Whether you are male or female, it is rare to have the same amount of hair when you are 50 as you had when you were in your twenties. Most people as they grow older want to know how to grow more hair, or at least how to preserve the hair they have. Everyone has 100,000-150,000 hairs and it is quite normal to lose about 100 a day but this is not a problem whilst there is a balance with the rate at which the body replaces hair. Mid frontal baldness affects 73 per cent of men and 57 per cent of women aged 75 and over but these statistics don’t make losing your hair any easier.
Hair is important to everyone as it is their ‘crowning glory’ and every year millions of pounds are spent on a range of styling, colouring and setting products in combination with regular visits to the hairdressers or barbers. Most people really care about how their hair looks because it is an intrinsic part of them. How it is styled and its condition can convey a range of messages about us. For many women, hair is part of their identity and is linked with femininity and beauty, whilst men often see a good head of hair as representing youth and vigour.
Male pattern baldness, which usually begins with a receding hairline, commonly starts when a man is in his 20s and can begin as early as just 12 years of age. With the significance of hair to our sense of well-being, it is little wonder that the phrase ‘bad hair day’ is so commonly used to reflect wider adversity.
The impact of hair loss
The problem is that hair loss can seriously erode our confidence and self-esteem. If hair loss comes at an earlier age because of an unexpected illness such as alopecia; as a reaction to medical treatments such as chemotherapy; or simply through severe stress, the effect can really be devastating. Hair loss can cause psychological stress and this is compounded by the fact that it is a topic which most people shy away from discussing.
It is true that baldness does not appear to be a problem to stars such as Sean Connery and Bruce Willis, both of whom seem to enjoy plenty of female attention. Others fare rather less well. One example is tennis ace Andre Agassi who wore a long wig for years before feeling confident enough to reveal his baldness. Popular musician Seal is also known for his smooth pate which is the result of an autoimmune disorder when he was young.
But what causes hair loss? Experts are divided in opinion but most believe that hair loss in both men and women is linked to genetic composition and to changes in hormone levels. In younger women, pregnancy can sometimes trigger hair loss whilst falling oestrogen levels in menopausal women and a rise in their testosterone levels can trigger hair loss. Changes in testosterone levels (especially its powerful cousin, dihydrotestosterone – DHT) can certainly play havoc with a man’s head of hair. A variety of medical conditions including blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol can also take their toll, as can major surgery.
Unfortunately, many of the processes used to make hair look great can also cause tremendous damage. Colouring, perming, braiding and hair extensions all take their toll and even wearing long hair scraped back into tight elastic hair bands can quite literally pull healthy hair out at its roots.
Vitamins and nutritional approaches
Since the earliest recorded times there have been claims that eating specific foods can encourage hair growth. These include oily fish, lentils and walnuts. In India, Japan and China, egg oil has long been used to try to combat the effect of hair loss. Other popular home remedies include massaging the scalp with castor oil, aloe vera or coconut oil; or preparing a paste from boiled beetroot leaves. Those suffering from hair loss will go to great lengths to try and cure the problem in a natural fashion.
In truth, a well-balanced diet should help to promote the growth of hair and nails and keep skin looking good too. There is a wide-spread belief that certain vitamins, minerals and plant extracts also have beneficial effects and many have used ginseng, bergamot and hibiscus, confidently hoping to stem hair loss. Vitamins A, B and D all certainly help to keep hair healthy and these are all commonly found in hair supplements.
Minoxidil is a drug that has been proven to work on restoring hair growth if it is used regularly as soon as hair loss first begins. Interestingly, a number of products made with exotic plant extracts and vitamins have Minoxidil in their ingredient list. In a related approach, Finasteride is a drug that is used to stop testosterone changing into its more potent cousin DHT.
Seeking a natural treatment
Research continues to find effective treatments using vitamins. In recent years, this has gathered momentum as more people search for a natural homeopathic cure. Amongst the new generation of products on the market, there are hair growth supplements which contain biotin, niacin, iron and zinc and an increasing number of products specifically made for women.
In 2014, scientists at Hokkaido University in Japan discovered that propolis, a substance made by bees, promotes the growth of keratinocytes which help to create hair shafts and follicles. Propolis has long been used to assist in healing wounds and the scientists believe that it could help with baldness caused by medical conditions such as alopecia although it is not expected to address male pattern baldness.
One of the most exciting current lines of research is exploring how Vitamin D can be successfully used to help encourage regrowth of hair by activating the appropriate microscopic receptors that bind it to skin on the head. Professor Haussler at the University of Arizona is confident that vitamin D will prove to be ‘crucial to the regeneration of hair.’ For the millions of people world-wide who suffer from hair loss, this research is of paramount importance because a simple and holistic solution to their problem using ‘the sunshine vitamin’ really would be welcome news.