Natural Help for Hair Loss

| May/June 2000

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Sometimes what we see in the mirror every morning can affect our self-esteem more directly than any other event of the day. For men and women who are losing their hair, the mirror provides an unpleasant documentation of the problem. The extent to which hair loss and balding affects people’s lives is reflected in the millions of dollars spent each year on expensive products—both prescription and alternative—that purport to cure the problem. The few prescription drugs available for balding work in some cases, but not for all. Some can be accompanied by serious side effects.

If you’re experiencing hair loss, don’t rule out natural alternatives. Although no remedy will work for everyone, natural approaches have helped many.

“Herbal medicine has a variety of ways to contribute to the extreme slowing down of this process and the minor expression of genetics—as opposed to being completely bald like our ancestors,” says Thomas Lee, a naturopathic physician in Phoenix who has worked with dozens of balding men. Most of these men came to him for other health problems and began noticing within a few months that the herbal support and lifestyle changes were also resulting in thicker hair and less gray, he says.

Understanding hair loss

Hairs are made of the protein keratin, the same substance in nails and skin, and their growth is most often triggered by hormones. When a man reaches puberty and testosterone levels start to rise, he begins to develop underarm, pubic, and facial hair. For many men, the hormones at this stage are also believed to initiate what in later years will become male pattern baldness.

Each hair, which rises out of a bulblike follicle, goes through a cycle of growth for up to about five years. It then stops growing and shifts into a period of rest, after which it falls out and a new hair begins to grow. This cycle happens throughout our lives, and even people with healthy hair lose up to 100 hairs a day.

Hair loss can be caused by a number of factors, including circulation, stress, hormonal changes, and nutrition. But the most potent influence—and the toughest to combat—is genetics. In people experiencing genetic hair loss, there are believed to be more hormone receptors in the balding areas of the scalp. One male hormone that is converted from testosterone, called dihydrotestosterone (DHT), damages the hair follicles so that the hairs gradually become finer and the growth cycles shorter. The conversion of healthy male hormones to unwanted DHT is driven by an enzyme produced mainly in the prostate and adrenal glands. DHT also plays a role in prostate enlargement, so the two conditions are linked.

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