Saw Palmetto and Acne

Extracts from the berries of the American dwarf palm tree, native to southeastern North America, contain the active constituents of saw palmetto (Serenoa repens). Although well-known as an herbal remedy for prostate and other health problems since the 1800s, saw palmetto was only used as a food by the Native American Southern Cherokee tribes.1

Inhibiting DHT Can Block Sebum Production

Saw palmetto is considered an anti-androgenic substance because it inhibits the enzyme necessary to convert testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT).2 DHT influences sebum production by the sebaceous glands, and lowering DHT levels may help reduce the excess oils that contribute to the development of acne.3 In fact, when excessive androgen hormones are suspected in acne cases (e.g., in females with polycystic ovary syndrome) herbal clinicians often look to saw palmetto as a first-line regimen.4

Results of a small clinical study involving 20 healthy males and females (ages 17-50) with oily skin appear to corroborate saw palmetto's ability to affect sebum production. The study participants applied a cream containing saw palmetto extract, sesame seeds, and argan oil twice daily for four weeks. Pre- and post-study clinical assessments were conducted on all the test subjects utilizing sebum collector foils and special equipment designed to evaluate skin, and a significant reduction of sebum levels was noted—up to 42% in oily spots.5

Safety

Oral use of saw palmetto is generally considered safe. Based on one report of excessive bleeding during surgery in a patient who used saw palmetto, there is a concern that it may have anticoagulant properties. Those having elective surgery should discontinue use several weeks prior to any surgical procedure, and people on anticoagulant drugs (e.g., aspirin and warfarin) should be cautious about using saw palmetto. 2

Since saw palmetto appears to inhibit androgens, it could theoretically interfere with the estrogen in oral contraceptive drugs or hormone therapies. Pregnant or nursing women should not use saw palmetto. Any use of saw palmetto should be discussed with your doctor before taking it, and especially if you are already taking other medications.2

How to Use

Oral supplements of saw palmetto are readily available, and unless pregnant, women should not be worried about taking what is commonly called a male supplement. This is only because studies have shown that saw palmetto's hormonal effects can help male prostate problems.6 Standardized extracts of 85-95% of the active fatty acids and sterols from saw palmetto are recommended, at a dosage level of 320 mg/day.1

One dermatologist has created a topical application that combines the most active constituents of saw palmetto with other natural acne-fighting substances. Clearogen® purports to help lower the conversion of testosterone to DHT, which in turn will inhibit acne-stimulating sebum production. Another skin and acne expert, Dr. Richard Fried suggested that although clinical studies are lacking to support the use of saw palmetto as an acne treatment, the underlying theory is not implausible, given saw palmetto's known anti-androgenic properties. He suggests that saw palmetto holds promise as an acne remedy.6


References:
  1. Wynn, Susan G. and Fougère, Barbara. Veterinary herbal medicine. s.l.: Elsevier Health Sciences, 2007. ISBN 0323029981, 9780323029988.
  2. Therapeutic Research Faculty. Saw Palmetto Full Monograph. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. [Online] 2011. [Cited: January 19, 2011.] http://naturaldatabase.therapeuticresearch.com/nd/Search.aspx?cs=&s=ND&pt=100&id=971&ds=&name=SAW+PALMETTO&searchid=24717654.
  3. Melnik, Bodo C. and Schmitz, Gerd. Experimental Dermatology 18(10): Role of insulin, insulin-like growth factor-1, hyperglycaemic food and milk consumption in the pathogenesis of acne vulgaris. Wiley Online Library. [Online] August 25, 2009. [Cited: December 29, 2010.] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1600-0625.2009.00924.x/full. DOI 10.1111/j.1600-0625.2009.00924.x.
  4. Yarnell, Eric and Abascal, Kathy. Alternative & Complementary Therapies: Herbal Medicine for Acne Vulgaris. Touro Institute. [Online] December 2006. [Cited: January 19, 2011.] http://touroinstitute.com/herbs%20and%20acne.pdf.
  5. Dobrev, Hristo. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology 6(2): Clinical and instrumental study of the efficacy of a new sebum control cream. Wiley Online Library. [Online] May 22, 2007. [Cited: January 19, 2011.] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1473-2165.2007.00306.x/abstract.
  6. Bowden, Jonny. Most Effective Natural Cures on Earth: The Surprising Unbiased Truth about What Treatments Work and Why. s.l.: Rockport Publishers, 2008. ISBN 1592332919, 9781592332915.
 
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