Last updated on June 14, 2021.
A healthy person has around 100,000–150,000 hairs and on average around 100 hairs fall out every day as a normal metabolic process. However, if the amount of hair falling out exceeds the normal physiological rate progressively, or if hairs suddenly fall out in a large amount, “hair loss” may become an issue for you. Hair loss, or alopecia, is common among urban residents due to their fast-paced life, immense work pressure and irregular bedtime routine. To stay away from hair loss, the exact causes of hair loss need to be ascertained as early as possible. On top of your regular hair conditioning, we are here to offer you unique perspectives on hair care from a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) point of view.
Causes of Hair Loss
Hair loss can be a disorder itself or a sign of other health issues. Many different reasons may cause hairs to fall out, specifically:
- Damage or Blockage of Hair Follicles: Any damage or blockage of hair follicles may cause hair loss. Irritating chemical products, poor-quality shampoo and improper hair care can damage hair follicle cells, or even block the hair follicles. Such damage and blockage of hair follicles lead to hair loss eventually.
- Nutritional Deficiency and Shrinkage of Hair Follicles: Hair follicles may shrink when their nutritional supply is insufficient, and hair loss follows. Stress, anxiety, depression, insufficient rest or sleep, imbalanced diet, poor digestion and absorption, malnutrition, lack of exercise, endocrine disorders, etc., may all affect blood and nutritional supply to hair follicles, resulting in degeneration and shrinkage of hair follicles, eventually causing hair loss.
- Metabolic Disorders: Unbalanced diet, lack of exercise, irregular rest, bad lifestyle and other factors can disturb one’s metabolism and endocrine system. Metabolic disturbance inhibits hair follicle cell development, slows down hair production and growth, thus contributing to hair loss.
- Physical Conditions: Various physical conditions and medical diseases may affect the hair growth cycle. In specific, dermopathy, infectious diseases, anaemia, thyroid diseases, nephritis, renal failure, obesity, malnutrition, chronic disorders, as well as medications, chemotherapy or electrotherapy, etc., may affect the hair follicle cell cycle and cell division processes, resulting in poor hair follicle growth and even hair loss.
- Heredity: Factors or genes (research still ongoing) that contribute to hair loss may be inherited from parents.
Traditional Chinese medicine believes that hair loss is caused by the deficiency of nutrients in hair follicles and hairs themselves. According to TCM theory, the causes of insufficient nutrition of hair follicles can be classified into the following 3 categories:
- Qi and Blood Deficiency / Blood Stasis and Qi Stagnation: TCM believes that hair grows by gaining Qi and blood supply. Any conditions that inhibit Qi and blood supply would suppress the growth of hair and cause hair loss, such as “Qi Stagnation (inactivity of Qi circulation)”, “Blood Deficiency”, “Blood Stasis (pooling of blood and inactivity of blood flow)” and “Blood Heat (excess heat in blood)”.
- Weakened Liver and Kidney: Besides Qi and blood supply, Chinese medicine theory also suggests that the production of hair depends on the nourishment of the kidney’s essence and Qi. A healthy kidney is able to nourish one’s hairs and liver by providing them with essence and Qi. When the kidney and liver are weakened, the kidney’s essence and Qi are badly circulated, impeding the kidney from nourishing hair follicle cells and hair, causing shrinkage of hair follicles and hair loss.
- Dampness-heat Accumulation in Spleen and Stomach: Spleen and stomach are considered essential organs for regulating Qi and blood circulation. Irregular diet, consuming excessive fatty or spicy food, lack of exercise and other physical conditions can damage the spleen and stomach. Impaired spleen and stomach cannot maintain a proper Qi and blood circulation, subsequently bringing about an accumulation of dampness-heat. An abundance of dampness-heat does not only damage our digestive system, but also blocks Qi and blood from nourishing the hair follicles. As a result of poor Qi and blood circulation and dampness-heat stagnation, hair loss begins.
