The most common cause of male and female pattern hair loss [a type of localized hair loss] is genetic and hormonal. Your genetics determine whether your follicles are susceptible to dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a hormone that comes from testosterone. DHT is unhealthy to hair if you have genetic susceptibility for the receptors to DHT, which causes the miniaturization of the hair shaft and shortens the hair-growth cycle. If the cycle is shortened, the hair shaft does not reach the same diameter, does not grow as long, and eventually falls out.
There are several herbs used to prevent hair loss. Saw palmetto comes from a tree native to Georgia and Florida and may block 5-alpha reductase, the enzyme that converts testosterone to DHT and decreases the amount of DHT circulating at the follicles. Given the risk during pregnancy, saw palmetto is contraindicated in women (it slows down the conversion of testosterone in DHT and can cause deviations to the genital parts of the male fetus).
Another option is nettle root extract. Research has shown that nettle root combined with pygeum has the potential to block 5-alpha reductase. I also recommend a multivitamin high in B complexes, especially biotin, which may help increase the actual diameter of hair shaft. It is most easily taken in pill form, but you can also find it in foods such as liver, soybeans, tomatoes, romaine lettuce, carrots, eggs, and goat’s milk.
—Matt Leavitt, DO, FAOCD, Maitland, Florida
In Chinese medicine, hair loss is typically a sign of deficiency in the kidney organ system. The kidneys become more and more deficient as we age, but you can build up kidney energy through breathing exercises like qigong, meditation, and tai chi, which combines meditation and movement. This exercise helps with blood circulation by pulling qi (pronounced “chee”) energy through the body. Where qi goes, blood follows. Because blood carries nutrients, if blood isn’t reaching your scalp, then you can’t grow hair.
Another way to build up kidney energy is through Chinese tonic herbs, which are like superfoods that nourish the energy. One of the most popular kidney tonic herbs is he shou wu, which nourishes blood in the body. There are also blood-building herbs and blood-moving herbs. Sang shen, or mulberry, is a blood-building herb and dang gui is a blood-moving herb that improves circulation of blood to the scalp. You can take the herbs in tablet form or in tea or soup.
Hair loss is also related to vitamin B deficiency, so I recommend my patients supplement with a vitamin B complex. Vitamin B, especially B6 and B12, helps with the formation of red blood cells that deliver nutrients to the scalp for healthy hair growth.
—Catherine Browne, LAc, MH, Ageless Herbs, Hamptonville, North Carolina
Sometimes a trauma can cause hair loss. It could be emotional trauma or physical trauma like rapid weight loss. Reducing stress is an interesting piece of the puzzle and a possible part of hair loss prevention.
Regarding what to eat, two major parts of our diet can help our hair follicles be strong: protein and iron. Protein strengthens the follicle that holds our hair in our head and prevents it from falling out. Iron helps transport oxygen through our blood, which is where all nutrients are. If blood is flowing nicely into our hair follicles, then the follicles receive all those nutrients that promote hair growth. Iron and protein are found in similar places like lean meat, chicken, and fish. If you are decreasing meat in your diet, it’s important to get iron and protein from other places to prevent hair loss. I recommend incorporating white beans in pasta, black beans in burritos, and eating more garbanzo beans, lentils, tofu, and spinach. Women who are starting to lose a lot of hair and are frequently cold should see a doctor for a thyroid check. Hair loss, dry skin, fatigue, and feeling cold could all be symptoms of thyroid and immune issues.
—Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, LDN Chicago, Illinois