I recently got asked the question: should I be taking Saw Palmetto to help prevent hair loss from my PCOS? So I thought I would share my explanation with you all here.
Saw Palmetto is a small palm tree which is native to the US and the extract is said to be high in phytosterols. There have been claims that taking a supplement can help to prevent hair loss in women who have PCOS (1).
Hair loss occurs in some women with PCOS as a side effect of having high levels of a circulating male hormone known as DHT which comes from testosterone. It is claimed that Saw Palmetto extract helps to stop this conversion happening and thus prevents high levels of DHT and hair loss.
Table of Contents
So what do the guidelines say?
Currently, Saw Palmetto is not in any of the official guidelines for PCOS management which sets my first alarm bells ringing because if you could manage a medical problem with something natural then that would be highly encouraged and certainly included.
So next I looked at the science, perhaps the guidelines haven’t caught up?
Well, unfortunately this is not the case. There are no clinical trials showing that Saw Palmetto can reduce DHT in women with PCOS. All trials looking at this are currently in men/ rats/ healthy individuals – all of which will have different hormone levels to PCOS women and so this really isn’t relevant. Even in those other trials there doesn’t seem to be any real hard evidence at all (2).
This is pretty shocking considering the supplement is on the high street for around £15.00 / 200 capsules. So ladies, don’t waste your money.
So what can you do?
Well, firstly, if you find this is an issue for you then speak to your GP or endocrinologist who can advise you on the best medical management in order to control those hormones and thus hair loss.
Diet wise, you need to concentrate on reducing your insulin levels. Insulin is a hormone which controls blood sugar levels and in those with PCOS, it does not work very well. This means that your body produces more insulin in order to control your blood sugar levels.
High levels of insulin in your body will lead to more male hormones being produced and as a result, more PCOS symptoms such as the hair loss will occur.
To help reduce these insulin levels – if you are overweight, then try to reduce your body weight to within healthy guidelines as this will help your insulin work better and you won’t have to produce as much. You can also switch to a low GI diet which means your blood sugars will be kept steady and the need for lots of insulin to control sugar spikes won’t be needed.
Need more help?
If you feel that you would like more help on this topic, then please contact me and we can discuss your options for more tailored support.
Ali, I. and Dawber, R. (2006). Women’s Health Medicine, Volume 3, Issue 3, 1 May 2006, Pages 134 – 138.
- Grant, P. and Ramsamy, S. (2012). An update on plant derived anti-androgens [online] 10(2): 497-502. Accessed 12 January 2017 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3693613/
© The Food Treatment Clinic LTD 2017. All Rights Reserved.
Kirsten Jackson is a UK registered Consultant Gastroenterology Dietitian and founder of The Food Treatment Clinic. She has undergone many qualifications to get where she is today, including a UK BSc Honours Degree in Dietetics and Post-Graduate Certificate in Advanced Dietetics. In addition to this, she has FODMAP Training from Kings College London University. Kirsten set up The Food Treatment Clinic in 2015 after first experiencing digestive problems herself. She felt that the NHS was unable to provide the support individuals needed and went on to specialise in this area before opening a bespoke IBS service. Kirsten also participates in charity work as an Expert Advisor for the IBS Network. In addition, she can be seen in publications such as Cosmopolitan and The Telegraph discussing IBS as an Official Media Spokesperson to the IBS Network.