Dear Sister, I am dealing with hair loss, how can plants help me? Sincerely,@ A Hair Loss
Dear @ A Hair Loss,
You are certainly not alone in your search for more and better hair. Hair is one of the things that makes mammals mammals. More than just dead cells exiting our body, hair can be intimately tied to a persons self-image and loss of hair can cause self-esteem issues possibly affecting success in life and love. Some people think hair loss is just a natural part of getting old. They think some people are simply unlucky, genetically destined to drop their locks as they age. Not so quick! Many people keep full lush heads of hair well into old age and many more people have regrown lost hair with simple natural plant medicines. Your question prompted me to dive into the scientific research and personal testimonials further and here I explore seven simple, affordable, natural remedies to promote healthy hair regrowth.
1. Onion juice
An internet search will reveal many sites and videos testifying for the power of onion juice to assist in healing hair loss. Onions are rich in sulfur which has a reputation as the beauty mineral for its role in healthy skin and hair production. Onions have long been recognized as a medicinal food. There is evidence of onion growing over 5,000 years ago in Chinese gardens. In ancient Egypt onions were so revered they were buried with Pharaohs.
But despite its medicinal history, since no one can patent the onion, there is little research money behind it and just one scientific study can be found on this subject. A 2002 study, published in the Journal of Dermatology, was designed to test the effectiveness of topical onion juice to treat alopecia, a patchy hair loss condition. Thirty-eight patients were divided into two groups. The first group of 23 patients used a topical onion juice treatment twice daily for two months. The other group used a placebo treatment of tap water. In the group using onion juice, hair regrowth was noted after two weeks of the treatment. After six weeks, 87% of the group, 20 patients, had observable hair regrowth. In the tapwater control group, only 2 patients (13%) had observable hair growth by eight weeks. Despite the small sample size, the results appear promising.
The Sulfur Solution
It appears that what give the onions it’s medicinal benefits is it’s high sulfur content. Sulfur may have a bad reputation as the smelly component in eggs and rotting food, and a main component of pollution from smoke stacks (sulfur is what makes smoke stacks appear white), but sulfur is critical for just about every function of your body. Sulfur is the third most abundant mineral in the human body after Calcium and Phosphorous. Sulfur is also known as the beauty mineral and for a good reason – it is the major ingredient in your hair and nails. Sulfur also improves blood circulation ensuring that nutrients in your blood reach the hair follicles so they can become healthy new hair cells. Sulfur’s antibacterial properties also ward of infections on the scalp that could promote hair loss. Yet for some reason there is no recommended daily intake (RDI) for sulfur and any attempt to find the sulfur content of your favorite food may result in frustration as this mineral is absent from nutrition labels. The only explanation I have found for this is that sulfur’s role in human nutrition hasn’t been studied extensively.
My review of the research turns up just a few studies but these reveal important clues as to how onions and sulfur work to promote healthy hair. One of the key clues is that sulfur’s medicinal affect is easily damaged by heat. Ia 1999 study published in the Journal of Prostaglandins Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids found that boiled garlic and onion showed a reduced affect on blood platelet aggregation (the building blocks of a blood clot). The researchers concluded:
“…garlic and onion could be more potent inhibitors of blood platelet aggregation if consumed in raw than in cooked or boiled form.”
In a 2012 study published in the Journal of Nutrition, the ability of raw onions to inhibit blood clots disappeared when the onions were cooked. According to the researchers,
“Raw onions inhibit platelet aggregation; however, when onions are boiled or heated, antiplatelet activity may be abolished.”
Another study published that year in the Journal of Agriculture Food Chemistry backs up the first two and goes further suggesting that onions exposed to the most heat actually had a detrimental health affect.
“extensively cooked onions may stimulate rather than inhibit platelet aggregation. “
Sulfur From Plant Foods
If you search the internet for foods high in sulfur you are likely to be recommended an array of fish and dairy products, but organic sulfur, called MSM, is abundant in plant foods including fruits and vegetables. Despite his promotion of animal proteins, which goes against recent research has showing these are detrimental to human health, Dr. Mercoloa acknowledges that sulfur is available from plants and that it is best to consume these foods raw. In his article Sulfur: The Mineral That Helps Fight Fatigue, Stress, Pain, Cancer, and Wrinkles, Too he gives fair tribute to the healing power of MSM:
“MSM’s ability to neutralize inflammation is one of the greatest, and one of the most inexpensive, discoveries in the health field, and is thought to be particularly beneficial in the prevention of heart disease. It has been shown to break down the plaque in your arteries, which is associated with chronic inflammation.”
