Good news: You can do something about hair loss whether you're a man or a woman.
Although genetics, illness, thyroid imbalances, childbirth and drug side effects are among the countless causes of hair loss, the most common type - called male pattern, or androgenic alopecia (AGA) - can often be stopped and reversed, even in some cases where heredity plays a role. And despite its name, male pattern baldness commonly affects women as well.
seeking a cure
A real breakthrough in hair loss treatment came with the confirmation in the late '90s that a relationship exists between AGA and a form of testosterone called DHT (dihydrotestosterone). High levels of DHT were associated with male pattern baldness as well as prostate enlargement.
Studies had shown that the herb saw palmetto inhibits DHT formation - sometimes better than prescription drugswith no side effects. A year ago, the first clinical trial proved the effectiveness of a non-drug, DHT-inhibiting treatment for androgenic baldness: a formula containing saw palmetto berry, plant sterols and other botanicals. This formula was shown to be a viable natural alternative to prescription hair-loss drugs in the double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in the April 2002 issue of The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.
Today you can walk into your local health food or vitamin store and purchase hair-help products containing proven ingredients. Ultra Hair, for example, contains organic sulfur to promote healthy hair, while Thin-to-Thick features biotin for gentle cleansing. And many of these natural substances have also been shown to be effective in treating AGA and other types of hair loss, including alopecia areata, which is characterized by small, bald patches on the scalp or the body.
One product, called Viviscal, contains a concentrated marine protein that showed effectiveness against alopecia areata and androgenic hair loss in a handful of studies, including one published in The Journal of International Medical Research in August 1992.
In the same vein, Shen Min contains substances that inhibit DHT and 5-alpha reductase - the enzyme that causes DHT formation.
Revivogen is another natural product that contains promising DHT- inhibiting substances such as zinc and azelaic acid, while Shen Min contains the very popular Chinese anti-aging tonic herb, fo ti, also known as he shou wu, which is prescribed widely in traditional Chinese medicine to combat premature aging and graying hair.
Published research on he shou wu is limited, however, other than confirmed cholesterol-lowering effects and test-tube studies that suggest immune-protective activity.
Unlike DHT-inhibitors, nitric oxide and related compounds are important to hair follicle health since they relax the follicle. Formulas based on a "nitro" compound called NANO (3-carboxylic acid pyridine-N-oxide) have been called "natural" minoxidilthe active ingredient in the synthetic, over-the-counter product Rogaine.
Some products also include L-arginine as a hair-growth-promoting substance. L-arginine has several characteristics that may benefit hair follicles: It boosts nitric oxide levels, promotes circulation and aids in the release of human growth hormone.
Keep in mind that these products, like all herbal remedies, typically take several months to slow or stop hair loss, and several months more to show regrowth. And if a follicle has died, it cannot be revived. But resting or sluggish follicles that produce increasingly thin or short-lived hairs can often be stimulated or saved from further damage if the cause is properly identified.
But where can you find a diagnosis for the cause of your hair loss?
Long before the phrase "alternative medicine" was spoken, a practice called trichology was quietly integrating conventional drugs with alternative techniques.
Trichologists (trichos means hair in Greek) diagnose and treat hair and scalp conditions.
I highly recommend a comprehensive trichological evaluation, including the full battery of mineral and microscopic hair testing, nutritional observations and referrals for medical testing. The average conventional physician is unlikely to know the scope of causes or available treatments for hair trouble as it isn't taught in medical school.
But a good trichologist can tell all about your hair issues, even what kind of hair loss you have, based on the stage of growth the hair or follicle is in at the time of loss or breakage.
Though trichologists can be difficult to find since most are trained in England, you can likely find one in a metropolitan area near you in the Yellow Pages or by contacting a trichologist organization. Even if your hair is healthy, the rewards of this glimpse into the
microcosmic life of your hair follicles can be revelatoryand fun.
If you're interested in learning more about trichology, or finding a trichologist near you, check out these Web sites:
the mane menu
The recipe for good hair is the same as that for good skin, nails, bones and connective tissuea diet high in key plant nutrients, vitamins and minerals, fiber, protein and beneficial fats, and low in refined sugar and flour, processed foods and harmful fats.
Sugar's destructive impact on the skin may pose a similar threat to the hair. It causes a breakdown of proteins, called glycation, which ages the skin - no doubt affecting the hair follicles, which are part of the skin. Hydrogenated fats (trans fats) are notorious for disrupting hormone processes at a cellular level, so it's best to avoid them altogether.
Beans, whole grains, eggs, salmon, raw nuts, flax and pumpkin seeds, berries and dark greens provide the B vitamins, sulfur, iron, essential fatty acids, zinc, amino acids such as L-arginine, lecithin, minerals and other nutrients your hair loves.
Fermented dairy products replenish healthy bacteria, which head off your body's reaction to poor digestion and help produce more hair-healthy, stress-fighting B vitamins in your digestive tract.
Supplements for hair, skin and nails should be available at your natural products store. They often include connective-tissue-supporting substances such as sulfur (especially in the most bio-available form, MSM), silica from horsetail, and antioxidants and anti inflammatories such as superoxide dismutase (SOD), nettle and green tea (camellia sinensis). These nutrients support good health in addition to promoting luscious locks.