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Another phone call, another desperate voice, this one from far-off California. I'm always getting calls for help from people who are looking for herbal advice on how to deal with their health problems. Even though I never discovered how this man found me, I still remember how upset he was about losing his hair.
We talked, and I wound up faxing him information about saw palmetto. This herb works by preventing the conversion of the male sex hormone testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a substance that plays a role in prostate enlargement. DHT is also the hormone that may kill off hair follicles and can lead to male-pattern baldness. I suggested to my caller that saw palmetto might help slow his hair loss.
Hair loss is genetically influenced but hard to predict. Sometimes all the men in a family go bald, and sometimes only a few do. But more than half of American men suffer significant hair loss by age 45. Many women also suffer hair loss, but it's almost always much less severe.
Supplements for Baldness
Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens). This remains my top choice, although you might want to use a combination of approaches that includes an anti-baldness medication such as minoxidil (Rogaine) or finasteride (Proscar). Biochemistry supports saw palmetto. We know that DHT kills off the hair follicles, and taking this herb internally blocks the formation of DHT. If it turns out that saw palmetto helps prevent hair loss, it would be the herb for men, since studies have shown that it also helps prevent prostate enlargement.
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra). Licorice contains one compound that prevents the conversion of testosterone to DHT. You could prepare a baldness-prevention shampoo by adding licorice to your favorite shampoo when you shower.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis). For centuries, if not millennia, both men and women have massaged their scalps with rosemary in jojoja oil to keep their hair lush and healthy. Is there anything to really recommend this practice, besides wishful thinking? Massaging the scalp certainly stimulates circulation and encourages hair growth, according to Wilma F. Bergfeld, M.D., of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio. Naturopaths often suggest nightly scalp massage with one part rosemary oil and two parts almond oil.
Horsetail (Equisetum, various species). The minerals selenium and silicon both help promote circulation to the scalp, and as a result, they help maintain hair, according to naturopathic physicians. Both minerals abound in horsetail. I'd try adding a teaspoon or so of dried horsetail to herbal teas, but you should check with a holistic practitioner before using this herb.
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica). Tincture of nettle leaf can help prevent balding in those with thinning hair, according to Rudolf Fritz Weiss, M.D., the dean of German herbal physicians and author of Herbal Medicine. I don't know of any studies supporting this, but I respect Dr. Weiss. Perhaps his endorsement of nettle is a remnant of the Doctrine of Signatures, which was the idea that a plant's appearance announces its medicinal value. Nettle is a hairy plant, so the doctrine would endorse its use for hair problems. On the other hand, maybe there will be some other evidence to recommend this herb for balding. The more researchers look at nettle, the more uses they seem to find. Taking a teaspoon or two of tincture a day--or one or two cups of nettle tea--certainly shouldn't hurt.
Glutathion (amino acid). Glutathione help prevent the formation of pexozidized oil on the scalp, which left unchecked, can clog hair follicles.
Biotin (B-vitamins). Biotin is an essential hair growth nutrient.
Vitamin C and L-Cysteine (amino acid). Helps hair to become thicker, stronger with less hair breakage and hair loss.