Hair Loss Treatment Approach by TCM
Based on the different physical conditions, Chinese medicine classifies hair loss into 3 types: Qi and Blood Deficiency, Weakened Liver and Kidney, as well as Dampness-heat Accumulation. Although actual treatments may vary for different types of hair loss, their ultimate goal is to promote Qi and blood circulation through a smooth meridian network (paths that Qi flows and circulates) in order to nourish the hair follicle cells and hairs. Common TCM approaches to hair loss treatment and prevention include:
- Nourishing Liver and Kidney
- Invigorating Spleen and stomach
- Supplementing Qi and Blood
- Regulating Qi flow
- Dredging the Meridian Networks
- Promoting Blood Flow
- Removing Blood Stasis
Chinese Medicines to Prevent Hair Loss
Of all Chinese medicines, ginseng is known to be a major Qi supplement which can strengthen the spleen and replenish Qi. TCM believes that Qi and blood production or circulation depends on spleen function. A healthy spleen helps produce new blood and transport Qi & blood throughout the body. By restoring Qi & blood and strengthening the spleen, ginseng can ensure a good supply of blood and nutrients to the hair follicles, subsequently reducing the risk of hair loss.
Besides, ginseng also induces vasodilation of the capillaries around hair follicles, increasing the blood and nutrients supply to the local cells and keeping the follicles and hair healthy.
In case of hair loss caused by blood deficiency, blood replenishment should be taken. Angelica is one of the most commonly used TCM blood supplements with an exceptional effect in replenishing blood and promoting blood circulation. It is often combined with chuanxiong, prepared rehmannia root and white peony as the basic blood-restoring prescription. Angelica replenishes blood by promoting blood production and accelerates blood circulation, to ensure a good hair follicles’ blood supply and prevent hair loss.
Even though hair loss is more common in men, it can actually affect both males and females. Because of the outstanding blood-restoring property, angelica is frequently used for treating gynecological conditions such as menstrual disorders, endocrine imbalances or anaemia. Apart from nourishing hair follicles with more blood, angelica also regulates endocrine levels to prevent female hair loss caused by hormonal imbalance.
Chuanxiong is a popular Chinese medicine for accelerating blood flow and removing blood stasis. Chuanxiong has a “floating” property when taken into the body, implying that its pharmaceutical functions are more effective to the upper body, especially the head. For this reason, chuanxiong can effectively promote blood circulation around hair follicles and scalp, and dredge meridian networks on the head to prevent hair loss.
For hair loss induced by blood stasis, chuanxiong is particularly effective as a medicine because of its blood stasis removing property.
Furthermore, topical application of Ligusticum chuanxiong solution can also dilate the local capillaries, further promoting local blood circulation and nourishing the hair follicles topically.
4. Prepared Multiflower Knotweed
Prepared Multiflower Knotweed (Shouwu) is good at nourishing liver and kidney, enriching kidney’s essence and Qi, as well as avoiding hair to fall out. Since TCM believes that the growth and development of hair depends on the blood regulating property of liver and Qi of kidney, hair grows badly when liver and kidney are impaired. By nourishing the liver and kidney, prepared multiflower knotweed can enrich the blood and Qi source, establish a rich nutritional source for hair follicles, and thus maintain hair quality.
5. Job’s Tears
For those experiencing hair loss due to accumulated dampness-heat and weakened spleen and stomach, dispelling damp and dehumidification is necessary. Any Chinese medicine with dampness-dispelling properties, for example job’s tears, poria, Chinese yam, atractylodes rhizome, etc., can invigorate and strengthen the spleen and stomach. Such Chinese medicines help the body get rid of dampness and promote Qi circulation, providing hair with more blood and nutrients.
Job’s tear tea is recommended to hair loss patients with dampness accumulated. Job’s tear is an ideal dampness-dispelling Chinese medicine for daily use. It dispels dampness continuously throughout the day by promoting urination. Drinking job’s tear tea is beneficial for dehumidification and spleen.
Lastly, people with dampness-heat accumulation should avoid eating spicy, fatty and greasy food, as it is more likely to hurt the spleen and disturb one’s Qi circulation. A spicy, fatty and greasy diet may lead to more dampness stagnation and increase the risk of hair loss because of hair follicle blockage.
Hair loss is a common issue that concerns many people, prevention and treatment are never too late. If you are troubled by hair loss, do not hesitate to seek help from medical professionals!