There are many alternative treatments that hair loss sufferers may consider, but perhaps one of the most underrated is acupuncture.
In this guide to acupuncture for hair loss, you’re going to learn if acupuncture really can help with thin, receding, and generally unhealthy hair.
You’ll learn how acupuncture works and if there is any scientific evidence to that shows it can improve hair health.
You’ll also learn about the different treatments available to you and what to expect, as well as any possible side effects that may come along with an acupuncture treatment.
But first, it’s important to understand what the treatment is.
What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese practice, and it has been used for centuries to treat a wide variety of maladies, from insomnia to nausea to lower back pain.
Historically, acupuncture has been used in China as a well-respected treatment alongside other natural remedies, including herbs and massage. Only in recent times has acupuncture become a standalone treatment option for individuals suffering from any number of illnesses and diseases.
How Does Acupuncture Work?
To understand acupuncture, it’s first important to understand the Chinese principle of qi (also seen as ch’i or chi).
What is Qi?
According to traditional Chinese culture, qi is the life energy that flows through every living being. It’s similar to the Western idea of the humors and the yogic concept of the life force, and civilizations around the world have their own version of the same idea (2).
So, what does acupuncture have to do with qi?
In Chinese medicine, there’s the belief that qi flows through the body along particular pathways. These pathways are known as meridians, and a simple way to think of them is as a philosophical circulatory system.
Just as it’s possible for the body’s circulatory system to get clogged and blocked with plaque and blood clots, so too can meridians become blocked.
When these meridians become blocked, however, qi is unable to flow as it should. This leads to discomfort and disease.
Benefits of Acupuncture
Acupuncture is a natural, time-tested form of treatment for a number of medical conditions and disorders. Unsurprisingly, acupuncture has a wide range of benefits associated with it.
And even if you have a difficult time accepting the concept of the qi, you’ll be happy to know that acupuncture has been studied quite thoroughly.
While more recent research is warranted, acupuncture has been shown to treat a host of gastrointestinal issues and to promote gastrointestinal motility.
Mental Health Support
Research supports the use of acupuncture to treat Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) in pregnant woman (5). Further, evidence surrounding acupuncture for the treatment of depression and anxiety seems promising, though more research is required.
Pain and Tension Relief
Can Acupuncture Help with Hair Loss?
As you can see, acupuncture is an effective treatment for a number of common health problems. But, what about the treatment of hair loss?
Good news for hair loss sufferers—acupuncture can be effectively used to treat hair loss!
There are two main benefits that those with hair loss will see when undergoing acupuncture treatments.
First, acupuncture can reduce follicle inflammation and help to create a healthy environment in which hair can grow (10).
You may know already that the production of DHT (which is believed to be the main cause of male-pattern baldness) leads to the miniaturization of the effected hair follicles (12). Now, while acupuncture may not put a stop to the production of DHT, it may help to revitalize the damaged hair follicles both due to the reduction in inflammation and the increase of blood flow and nutrient delivery.
What Does the Research Say About Acupuncture and Hair Loss?
While you may consider the above information to be anecdotal, there is scientific evidence that supports the use of acupuncture as an effective treatment for hair loss.
One such study, performed in 2011 and published in the Journal of Acupuncture and Tuina Science, consisted of 78 patients with Alopecia Areata (13). According to the study, 43 patients were treated with acupuncture while the remaining 35 patients were treated with a combination of cystine, vitamin B1, and minoxidil solution. Treatment was continued for four months.
At the end of the treatment cycle, the results were promising.
Patients who received acupuncture as a form of treatment had a 97.7% effective rate while the patients treated with the combination mentioned above had only a 77.1% effective rate.
This means that acupuncture proved to be more effective at treating hair loss than other common treatment options, such as minoxidil.
A similar case study can be found in the Journal of Chinese Medicine. According to Jiang and Liu, a 36-year-old male presenting with occipital alopecia received acupuncture in three separate courses. Following the first course, thin and fluffy hair had begun to grow.
