Saw Palmetto and Testosterone: Why These Two Don’t Get Along

Ashwagandha or Brazil nuts? Horny goat weed or Tribulus Terrestris? Suma root or Mucuna Pruriens? These days, it seems like the list of testosterone-boosting herbs/foods is growing faster than ever. While this can be a good thing, you and sometimes even experts may find it hard to keep up with what’s beneficial or not regarding your T levels.

So-called testosterone boosters such as the saw palmetto are the epitome of this confusion. While some gym-goers swear by it, others claim that the thing does not affect their T levels whatsoever. Somewhere in between, we have scientists who are also puzzled by the plant-based supplement and its supposed T-boosting effects. But, what is the actual truth about saw palmetto and testosterone? Is it a legit way to boost your male hormones?

What is Saw Palmetto?

Saw palmetto refers to the fruits (berries) of the plant Serenoa repens. Also known as the American dwarf palm, this plant is usually found in many areas of the southeastern United States. The most extraordinary thing about this shrub is that its fruits resemble a lot to our common berries. Besides the familiar looks, saw palmetto berries contain a variety of nutrients such as bioactive fatty acids (mostly in the form of triglycerides), phytosterols, flavonoids and much more.

According to experts, saw palmetto is traditionally used to treat various genitourinary issues, from boosting libido and sperm production in men to serving as a mild diuretic. Even Europeans consider saw palmetto a first-line treatment for several urinary tract symptoms. No wonder this supplement is part of more than 90% of all drugs prescribed for the treatment of benign prostate hyperplasia.

Considering its therapeutic properties, companies worldwide distribute saw palmetto is in three forms: whole, ground or as an extract. While eating the whole berries seems like a viable option, they can be hard to find. That’s why most people get their saw palmetto fix through powdered supplements or extracts.

Saw Palmetto and Testosterone

So, since saw palmetto influences multiple testosterone-related functions like semen production, it’s a top-drawer T booster, no? Well, things are more complicated than they seem. According to research, saw palmetto features a bunch of antiandrogenic properties, suppresses growth factor-induced cell proliferation and is also considered a potent 5α-reductase inhibitor. What do these mean? Let’s break things down a bit.

The human body is equipped with an enzyme known as 5α-reductase. This substance is responsible for converting testosterone into another androgen, dihydrotestosterone (DHT) which is far superior to T. In fact, DHT is considered 3-10 times stronger than testosterone, making many experts believe this enzyme is linked to muscle and facial/body hair growth, libido and even the development of genitals. So, given these, trying to lower DHT levels in any way is genuinely stupid.

However, here’s where the problems with saw palmetto begin. One study proves that this supplement does indeed boost testosterone but follows a slightly weird and unorthodox metabolic pathway to do so. Saw palmetto increases T levels and, at the same time, lowers DHT concentration in your body by inhibiting the enzyme 5α-reductase. More specifically, DHT levels reduced by 32% (!) which is a lot. OK sure, saw palmetto increases testosterone levels which is every man’s dream. However, if we consider the hormonal/metabolic/health cost, it’s not really worth it.

That isn’t the only study that shows the ugly side of saw palmetto. In 2009, experts concluded that this substance does benefit your T levels (props for that), but is also likely to result in various other, not that pleasant effects including low libido and sexual dysfunction. To be honest, this doesn’t come as a surprise considering this supplement blocks one of the most potent androgens from functioning properly.

Another recent ex vivo study also supports the concept (at this point, we’re talking about a fact) that saw palmetto does have potent antiandrogenic effects on the male body. To be exact, the study examined the impact of the substance on 33 patients with BPH who underwent prostatectomy. Unlike the previous reviews, this one concludes that saw palmetto doesn’t cause a significant alteration in testosterone, but it does reduce DHT levels up to 50%. And, yes, that’s as dangerous as it sounds.

Last but not least, a panel of scientists decided to examine the effects of isolated saw palmetto on testosterone to see if it’s actually a natural T booster. However, the study failed to prove the connection between the supplement and the androgen. More specifically, scientists found that saw palmetto influenced neither the participants’ T levels nor their DHT concentrations. So, there’s substantial evidence that SP may not be the testosterone booster everyone thinks it is.

The Actual Reason Saw Palmetto and Testosterone Don’t Mix

Most of the above studies conclude that saw palmetto is responsible for lowering DHT levels and “ruining” your male hormonal profile. But, how exactly is that possible? As mentioned above, this substance is packed with fatty acids in the form of triglycerides including oleic and lauric acids. Based on research, both of these acids suppress the activity of specific 5α-reductase isomers which are, then, unable to bind to androgen receptors and complete the conversion.

The Takeaway

Before you put down your weights and take advice from everyone fellow gym-goer, who speaks highly of saw palmetto’s T-boosting properties, remember that this substance may actually backfire. Sure you’ll increase your T levels sooner rather than later, but is it worth it when you’re succeeding that at the expense of a more powerful androgen? We think it isn’t.