- The Hair Cycle
- Alopecia Areata
- Androgenetic Alopecia
- Testosterone Troubles – The Root of Male Hair Loss
- Nutritional and Lifestyle Support for Healthy Hair Growth
Do you look in the mirror and see your head where you used to see hair or do you find a worrying number of hairs on your comb?
If so, you’re not alone. Hair loss in men is extremely common, however, it can be a real source of distress for some.
In time for Men’s Health Week this article will look at 16 natural ways to support the health of your hair and guard against a receding hairline.
We all lose around 100 hairs per day, but if we begin to shed significantly more hairs than we grow we may start to notice our hair becoming thinner.
We all have hair which grows at a different rate, but the average growth is around 1-1.5cm per month.
Each hair grows from a tiny follicle. We have as many as 145,000 hair follicles, although the amount varies according to our hair colour. One hair grows from each follicle for between two and six years and eventually sheds.
The technical name for hair loss is alopecia. There are two main types of alopecia in adults.
This type of hair loss is thought to occur because the body’s own immune system attacks the hair follicles. It often causes hair to be lost in patches on the head and elsewhere on the body.
Certain medications can cause hair loss, such as antidepressants, blood thinners, beta-blockers, gout medication and chemotherapy. These can often lead to hair being lost over the entire body rather than being confined to the head. The hair loss may be temporary or long term.
Some medical conditions can cause hair loss, including diabetes, thyroid conditions and iron-deficiency anaemia.
A stressful event can also cause hair to fall out suddenly, although it usually eventually grows again.
Secondly, hair loss may be connected with hormonal changes.
It occurs gradually with ageing and the hair is typically lost in specific areas of the scalp, at least initially.
Hair disappears at first at the hairline which recedes in the forehead area, and over time progresses to an M shape and finally a U shape.
This type of hair loss runs in families, so it’s connected to genetics.
It’s otherwise known as male pattern baldness, and although we’ll be concentrating on men in this article, androgenetic alopecia can also affect women.
This type of alopecia accounts for around 95% of hair loss in men.
According to the British Association of Dermatologists, 50% of men over the age of 50 will be affected by male pattern baldness (1).
Although it’s commonly associated with ageing, hair loss can affect men as young as those in their twenties – in fact, it’s estimated up to a quarter of men who go on to suffer from male pattern baldness first notice thinning hair in their early twenties.
Androgens are male hormones - androgen means ‘man maker’ in Greek.
When we talk about androgens we are usually referring to testosterone, which is associated with male characteristics.
High levels of androgens shorten the hair cycle. Hair does not have time to grow as long and becomes thinner.
New growth is delayed so hairs aren’t replaced in time, as new hairs don’t have a chance to form before the old ones fall out.
Hair follicles also shrink, becoming smaller than usual.
The follicles eventually die and stop growing hairs altogether.
Science has found hair follicles from scalps with male pattern baldness have more receptors for male hormones than average (2).
But it’s not simply the level of testosterone which is important, it’s also the form it is in.
In order for testosterone to produce many of its effects, it must first be converted to a hormone called dihydrotestosterone, or DHT.
This is helped by an enzyme called 5 alpha reductase.
Usually, around 10% of testosterone is converted to DHT.
The follicles which give birth to new hairs contain receptors which respond to DHT, but how sensitive they are may be down to genetics.
Variations in a gene (called the androgen receptor gene) appear to affect how sensitive our hair follicles are to DHT.
Hair follicles at the hairline and mid crown appear to be more sensitive to DHT and this is where male pattern baldness typically initially appears.
Drugs have been developed which decrease the activity of the 5 alpha reductase enzyme, with the aim of reducing DHT levels.
Unfortunately such drugs may come with side effects, such as impotence, skin rashes and dizziness.
Read on for some natural ways to support the health of your hair as well as to balance male hormone levels, which can help to avoid the stimulation of genetically sensitive hair follicles by DHT.
Even if the amount of hairs on your head are reduced, it’s important those remaining are healthy and growing well.
This will help to give the appearance of thicker hair. Certain nutrients are important for this healthy hair growth.
The following list of 16 healthy hair tips includes nutrients, herbal remedies, topical remedies and lifestyle strategies.
Levels of zinc in the blood have been found to be lower in men suffering from male pattern baldness (3).
Zinc is important for hair growth as it’s needed for cells to divide.
Good sources include seeds, especially pumpkin seeds, nuts, legumes and shellfish.
Low levels of the essential fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6 are related to greater 5 alpha reductase activity and therefore higher levels of DHT (4).
It makes sense to ensure you’re including plenty of these anti-inflammatory oils in your diet, particularly as it’s thought omega-6 fats can encourage faster hair growth.
Essential fats are found in cold-pressed seed oils such as flax and hemp seed oils, nuts and seeds (especially walnuts, flax seeds and pumpkin seeds), as well as oily fish like wild-caught salmon and mackerel.
B vitamins are linked to healthy hair and they’re also needed to manufacture red blood cells which bring nutrients to the scalp.
Biotin is one particular B vitamin which has been found in studies to be reduced in the blood in cases of male pattern baldness.
It plays a role in the production of keratin, the protein component of hair.