Doctor Mercola goes on to emphasize the importance of getting your sulfur raw:
“…you’ll want to consume most of your veggies raw as soon as possible after harvesting. If you eat a diet consisting primarily of processed and thoroughly cooked foods, you can be virtually guaranteed that you’re not getting sufficient amounts of sulfur in your diet.”
But what about the affects of sulfur on hair growth? There is just one published study looking at MSM in particular and the results are consistent with the previous studies mentioned. In “MSM– Increased Hair Growth, Nail Length and Nail Thickness”, Dr. Ronald M. Lawrence, M.D examined the affect of MSM on hair growth in 16 women and 5 men and found 100% of patients experienced positive results. According to Dr. Lawrence:
“We completed a placebo-controlled trial over the course of six weeks showing that 100 percent of the subjects on MSM had increased hair growth, compared to the group on placebo. 30 percent of the subjects on MSM showed improvement in hair brilliance, while none of the subjects on placebo showed such an improvement.”
Anything onions can do, garlic can do better, perhaps. Research on onions and garlic to prevent blood clots revealed garlic was significantly more powerful. A study published in the Indian Journal of Dermatology and Venereology asked if garlic application promotes hair growth like onions. This time there were 40 patients divided into two equal groups of 20 and the treatment was twice daily for three months. Both groups also received topical corticosterois. At the end of the study “good and moderate responses” were observed in 95% (19) of patients using garlic and just 5% (1) of patients in the control group. It appears with hair growth garlic at least matches and possibly surpasses the mane medicine found in onions.
3. Aloe vera
Like onions, Aloe vera is an ancient medicinal food plant that is praised for its ability to assist in hair regrowth. Just walk down the haircare isle of your local drug store and find many of the products will likely advertise aloe vera as the praised active ingredient. Aloe Vera has earned its reputation as the beauty plant. Aloe is also high in sulfur which stimulates blood flow to the hair follicles and it contains 20 vitamins and minerals including those essential for healthy hair growth. The antibacterial properties of aloe, like that of garlic and onion, protect against infections that would damage hair follicles and helps prevent buildup of oil on the scalp which can also be a factor limiting new hair growth. To get the maximum benefit from Aloe, if you have access to an Aloe plant use the gel fresh from the plant rather than out of a bottle. There are many video tutorials on YouTube that go over the simple steps of extracting Aloe gel and applying it to the scalp to promote hair growth.
4. Cayenne pepper
Native Americans used cayenne pepper as food and medicine dating back to 9,000 years ago. According to the University of Utah Health Library, one of the “medically valid” uses for cayenne is as a rubefacient – a substance that increases blood flow when applied to the skin. Hair growth depends on blood delivering nutrients to hair follicles so they can grow more hair cells. Any substance or action that increases blood circulation and especially blood flow to the scalp should be a benefit to hair growth. An online search can reveal many recipes for cayenne tinctures and hair masks. I have noticed that many of them contain egg yolk which I first thought would be because these recipe creators must have understood the benefits of sulfur. But when I looked up exactly where the sulfur in eggs comes from I found that there is significantly more sulfur in egg whites (0.195 milligrams) vs the yolk (0.016 milligram of sulfur). Best to skip this ingredient all together and substitute for onion paste to add a sulfur benefit.
Cinnamon is one of the most ubiquitous medicinal plant foods in the world. One review of the scientific literature on cinnamon published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine had this to say summarizing the research:
“In addition to being an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antidiabetic, antimicrobial, anticancer, lipid-lowering, and cardiovascular-disease-lowering compound, cinnamon has also been reported to have activities against neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.”
In a 2013 article for Allure Magazine Catherine Devine writes about her hair stylist recommending she try cinnamon oil to promote hair growth.
“I happened to remark that my hair was looking a little thinner than usual. My stylist’s reaction? ‘Dab a little cinnamon spirit along your hairline. That will stimulate hair growth,’ she told me.”
For her story Devine also reached out to dermatologist Francesca Fusco, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, who confirmed cinnamon’s medicinal use for hair. She says her patients have reported positive outcomes from the natural remedy.
