural Solutions for PCOS: The Best Supplements", Accessed August 10, 2012, http://www.drnandunne.com/?p=1808
6. "Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens)", Intelihealth, Last updated September 3, 2008, Accessed August 10, 2012, http://www.intelihealth.com/IH/ihtIH/WSIHW000/8513/31402/346487.html
7. Nelson Prager et al, "A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial to Determine the Effectiveness of Botanically Derived Inhibitors of 5-a-Reductase in the Treatment of Androgenetic Alopecia", The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, April 2002, http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/107555302317371433?url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori:rid:crossref.org&rfr_dat=cr_pub%3Dpubmed
» Dr. Heather DeLuca
I am passionate about Naturopathic Medicine. A healthy life begins with caring for your body and is something everyone deserves.