Herbal Help for PCOS
The Saw Palmetto Berry
The Serenoa, a small palm tree indigenous to the south-eastern US, has provided the natives of that area with its fruit, a small, reddish-brown to black berry, for hundreds of years. The name of the fruit is sabal palmetto, or more commonly, saw palmetto. Saw palmetto has traditionally, and very successfully, been used to treat enlarged prostate glands in men, caused by a metabolite of testosterone called dihydrotestosterone, or DHT.
PCOS, Testosterone & Unwanted Hair
One of the leading symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) in women is the higher levels of testosterone and DHT in their bodies - much higher than women without PCOS. The theory goes that what works for men with overloads of DHT may just work for women as well. Excessive levels of androgenic hormones such as testosterone, androstenedione, and DHEA are believed to be the cause of one of the most troubling symptoms of PCOS - hirsutism (too much hair in all of the wrong places) and acne.
It is normal for a man to have a lot of testosterone and for women to have some. Testosterone, in both men and women, is converted to a very potent hormone called DHT which stimulates hirsutism, male pattern hair growth. By reducing DHT, it is possible to reduce hirsutism or male pattern hair loss thus being able to have hair only where you want it.
How Saw Palmetto Can Help
Saw palmetto may reduce DHT by inhibiting its production as well as breaking down DHT. It also inhibits the binding of DHT to its cells receptors. By inhibiting the enzyme called 5-alpha-reductase, less DHT is produced and hirsutism may be reduced. Many women with PCOS also have high levels of estrogen which also may inhibit the elimination of DHT. Reports claim that saw palmetto has an anti-estrogenic effect which, in turn, helps with the elimination of DHT.
Drugs Normally Used
There are two drugs often prescribed for women suffering with PCOS; spironolactone (Aldactone), and finasteride (Propecia, Proscar). The diuretic, spironolactone, is used to block the production of androgens. There are two pathways to production; one is by inhibiting 5-alpha-reductase. Some of the side effects of spironolactone are irregular bleeding, nausea, indigestion or fatigue. Finasteride also blocks 5-alpha-reductase and is used primarily to address male pattern baldness in women and for men with enlarged prostate glands. Saw palmetto is free of side effects and is less expensive than the drugs mentioned.
Added Benefits of Saw Palmetto
Excessive DHT can cause acne, yet another common symptom of PCOS. By regulating hormones, saw palmetto can be very effective as a potential cure for acne as well. It has also been used as a natural diuretic which also helps to relieve high blood pressure.
A review published by the American Medical Association concluded that saw palmetto was as effective as finasteride when it comes to the treatment of enlarged prostate glands in men. There are no scientific studies proving the use of saw palmetto in women, however, the numbers of women who are realizing positive effects from its use is very convincing.