After the second course, fluffy hair had spread throughout the entire bald area. And finally, after the third course, healthy hair growth was observed.
It may appear that research is limited, but the research that is currently available on acupuncture and hair loss is valuable. While further research would illustrate the exact mechanism behind acupuncture’s effectiveness at treating hair loss, the current research does show a pattern of effectiveness.
So, whether you believe that acupuncture is effective because it unblocks the meridians and enhances the body’s flow of qi, or you think the results have more to do with increased circulation and nutrient delivery, the results are still the same.
This is great for hair loss sufferers who are looking for a chemical-free treatment with no long-term side effects.
Are There Side Effects Associated with Acupuncture?
When practiced by an experienced and properly trained professional, acupuncture can be a safe and effective alternative to modern medical treatments and medications.
Be aware, however, that everyone responds differently to acupuncture, and you may experience a few side effects following your session, including fatigue, soreness, bruising, and muscle twitching (15). Fortunately, such side effects are temporary and generally mild, though you should speak with your doctor if symptoms persist or seem to worsen with each session.
For women who are pregnant, it’s important to work with a professional who specializes in maternal acupuncture, as some acupressure points may trigger labor and cause preterm birth.
What to Expect From Acupuncture Treatment for Hair Loss
If you’d like to give acupuncture a try, you may have a bit of hesitation.
After all, you may have never considered acupuncture until now. So, what can you expect from your first visit and subsequent treatment course?
Well, you may be shocked to find that your initial visit with a professional acupuncturist is much like a regular visit with your general practitioner.
For example, you’ll likely be given a short physical exam, and you will be required to provide in-depth medical history.
This information is vital for your acupuncturist to know, as it will help them to provide you with the best treatment course possible.
And remember: Keep an open mind. The results will not be immediate, and you may feel like giving up after your first or second session. However, it’s important to stick with it before making a judgement. If you’d like a schedule for when results can be expected, speak with your acupuncturist for an accurate assessment.
How to Choose a Practitioner
While one of your main concerns may be finding a practitioner who has experience in using acupuncture to induce hair growth, there are other considerations you should make. These will help you to find the best acupuncturist for your needs.
1. Know Your State’s Requirements
As you might imagine, the requirements for alternative health practitioners is typically less strict than for mainstream practitioners. However, this doesn’t mean that the industry is entirely unregulated.
Just as state requirements vary for physicians, pharmacists, nurses, and dentists, the same can be said for acupuncturists.
The stricter your state’s licensing requirements, the better for your health and wellbeing.
You can learn more about your state’s requirements on the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) website. Here, you can learn about the minimum licensing standards for practitioners in your area.
2. Check for Certifications
Even if your state does not require certification, or if the standards are lax, there are ways you can seek out the most qualified professional.
It’s best to choose someone with a NCCAOM certification even if your state does not require it. This certification indicates that they have the proper education and knowledge to practice acupuncture (and perhaps other alternative practices) safely.
If your practitioner is certified and licensed, they will likely have LAc at the end of their name. This stands for Licensed Acupuncturist and is an indication that they have followed NCCAOM’s extensive licensing steps.
3. Ask for Referrals
Whether you ask your friends and family, coworkers, or even strangers on the internet, it’s always best to ask for referrals when seeking the help of a professional.
Certification is important, but so too is bedside manner and technique.
With referrals, you can make a more informed decision so you can choose the practitioner that’s right for you.
For individuals who wish to take an alternative approach to treating hair loss, or for those who want to use alternative methods in conjunction with mainstream ones, acupuncture may prove to be a promising option.
That’s not to say that acupuncture will certainly work for you, but the available studies do show that the practice may help to induce blood flow. This is beneficial for many scalp conditions, including pattern baldness and alopecia areata, so it doesn’t hurt to give it a try.
Do you have questions about acupuncture? Leave it down below.
*This article was reviewed by Dr. Anil Simhadri.