Beauty YouTuber Beautyklove made a nice tutorial on making a cinnamon oil for hair growth which also includes tea tree and coconut oils, two other ingredients known to promote healthy hair. As for her own routine she says,
“I’m using the cinnamon oil and the cayenne pepper oil back and forth.”
Her hair is undeniably long and luxurious, making her tutorial a great advertisement for this remedy.
6. Scalp massage
For the same reason cayenne pepper is useful for promoting hair growth, scalp massage can be another easy technique to include in your hair health regime. One study published in the Journal of Eplasty examined this technique in detail. In the study nine Japanese males received a four-minute mechanical scalp massage every day for 24 weeks. After the 24 weeks the subjects hair was thicker and additional detailed tests revealed that certain genes promoting hair health were positively affected while ones promoting hair loss were more suppressed.
“Real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction demonstrated increased expression of hair cycle–related genes such as NOGGIN, BMP4, SMAD4, and IL6ST and decrease in hair loss–related genes such as IL6.”
It appears that stretching force from the scalp massage actually changes the expression of genes on the scalp. Presumably these changes help more nutrients reach the follicles where hair is made leading to the increased thickness this study demonstrated.
This remedy certainly seems promising and is perhaps the easiest one to try. If you are lucky enough to have a significant other or friend to rub their five to ten fingers on your top kudos to you! For the rest of us who aren’t so lucky at the moment, this is perhaps one of the easiest massages to give ourselves. Just use your five fingers to firmly stimulate your scalp 3-4 times a day for 1-3 minutes or once a day for four minutes as done in the Japanese study. This is something easy to do for a minute at a red light, on the couch watching television, while you read an article online, or right before you go to bed.
Any discussion of hair regrowth that does not include diet is most certainly incomplete but this is perhaps the biggest topic to tackle. To grow nice thick and shiny hair, our bodies need the appropriate amounts of nutrients. If you are eating a diet that is poor in nutrients, your body may have to use the little amounts you feed it for other essential functions to the loss of your hair, skin, and nails. Many internet sites will proclaim that protein is the magic bullet for good hair so just eat a diet high in protein, but this advice is flawed. Consuming animal products high in protein can damage your health in other ways leading to inflammation and compromised circulation. As we already discussed, good circulation is key to hair health. There is no need to make the subject of diet long or confusing. Remember that cooking destroys some of the nutrients, especially sulfur that is perhaps the most important mineral for hair growth. Onions, garlic, aloe vera, and cruciferous vegetables are all great sources of organic sulfur. Consuming a diet rich in whole plant foods, including plenty of raw fruits and greens, is the best way to ensure your body gets the vitamins and minerals it needs to build healthy hair. Combining a healthy diet rich in raw foods with some of the remedies above may help your hair regrow the locks you love.
For more of the testimonials and instructions on making some of the plant remedies discussed in this article, check out the Hair Health research playlist at Healing With Plants on YouTube.
Sources: 1. Journal of Dermatology, Onion juice (Allium cep L), a new topical treatment for alop... 2. Indian Journal of Dermatology and Venereology,Combination of topical...controlled study 3. Ronald M. Lawrence, MD, PHD, What is MSM? 4. Journal of Nutrition, Steam cooking rapidly destroys and reverses onion-induced... 5. Journal of Agriculture Food Chemistry, Effect of processing and cooking conditions on.. 6. Alternative Medicine Review, Sulfur in human nutrition and applications in medicine 7. Journal of Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids, Effect of raw versus boiled... 8. Natasha Burton, 8 (Actually Delicious) Foods That Make Your Hair Grow Faster 9. University of Maryland Medical Center, Cayenne 10. University of Utah Health Care, Cayenne 11. Dr. Mercoloa, Sulfur: The Mineral That Helps Fight Fatigue, Stress, Pain, Cancer... 12. Dr. Edward Group DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM, 17 Health Benefits of Cayenne Pepper 13. Evidence Based Complimentary Alternative Medicine, Cinnamon: A Multifaceted Medicin... 14. Beautyklove, DIY Cinnamon Oil for Hair Growth - Hair Loss - Dandruff & Healthy Scalp 15. Allure Magazine, Just the Facts: Cinnamon Oil for Hair Loss 16. National Onion Association, All About Onions 17. The Trichological Society, Nutrition and Hair Health 18. Eplasty, Standardized Scalp Massage Results in Increased Hair Thickness... 19. Annie Jaffrey, DIY Scalp Massage for Healthy Strong Hair