Written by Dr. Amy Nykoluk, DTCM
June is here, bringing with it lilac blooms, green trees, and of course a special day to celebrate the wonderful men in our lives, Father's Day. I thought it would be a good time to focus on an issue that affects over 70% of all men, male pattern baldness (MPB), or androgenetic alopecia. It's one of the most common and most feared signs of aging for men, and usually, before the problem is noticed cosmetically, over half of the hair has already fallen!
The incidence of balding of MPB is exactly related to the age of that man. For instance, 20% of men in their 20's will be affected, and 30% of men in their 30's, and so on. While there are may treatments out there and lots of information, over 40% of men are unsure or have been misinformed about their hair loss inheritance. One common myth is that MPB is only passed down from ones maternal grandfather, which we now know is untrue. MPB can be inherited from either parent. Although for the most part, hair loss and MPB is genetic, it won't always happen exactly how your parents did. There are many other factors that contribute to the speed and degree of hair fall; stress levels, certain medications, and smoking or drug use can all impact MPB.
So what does MPB look like? Usually men will begin to notice their hairline gradually receding or moving back towards the back of the head, forming an M shape. Over time, the hair becomes finer, shorter and thinner, and creates a U shape, or horseshoe on the head.
What causes the hair to fall out? For men, it is triggered by dihydro-testosterone (DHT), which is a byproduct of the breakdown of testosterone. It causes the hair follicle to shrink, which in turn only allows for thinner and shorter hair to grow there. Eventually, DHT will stop the hair follicle from functioning altogether, and no new hair returns.
In order to treat baldness correctly, it must first be correctly diagnosed as MPB, and distinguished from other issues and types of hair loss. Some people lose all the hair in patches all over the head, some have excessive hair breakage along the shaft, and sometimes baldness is accompanied by red, itchy, scaling skin on the scalp. Usually the pattern of hair loss along with a careful examination of the scalp is enough to properly diagnose MPB.
Because MPB is not necessarily harmful to a man, treatment is only needed if he is bothered by the cosmetic look of baldness. There are many expensive medications and creams that do work, but usually the hair will begin to fall again as soon as the meditations stop. Hair transplants are quite common, a procedure where tiny plugs of hair are removed from healthy areas of the scalp and transferred to and inserted into balding areas. This is very expensive, and usually requires many procedures, and can result in scarring and dangerous infections.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM, we believe that the health and growth of the hair is very closely related to the amount and the circulation of blood in the body. The liver stores the blood, and part of its job is to ensure it reaches the top and sides of the head. If the liver is under too much pressure, due to a stressful lifestyle, it can't do its job properly, and blood flow to the head decreases. Less blood means thinning and graying of hair. The growth and development of our bodies, including our hair, is determined by the kidneys, especially the kidney essence. Someone with strong kidney essence will have thick, glossy hair, that won't turn grey until much later in life.
How can TCM help with MPB? It is almost always necessary to use a combination of herbal medicine, acupuncture, and diet therapy to combat the effects of MPB. A healthy, balanced diet is always important to good health, but eating foods to boost blood production and kidney function are key, including beef, pork, oysters, sardines, barley, rice, pears, dates, figs, kidney beans, carrots, peas, spinach, tomatoes, and artichokes.
There are many local area acupuncture points as well as points all over the body that can stimulate the production of blood as well as boost the kidneys function, and protect the essence. Regular acupuncture sessions are key to ensuring the body stays in balance and the organs continue to do their jobs. We need to ensure that digestion is happening properly to allow the spleen to turn the food and water we ingest into qi and blood. We also use a 7-star needle, or a hammer style needle with seven points to gently tap all over the scalp, stimulating blood flow and the hair follicles. This can also be done at home daily with a bristle brush.
Lastly, a herbal remedy is always necessary, as they are much more potent and able to shift the bodies internal environment quicker and more effectively than with just acupuncture alone. Some of the most common herbs used for MPB are:
He Shou Wu - aka fo-ti or polygala vine - restorative tonic herb to the kidneys and blood, slows signs of premature graying and hair loss, stimulates hair growth and restores colour and brilliance.
Ren shen - ginseng - stimulates the blood, promotes cell metabolism, increases blood flow to the scalp, nourishing it and improving the efficiency of growth.
Wu Wei Zin - schizandria - known to cure baldness, helps in growth and quality of hair, also improves skin, nails and blood flow through the vessels.
Ji Xue Cao - gotu kola - one of the best herbs for hair loss, especially in cases of MPB, improves circulation, lowers blood pressure, and is known to reduce anxiety, deepen sleep and improve memory.
Realizing that you or someone you may know is losing their hair can be a scary situation for a lot of people, but there are many natural safe ways to return the body to balance and slow or completely reverse the process. Just because it appears someone is genetically prone to becoming bald, does not mean it's not treatable. Book a TCM consultation and begin the process of turning it around, stopping the hair loss! The only side effects will be a fuller head of hair, and a general improvement to overall health!