Biotin is found in bananas, legumes, nuts, salmon, sweet potatoes, egg yolk and avocados.
The bacteria living in our digestive system help top up our biotin levels as they naturally produce this vitamin for us.
If the population of our gut bacteria is out of kilter because of courses of antibiotics in the past, or because we eat many sugary and processed foods, or for any other reason, they may not be performing this role properly and we could be short of biotin.
The family of B vitamins can be found in dark green leafy vegetables, beans, seeds, lentils and nuts, as well as whole grains.
According to the British Nutrition Foundation, one in five of us in the UK have worryingly low levels of vitamin D. Scientists have found the hair follicle has receptors which are sensitive to vitamin D, so it’s thought this vitamin may play a role in hair growth (5).
Just 30 minutes in the open air has been found to not only improve our vitamin D levels but also boost our mood and our sleep, so make time every day to spend outside.
Antioxidants are substances in fruit and vegetables which give them their vivid colours, but they’re also believed to protect the plant against disease and insect pests.
When we consume antioxidants, they confer health benefits onto us too. Antioxidants hep to protect our cells from oxidative stress, which is damage caused to cells in the course of their day to day life.
Scientists believe hair follicles from balding scalps may be more susceptible to oxidative stress.
In research, one antioxidant called astaxanthin - which gives flamingos their pink colour - reduced the activity of 5 alpha reductase by an incredible 98%.
It therefore follows if our diet is deficient in antioxidants, we may produce more DHT and our hair follicle cells may also become damaged.
The best way of ensuring you are eating sufficient antioxidants is by concentrating on plant-based foods and making sure your diet is as colourful as possible.
Low iron levels are linked to hair loss. This mineral is found in green leafy vegetables, beans, eggs, lean red meat and organ meats such as organic liver. It’s not recommended you take an iron supplement unless you have had your levels tested and they’ve been found to be low.
We’ve mentioned pumpkin seeds already a couple of times because of their zinc and omega-3 content.
One study gave men with male pattern baldness 400mg pumpkin seed oil for 6 months.
Those consuming the oil had more hair at the end of the study (6).
Pumpkin seed oil has a delicious nutty taste, but it shouldn’t be heated otherwise its beneficial ingredients will be destroyed.
It’s great as a salad dressing, drizzled over steamed veggies or stirred into cooked soup or casseroles.
Hair is comprised of a protein called keratin, so make sure you’re eating sufficient dietary protein from foods such as eggs, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes and oily fish. Why not try a delicious protein smoothie to start your day which combines fruit, green leafy vegetables and a plant-based protein powder such as pea or hemp protein?
Men who lose their hair at a young age are far more likely to suffer from insulin resistance.
This is when the body can’t use sugar properly, and it’s a known risk factor for heart disease and diabetes.
Men with a full head of hair appear to be biologically better able to deal with sugar in their diet.
Remember, most processed foods and drinks contain significant amounts of added sugar, which may not be immediately obvious from reading the label. The best way to avoid sugar is to choose whole, unprocessed foods for the majority of your diet.
One study linked early onset hair loss with alcohol consumption (7). It’s wise, therefore, to limit alcohol - if you do drink alcohol, regard it as a treat rather than a habit.
Essential oil of Rosemary applied to the scalp has been shown in one study to be as effective as a commonly prescribed topical hair loss drug (8).
Extract of Rosemary leaf taken as supplement was found to not only inhibit the conversion of testosterone to DHT, but to prevent DHT binding to hormone receptors (9).
Saw palmetto is an herb extracted from a small palm tree found in Florida. Used as a traditional remedy to support prostate health, this herb is believed to bind to the receptor sites for 5 alpha reductase, so blocking the conversion of testosterone to DHT (10).
Although saw palmetto is usually taken as a supplement, one study used the herb added to hair lotion. After four months, hair had increased by almost 12% (11).
Regular massage concentrating on the scalp and head can be useful not only to combat stress but to increase circulation to the scalp which can aid hair growth. In one study, as little as four minutes per day of head massage resulted in thicker hair.
Reducing stress is easier said than done but bear in mind stress can be a big factor in hair loss. It’s not known whether stress speeds up the progression of male pattern baldness, but it is recognised as being a factor in other types of hair loss, when it appears to make hair fall out faster than it can re-grow.
This can cause baldness to develop more quickly.
Participating in your favourite exercise can be a great stress-buster, or try yoga or meditation, getting out and about in nature and making sure you have enough sleep.
Men with male pattern baldness are more likely to suffer from heart disease, and obesity is also correlated with premature balding. So it makes sense to ensure you’re a healthy weight for your height.
Smoking is also linked to developing male pattern baldness at an early age (12).
It’s thought this may be down to a combination of factors, including oxidative damage to the hair follicle and reduction in the circulation of the scalp, meaning sufficient nutrients and oxygen aren’t delivered to the follicle.Top of Form
If you are concerned about hair loss, a consultation with an experienced Amchara practitioner specialising in personalised health can help you support the health of your hair by nutritional and lifestyle choices.
We’re dedicated to providing you with both insightful information and evidence-based content, all orientated towards the Personalised Health approach.
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