Hair thinning and loss is surprisingly common in women; yet, just noticing it will have you googling as fast as you can type—or frantically hunting for saw palmetto and other supplements that can help. But before you add a whole bunch of stuff to your routine, let’s chat about what’s going on, how saw palmetto works, and what brand of saw palmetto supplement we recommend.
I thought baldness was for men. So, why am I losing my hair?
Hair loss isn’t just a male thing. Women go through it, too. In fact, 40% of women will notice some form of hair loss by the time they reach 40 years old. So why do so few of us know that it’s so prevalent? Female hair loss is something our society just doesn’t like to talk about. But making it hush-hush isn’t doing women any favors. Some women report raising concerns with their doctor about excessive shedding, receding hairlines, or even bald patches and then getting dismissed because the problem is labeled is as cosmetic. The problem with that? First, your physician shouldn’t ever brush off your concerns. And, second: even though hair loss doesn’t seem medical, in many ways the underlying cause really and truly is. (More on that to come.)
Is it normal to feel so upset about my hair loss? How can I cope?
Our society really has a lot of opinions on women’s hair. Removing it from different parts of our body has become the status quo. But, at the same time, we’re expected to have a full head of (shiny! thick! lustrous!) hair if we want to project youthfulness and beauty.
These thoughts, ideals, and beliefs have been ingrained in us since the time we were young. They live in our subconscious mind, which makes even a small amount of extra shedding feel like disaster is looming. And when you’re really and truly (and visibly) losing locks? That’s seriously anxiety-inducing and traumatic. You might get triggered every time you find more hair in your brush or on the floor. It’s emotionally difficult and can affect your self-esteem, mental health, and even how much you want to go out and meet up with friends.
Coping with hair loss isn’t simple or easy, but there are things that help. Learning the root cause of your hair loss means that you can address it at the source. Even if there’s no quick fix, having a plan of action can limit how much you feel like your hair loss could spiral out of control.
What’s the root cause of my hair loss? Is it hormonal?
Hair loss comes in many different forms. Some types are autoimmune in nature, like in alopecia areata or frontal fibrosing alopecia. These forms of hair loss occur when the body attacks the hair follicles and causes scarring. Because scarred follicles are not always able to regrow hair, preventing further hair loss is the first and most important step.
No matter what the cause, stress and hormones play a big role in your hair loss because they have a profound effect on the status of your hair follicles. (Sometimes, they’re the entire reason you’re losing locks.) We see just how much hormones impact hair in pregnancy, menopause, polycystic ovarian syndrome or PCOS, during menstrual cycles, and even in cases of autoimmune-mediated hair loss.
Why lots of ongoing stress in your life will cause hair loss
Let’s look at how stress leads to hair loss. Long-term stress raises hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Over time, these hormones deplete another important hormone, progesterone. If you have low progesterone, you’ll notice it in a lot of ways—including your hair. The reason is that progesterone has an anti-androgen effect. Want to get technical? Progesterone reduces how much luteinizing hormone (LH) your body produces. Less LH equals a decrease in stimulation of ovarian theca cells, which means you produce fewer androgens. Fewer androgens, like testosterone, generally means less hair loss.
How too many androgen hormones can lead to hair loss
Androgen hormones, like testosterone, are really important for feeling well, to body composition, to libido. But they can also be behind or worsening your hair loss, even in cases of autoimmune alopecia. Your body converts testosterone to a hormone called dihydrotestosterone. For short, this gets referred to as DHT. DHT shrinks hair follicles, causing your strands to fall out. It also cuts the length of your hair’s natural growth cycle, which really stinks for a few reasons. One, your hair will fall out faster. Two, the hair that grows out next will be thinner and drier. And, three, it’ll take new hairs longer to grow than before.
Why use saw palmetto for hair loss and thinning?
Saw palmetto for hair loss is something a lot of women try. (That said, you’ll want to pop over to your dermatologist first. They’ll be able to look at your scalp and hair loss pattern for clues as to if your condition is autoimmune—which would require other treatments too.) Using saw palmetto for hair loss has become so popular because the extract from saw palmetto berries is a natural DHT blocker.
How good is saw palmetto at blocking your body from converting testosterone to DHT? Even though it wasn’t performed to study hair loss, one study showed that patients who used saw palmetto supplements reduced their DHT levels by as much as 32%, which is pretty substantial.
Are there any drawbacks to taking saw palmetto for hair loss?
Yes, saw palmetto can reduce the amount of DHT you have and help with your hair loss. But before you click “add to cart,” there are a few things to think about first. So much more research is needed, but what’s out there says saw palmetto has the potential to change your estrogen levels. Some studies have said that saw palmetto increases estrogen levels—which you definitely don’t want if you have a hormone-receptor cancer or estrogen dominance. Other studies, though, say that saw palmetto can reduce estrogen levels. How saw palmetto will affect you is hard to say, so it’s helpful to be monitored by a healthcare provider while you’re taking it.
How much saw palmetto is OK to take for hair loss?
Your provider can give you more specific info, but most saw palmetto doses are 160 milligrams, two times a day (for a total of 320 milligrams). You should not try saw palmetto if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. Also, you’ll want to avoid it if you have hormone-sensitive cancer, high blood pressure, clotting disorders, and some gastrointestinal conditions.