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Saw Palmetto vs. Finasteride — Here's the Difference

Regardless of age or circumstance, hair loss can feel deeply disorienting. Hair is often considered your crowing glory, so when it starts to shed, you might find yourself seeking solutions and looking for wonder remedies that quickly treat hair loss.

Of course, not all hair loss is the same. For example, androgenetic alopecia is a type of male and female pattern hair loss that's triggered when the hormone testosterone converts into a molecule called dihydrotestosterone, or DHT. When this happens, the hair follicle shrinks and intense shedding can begin. To successfully regrow hair, you might be recommended either saw palmetto or finasteride, but which one really works best in the treatment of androgenetic alopecia? Read on to find out more, plus discover thevegan supplements designed to support the mind, body and hair.

What is Androgenetic Alopecia?

As mentioned, treating hair loss depends on the type of hair loss you experience. For example, suppose you've experienced a prolonged and exhausting bought of stress. In that case, you might suffer a type of temporary hair loss called telogen effluvium, which pushes hair follicles into the resting phase of the hair cycle for longer than expected and usually subsides when the stress lessens or goes away entirely.

But if you or someone you love notices that their hair is thinning into a well-defined M-shaped pattern, it's most likely androgenetic alopecia. Women with androgenetic alopecia or pattern hair loss have been found to have fewer levels of circulating androgens, which can shorten the hair's growth stage. But studies show the same women had higher levels of 5 alpha-reductase (which converts the testosterone to dihydrotestosterone), more androgen receptors and low levels of cytochrome P450, which is what converts testosterone to estrogen. Because hair loss in androgenetic alopecia veers from the normal hair cycle, it is potentially reversible with medications that block DHT production.

Read More: What Is DHT? How Dihydrotestosterone Impacts Hair Loss and Growth

The Differences Between Saw Palmetto and Finasteride

Treating hair loss can be complicated — especially if you favor a more holistic approach. Chemical-based options are often prescribed over botanically derived inhibitors, so in the case of androgenetic alopecia, you might find yourself choosing between saw palmetto extract and finasteride.

  • Saw palmetto is an herbal supplement and alternative treatment that has been traditionally used (and originally used by Native Americans) to treat various health conditions. It is believed to work by inhibiting the production of testosterone and other hormones. 
  • Finasteride is a prescription medication that is approved for the treatment of male pattern baldness and prostate cancer. It works by inhibiting the production of the hormone DHT, which is thought to play a role in both conditions.

    "While saw palmetto and finasteride share some similarities, there are also important differences between the two," explained trichologist and aesthetic physician Dr. Firdous Ibrahim. "Saw palmetto is available over the counter, while finasteride requires a prescription."

    Saw Palmetto

    Research suggests that saw palmetto might help block 5 alpha-reductase, the enzyme that converts testosterone to DHT. Saw palmetto inhibits this conversion, leading to less DHT in the body, which can help slow hair loss and even promote new hair growth.

    There is also evidence that saw palmetto can help treat an enlarged prostate, offering an alternative to the synthetic ingredients found in other medications.

    When it comes to improving hair health and hair density, the research is limited, but one study suggested positive effects for men who treated their hair loss with saw palmetto.

    Saw palmetto treatment could also help with the following conditions:

    • Hair loss
    • Sexual dysfunction
    • Prostate disorders
    • Bladder infections

      Saw palmetto comes in many different forms (including dried berries and topical liquid extract), but the capsule form and the tablet form are the only forms that researchers have tested.

      A Natural Alternative for Thinning Hair

      If you're struggling with thinning hair but you're not sold on saw palmetto, why not give natural alternatives that are clinically tested a try first? VEGAMOUR'S bestselling GRO Hair Serum combines a blend of clinically-tested, vegan phyto-actives that work together to support a healthy, balanced follicular system. The topical, non-greasy formula soothes the scalp and helps revitalize the roots. In as soon as 90 days, the appearance of hair density increases and signs of shedding reduces.

      Finasteride

      Traditionally, finasteride is used to treat men suffering from urinary retention, an enlarged prostate gland and benign prostatic hyperplasia. It can help ease lower urinary tract symptoms, which can include:

      • Trouble peeing
      • Difficulty emptying the bladder
      • Needing to pee more often

        If you are suffering from urinary symptoms or suspect benign prostate hyperplasia, it's essential you check in with a doctor at your earliest convenience. In a similar way to saw palmetto, finasteride blocks 5 alpha-reductase, which has been shown to improve hair growth. Finasteride is available via prescription only and comes in tablet form. Unfortunately, the effects of finasteride only last for as long as you're taking the medication.

        Read More: What Do Dermatologists Prescribe for Hair Loss?

        How to Use Saw Palmetto in a Haircare Routine

        "Saw palmetto is often used in hair care routines because of its ability to improve the health of the scalp," said Ibrahim. "This herb can help to control sebum production, which can, in turn, reduce the chances of developing dandruff or other scalp conditions. Additionally, saw palmetto can help to stimulate hair growth and prevent hair loss. When used in a hair care routine, saw palmetto can help to improve the overall condition of the scalp and hair."

        Occasionally you might see saw palmetto in specific shampoo and conditioner formulas, but more often than not, it's offered as a supplement and sometimes a serum. The typical supplement dose is 320mg but saw palmetto must be taken with food to avoid gastrointestinal distress. In general, most people use saw palmetto to treat hair loss safely, but pregnant and breastfeeding women might want to avoid it.

        What to Avoid When Taking DHT Blockers

        Some DHT blockers are more effective than others, and it often depends on the patient's physiology regarding how well the body reacts to them. If you're using them to treat hair loss, the severity of your condition will also play a part. DHT blockers can trigger:

        • Weight gain
        • Sexual health changes
        • Fatigue
        • Changes in blood pressure and heart rate

        Read More: 6 Foods That Might Block DHT and Combat Thinning Hair

        Final Thoughts

        The main differences between saw palmetto and finasteride seem to revolve around potency. Generally speaking, finasteride is stronger or more potent, so a much lower dosage is necessary to exhibit its effects. Saw palmetto has a better safety profile, but high doses might interfere with oral contraceptives and blood thinners. On the other hand, it can strengthen hair follicles and help promote hair growth by reducing scalp inflammation.

        Alternative and complementary medicine can be as effective as prescribed formulas, but it's always important to check in with a medical expert before trying something new to treat hair loss. Saw palmetto offers a holistic solution that might deliver results if you want to improve your hair count. Alongside good sleep hygiene, a nutritious and well-rounded diet, less stress and regular use of all-natural, plant-based products, saw palmetto might help even the weakest hair strands thrive.

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        Photo credit: cottonbro studio/Peels

          Disclaimer: Information in this article is intended for general informational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended to constitute medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek professional medical advice from your physician.