From Cathy Wong, N.D.,Your Guide to Alternative Medicine.
What is Hair Loss?
Also known as: Alopecia
The average human scalp contains 100,000 hair follicles. Red-haired scalps average about 25 percent fewer hairs and blond-haired heads tend to average about 25 percent more hairs than brown-haired scalps. At puberty, the hairline moves back a little in 96 percent of boys due to the androgen hormone spurt.
The medical term alopecia means partial or complete loss of hair. Hair loss may result from genetic factors, aging, or local or systemic disease. Causes of hair loss can be grouped into the following categories:
Male or female pattern baldness This type of hair loss requires the presence of androgens but the cause is unknown. The extent of hair loss in any man depends greatly on the genes he inherits from the father, mother or both. Hair loss begins in the temples or at the top of the head. If male pattern hair loss begins in the mid-teens, subsequent hair loss is usually is fairly extensive. Male balding goes in waves. The hair loss may begin in the early 20's, then stop, only to start again in a few years. By the age of 20 to 30 years, 30 percent of men have bald spots. This continues to rise until age 50-60, when 50 percent of men are completely bald.
The rate of hair loss is affected by advancing age, the tendency to bald early due to inherited genes, and an overabundance of the male hormone dihydrotestosterone within the hair follicle.
Although balding men have above average amounts of dihydrotestosterone in thei hair follicles, they usually do not have above average circulating testosterone levels.
Female pattern baldness is not as common as male pattern, but is on the rise. It is confined to thinning of the hair predominantly at the top of the head. Complete baldness is rare.
Toxic alopecia This type of hair loss is temporary and can a severe and often infectious disease by a period of as long as three to four months. It can occur in hypothyroidism, diabetes, hormonal problems and imbalance, nutrient and vitamin deficiencies, such as iron and biotin, hypopituitarism, parasites, poor digestion, early stage of syphilis, after pregnancy, and with thallium compounds, vitamin A or retinoid overdoses, or other cytotoxic drugs.
Alopecia areata This is a sudden hair loss in demarcated areas. It can affect any hairy area, but most frequently affects the scalp and beard. Hair loss confined to a few areas is often reversed in a few months even without treatment. Recurrences may occur. Alopecia areata usually occurs in people with no obvious skin disease or systemic disease, but in rare cases lab tests may show anti-microsomial antibodies to thyroglobulin, gastric parietal cells and adrenal cells.
Trichotillomania (hair pulling) Trichotillomania is a habit that usually appears in childhood. This condition is often hard to differentiate from alopecia areata, and may remain undiagnosed for a long time. Hairs may be broken, hairs may be different lengths, and there may be regrowth seen.
Scarring alopecia Scarring alopecia results from inflammation and tissue destruction. It may be due to injuries such as burns, physical trauma, or destruction after xrays. In these cases, little regrowth is expected. Other causes are cutaneous lupus erythematosus, lichen planus, chronic deep bacterial or fungal infections, deep ulcers, sarcoidosis, syphilis, or tuberculosis. Slow growing tumors of the scalp are a rare cause of hair loss.
A dermatologist can conduct microscopic exam of plucked hair to differentiate between causes of hair loss and balding. This method compares the different phases of hair growth. Normally, 80-90 % of hairs are in the growing phase, also called anagen phase, the rest are in resting phase, also called telogen phase. Experienced and trained clinicians can distinguish anagen hairs, which have sheaths attached to their roots, from telogen hairs which have no sheaths and have tiny bulbs at their roots. Other methods are biopsy of the scalp, physical examination and blood tests to detect any underlying metabolic, infectious, or inflammatory condition that could be causing secondary hair loss.
Natural Treatments for Hair Loss
One of the most effective conventional approaches to male pattern hair loss is the drug minoxidil. Interest in minoxidil began with the observation that the oral form of this drug, which dilates blood vessels and is taken for high blood pressure, caused hair regrowth and partially reversed baldness in some men. For baldness, a topical form of minoxidil (Regaine or Rogaine) is applied to areas of hair loss. But less than 10% of men taking it achieve satisfactory results.
Another conventional drug for baldness is the anti-androgenic drug finasteride. It inhibits the enzyme 5-alpha reductase that transforms testosterone into dihydrotestosterone. This seems to stimulate the growth of thicker, stronger, and darker hair. Both minoxidil and finasteride have side effects.
Diet A diet that contains whole foods, particularly the outer skin of plants such as potatoes, cucumbers, green and red peppers, and sprouts can give strength to hair because they are rich in the mineral silica. Foods that are high in iron, such as lean meats, are important for people with a known iron deficiency.
Nutritional Supplements, Vitamins & Herbs Saw palmetto - Saw palmetto oil is an accepted treatment for benign prostate hyperplasia in men. It appears to interact with various sex hormones, including dihydrotestoseteron (DHT). DHT is produced from testosterone by enzyme 5-alpha-reductase. Like most enzymes, it can be inhibited. There has been great medical interest in subtances that have the potential for inhibiting 5-alpha-reductase, and thereby preventing or treating benign prostate hyperplasia. Theoretically, saw palmetto could have also be used to block DHT and prevent hair loss. Saw palmetto is believed to have a similar mechanism of action to the anti-androgenic drug finasteride (Propecia), which has been used in low doses for hair loss.
Folic acid, biotin, vitamin B5, para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), and silica are supplements that may help maintain the color and thickness of hair.
Be sure to check your daily intake of zinc through supplements. Intake of 30 mg or higher for more than three months can induce a deficiency of copper, and low copper levels can result in hair loss. Speak to a health practitioner before supplementing copper to avoid copper overdose.
Aromatherapy The results of one research study suggest that the essential oils of thyme, rosemary, lavender, and cedarwood mixed with an oil and applied on the areas of hair loss may stimulate hair growth. This double blind, placebo-controlled study enrolled 84 people who who massaged either these essential oils or a non-treatment oil into their scalps each night for seven months. Results showed that 44% of people in the treatment group had new hair growth compared to only 15% in the control group.
Hair Oil Recipe
3 drops of essential oil of thyme
3 drops of essential oil of lavender
3 drops of essential oil of rosemary
3 drops of essential oil of cedarwood
1/8 cup of grapeseed oil
1/8 cup of jojoba oil
Mix the ingredients together. Cover your pillow with an old towel. Apply several drops of the mixture to areas of hair loss each night, massaging gently into scalp for 3-5 minutes. Store the oil tightly covered. Do not take internally or near the eye area.
Ayurveda Bhringaraj oil or brahmi oil are applied to the scalp regularly to stimulate hair growth. The Ayurvedic herbs ashwagandha and amla are also reported to stimulate hair growth.
Traditional Chinese Medicine In traditional Chinese medicine, hair loss is linked to kidney deficiency syndrome. Other symptoms of kidney deficiency are weakness and fatigue and low back weakness. Kidney energy is believed to naturally decline with age, but people with early or accelerated hair loss may have particularly weak kidney energy. Kidney tonics are usually recommended.