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What to do when your hair falls out

MORE and more young people these days are losing excessive amounts of hair and doctors blame stress and unhealthy living. Zhang Qian reports.

While there are many causes of hair loss, a fundamental reason is imbalanced energy, according to traditional Chinese medicine, which usually treats a deficiency in kidney energy.

Today, however, young people increasingly are suffering excessive hair loss because of stress and unhealthy living. Doctors recommend an improved diet with quality protein and less grease, more sleep, less stress, less frequent hair washing and less sustained taxing of the brain.

Certain herbs and herbal applications may help.

Hair Growth

Cell division is responsible for hair growth; new cells push the hair upward. Hair grows at around 1 centimeter a month or 15 centimeters a year. Growth slows with age to as little as 0.25 or 0.1 centimeter a month.

A healthy adult has 100,000 to 120,000 strands of hair, 85 percent growing, 10 percent stable and five percent naturally falling out. Growth cycles last from two to six years, then comes the stable period, then hair drops out and new hair grows. The cycle occurs around seven times until the mid 50s when hair often begins to thin.

But now doctors are seeing more young people, even teenagers, who are losing too much hair, according to Dr Li Yongmei, chief physician of Longhua Hospital attached to Shanghai University of TCM.

Generally, there are two common types of hair loss: patchy hair loss (a relatively small percentage) and alopecie (more than 90 percent), often called male pattern hair loss as it mostly happens in men.

Patchy hair used to be called guititou (hair shaved by a ghost), as ancient Chinese suspected that a ghost stole the hair.

Stress is the major cause of patchy hair loss.

Hair loss of both kinds can also be caused by genetics, aging, illness, dermatitis, fungal infections, medication, thyroid problems, hormone imbalance (androgen and estrogen), lupus, and chemotherapy, among other factors. After childbirth many women naturally lose hair - during pregnancy they grew more hair because of increased hormone levels.

These problems need to be addressed first.

The more worrisome seborrheic alopecie is caused by excessive androgens, the male sex hormone, says Dr Li. This makes the sebaceous glands produce excessive sebum that blocks the hair follicles and thus blocks hair growth. It can also be found in women with endocrine disorders.

For men, the hair on the forehead or the top goes first and the bald area enlarges gradually.

Though TCM usually indicates hair loss a problem caused by insufficient energy in kidney, it is not the case for most young people with hair loss problem today, according to Dr Li.

"The kidney dominates the hair in TCM, and as kidney energy declines with age, hair gradually turns white and gets thinner with less nutrition," he says.

"However, most cases today are caused by blocked hair follicles rather than insufficient nutrition for hair growth."

Around 10 to 30 percent of seborrheic alopecie cases are caused by hereditary factors (excessive male hormone secretion), while others are caused by unhealthy life style, such as poor diet, lack of sleep and too frequent washing, says Dr Li.

Stimulating and greasy foods like spicy foods, ice cream, chocolate and coffee can interrupt normal digestion, causing pathogenic dampness and promoting sebum production. They should be avoided but high-quality protein is necessary.

Lack of sleep disrupts the internal energy balance and too much hair washing leads to excessive sebum production.

Reinforcing kidney energy won't help much in this case. Dr Li suggests therapies that expel pathogenic damp and benefit the spleen.

Ginger rub

Chop ginger in two pieces, rub affected area with moist ginger for three to five minutes twice a day.

Benefits: Stimulates hair growth.

Herbal solution

Ingredients: Angelica (50g), heshouwu (tuber fleeceflower root, 50g), mulberry leaves (50g)

Preparation: Cook all ingredients in a saucepan for 10 minutes, filter, add water.

Application: Soak hair after washing, leave on for five minutes, wash with water.

Benefits: Helps nourish and strengthen hair.

Herbal solution

Ingredients: Pomelo seeds (25g), water.

Preparation: Soak seeds in boiled water for 24 hours.

Application: Place directly on affected area two or three times daily.

Benefits: Promotes hair growth

Don't overwork the brain; don't think hard for more than nine hours at a stretch; go to sleep before 11pm.

Don't wash hair too often, no more than two to three times a week in summer and once or twice in winter.

Don't color hair more than once every three months, as chemicals can damage hair.

Don't expose hair to strong sunlight for long periods.

Don't wear hair in tight braids or ponytail often. Pulling at the hair can damage roots.

Eat a nutritious diet with good quality protien and not too much fat.

Drink green tea and teas made of chrysanthemum and honeysuckle; these can help restore energy balance

Comb hair with finger tips often, gently in the direction of growth.

Add herbs like heshouwu (tuber fleeceflower root) in the hair washing water to reinforce hair growth.


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