Hair today, gone tomorrow,” said Frank, a
patient of mine. Frank had a good sense of humor and was hilarious
describing his many ways of hiding the fact that he was going bald.
At first, he tried the “comb over,” combing his hair over the
receding corners of his hairline. Then he wore a baseball cap, even
indoors, for several years. He tried various creams from the
drugstore, but nothing really helped.
Although Frank’s story is a fairly typical one for many men, I
also have had a number of female patients suffering from hair loss.
Up to one-fifth of U.S. women experience female pattern baldness.
This hair loss is directly associated with hereditary factors and
changing hormone levels, especially androgens, which means that
noticeable hair loss often occurs at a faster rate during or after
menopause and during pregnancy.
Hair loss in women typically occurs over the entire head, not
just at the hairline or on the crown, as with men. By the time a
woman really begins to notice a difference in thickness, she might
have already lost up to one-third of her hair.
Although hair loss is definitely associated with genetic
disposition, a number of environmental causes, lifestyle factors
and health issues can contribute strongly to the situation.
Understanding these factors and taking steps to reduce their
impact, while improving overall health — especially hair and scalp
health — can go a long way toward having a healthy head of hair
into old age.
The use of hairsprays, harsh shampoos, coloring agents and other
commercial hair products can lead to allergic reactions, irritation
and inflammation, processes that also can contribute to hair
Do Hair Regrowth Drugs Work?
When I first talked with Frank, he mentioned his experience with
minoxidil (Rogaine), which is the only approved drug for hair loss
in men and women. Minoxidil can slow hair loss and may help regrow
hair in about 20 to 25 percent of users, but side effects include
itching, irritation and, sometimes, unwanted hair growth in areas
adjacent to the treatment. The main problem with drug treatment is
that hair regrowth stops after the treatment is discontinued, and
hair loss can continue. Rogaine didn’t work for Frank at all, even
after he used the maximum dose.
The Liver Connection
Based on a Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnosis, Frank had an
excess liver condition. The sides of his tongue were reddish-purple
and his tongue lacked a normal thin white coating. This condition
is called “liver qi stagnation with liver yang rising.”
Frank also complained of head-aches in his temples, another sign
of liver stagnation. Stress and excess emotions (especially anger),
as well as diet, contribute to liver stagnation. According to
Traditional Chinese Medical theory, the liver is responsible for
harmonizing the internal environment of the body, and is especially
responsible for maintaining the smooth movement of qi, or vital
energy. When the liver is out of sorts because of the use of drugs,
alcohol, irregular sleeping habits and stress, the organ can
“rebel” and the qi can move in an upward direction (“rebellious
qi”). This often leads to headaches, a feeling of irritation for no
particular reason and bouts of anger.
In Frank’s case, the liver may have been at least partly
responsible for the hair loss. Our strategy was to calm the liver,
reduce immune reactivity and inflammation, and improve blood
circulation to the scalp to improve nutrition and removal of
Help Your Hair from the Inside and Out
I performed acupuncture for Frank weekly for 10 treatments and
pre- scribed an herbal formula to “harmonize the liver.” I also
gave him a blood-moving formula to apply to his scalp. Because
Frank was robust, I put together a strong formula that would help
break up stagnation of qi and blood and get everything moving. My
liver-harmonizing formula included equal parts of boldo (Peumus
boldus, an herb that should be used only under your practitioner’s
supervision), burdock root (Arctium lappa), yellow dock root (Rumex
crispus) and Oregon grape root (Mahonia aquifolium).
I gave Frank his prescription in capsules, 500 mg of the blended
powdered extracts to take three capsules twice daily. Blending the
tinctures together and taking 1 teaspoon in a little water or
ginger tea also is effective. These herbs are not going to win any
awards for good taste, which is why many patients prefer capsules.
Similar products are available in herbs shops.
I also made a liniment for Frank that included cayenne (Capsicum
annuum) and nettle (Urtica dioica) tinctures and a little rosemary
essential oil in a base of olive oil with an emulsifier — in this
case, gum arabic. This creates a creamy emulsion that will not
separate. Frank massaged about 1/2 teaspoon of the mixture into his
scalp every day.
Because Frank was eager to try a full program, we also added a
saw palmetto supplement to his regime. He took three capsules of a
saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) extract twice daily. Though not
proven, saw palmetto might help regulate the balance of
testosterone-like compounds in the body.
Frank’s Fantastic Results
With herbal medicine and natural treatments, results often are
slow but sure, and correlate with the improvements in the patient’s
overall health. In this case, the results were dramatic, despite
the mixed results I’ve had in treating hair loss over the years.
Part of these uneven outcomes are due to the inability of some
patients to stick faithfully to a total program, and in part due to
strong genetic factors.
Frank’s hair loss stabilized quickly, as evidenced by a lot less
hair coming out in his brush. He told me the softer, shinier
appearance and health of his hair was a great improvement. A year
later, he still feels the herbs have made a significant
contribution not only to his hair health, but to his overall
health, including fewer headaches and a more even disposition.
Christopher Hobbs’ case studies are gleaned from his 30 years of
studying and practicing herbalism. Hobbs, a fourth-generation
botanist and herbal- ist, is the creator of the correspon- dence
course Foundations of Herbalism;
“Case Studies” is not intended to replace the advice of your
health- care provider.