In my quest to regrow my own hair I tried a lot of different methods, and tested many different theories about hair loss. Most didn’t work, but some proved to be beneficial. In this article you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to use Chinese Medicine for hair loss, and if you should even consider it in the first place.
What is Chinese Medicine?
Chinese medicine, also referred to as traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), is an umbrella term for the different medicinal practices found within the Chinese culture.
From herbal supplementation to physical manipulation (acupuncture and massage) to dietary therapy, traditional Chinese medicine is an alternative approach to contemporary treatment options.
There are a number of basic principles which underlie the practice of TCM, and the most common are outlined here:
According to Chinese traditionalists, just as the body has physical pathways (blood vessels, nerves, etc.) so too does it have philosophical and spiritual pathways. These spiritual pathways are known as meridians, and they allow the body’s life energy (qi) to flow throughout.
In Chinese thought, the qi can sometimes become blocked or otherwise prevented from flowing naturally throughout the body. This can cause issues with an individual’s physical and spiritual health, and the main idea behind TCM is to ensure that qi is flowing properly.
Yin and Yang
These opposing, yet necessary, forces work together within the body to provide each individual with harmony, both spiritual and physical.
When these forces are unbalanced, however, it is believed that dis-ease will occur.
Along with qi, the role of traditional Chinese medicine is to balance these two equally important forces and bring the body back into harmony.
How Can Chinese Medicine Benefit Your Health
As traditional Chinese medicine has been practiced for thousands of years, you can imagine that there’s a variety of health benefits associated with its use. While extensive research still needs to be done to corroborate millennia of use, a few of the more researched health benefits are below.
Gynostemma pentaphyllum Makino is an herb that has been used in Chinese medicine extensively, and new research shows that this herb may also have a number of cancer-fighting abilities.
Results from multiple scientific studies show that the use of TCM can improve angina and electrocardiogram levels in individuals with cardiac disease.
A 2015 literature review showed that the use of herbal medications commonly associated with TCM is effective in reducing respiratory inflammation (common in individuals with asthma) and suppresses allergic hyperactivity (which can induce asthma attacks in asthmatics).
What Can Chinese Medicine Do for Hair Loss?
To answer this question, we first must understand what causes hair loss according to traditional Chinese medicinal thought.
As mentioned above, yin and yang are the twin forces within the body that are responsible for harmony (when they’re balanced) and disorder (when they’re unbalanced). Hair loss, then, is a disorder which is caused by the imbalance between yin and yang.
This disorder, otherwise referred to as a deficiency, may occur for a host of reasons. Within Chinese thought, hair can only be as healthy as the blood circulating throughout the individual. So, whether poor diet, stress, or aging is the cause, a blood deficiency is widely considered to be the culprit of hair loss and balding.
If a deficiency is the cause, it would make sense that the treatment of said deficiency is the answer.
Fortunately, traditional Chinese medicine has a number of treatment options, though the use of herbs seems to be the most commonly used and studied when it comes to treating hair loss.
Chinese Medicine and Hair Loss: The Scientific Proof
We previously covered the scientific proof behind acupuncture, a common treatment found in TCM. Today, let’s focus on another treatment method in Chinese culture: herb supplementation.
One particular study chose to look at an herb called Polygonum multiflorum.
Polygonum multiflorum (also known as Fo-Ti or He Shou Wu) is an herb which is used in the fight against premature greying and hair loss.
This study, published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2015, tested the effects of PMR and PMRP (two clinical preparations of Fo-Ti) on hair growth in lab mice.
All in all, the study consisted of 88 mice which were then split into 11 groups (A – K).
As shown in the table to the left, the groups were split according to drug delivery route and dosage. The two main delivery routes were oral and topical, and there were also two groups which tested a combination of the two.
From weeks two through six, various measurements were taken to determine hair growth and treatment effectiveness. For example, hair length determination was done with the use of 10 randomly selected hairs from each mouse and measured with calipers. Other measurements included number of follicles and hair melanin.
At the end of the six-week study, the results were quite obvious.
Group A, the control group which received oral saline, saw a hair growth percentage of 92.69%.
Weeks 1 – 6 for Saline (control) group
Groups B, C, and, D, however, which were all treated with varying doses of the PMR preparation of Fo-Ti, all saw a hair growth percentage of 100% by the end of the six-week study.
Weeks 1 – 6 for Oral PMR
Interestingly, the three groups which received PMRP orally (Groups E, F, and G), only had 48.29% to 88.82% in hair growth, depending on the dosage.
Weeks 1 – 6 for Oral PMRP
While photographs for the topical and oral + topical groups were not included in the study, the table below does clearly show that, while PMRP performed poorly in the oral groups, it did quite well when topically applied.
What do these results tell us?
First, they clearly show that the PMR preparation of Fo-Ti is an effective treatment for hair growth. This was seen in all groups which received PMR, either orally (Group C), topically (Group H), or both (Group J).
Second, PMR achieved better results when given orally, while PMRP achieved better results topically. This is believed to be caused by the changes in chemical composition due to the two different preparation methods.
Unfortunately, while the ingestion of Fo-Ti isn’t recommended for humans (as is discussed below), there still is hope in that topical application of Fo-Ti can also have favorable results when it comes to the regrowth of lost hair.
Male-Pattern Baldness and Fo-Ti
If you suffer from androgenetic alopecia (male-pattern baldness), you may be wondering whether Fo-Ti can help.
Interestingly, the researchers of this particular study did recommend that further studies should be done to determine whether PMR and PMRP has a specific effect on AGA.
As you know, AGA is caused by sensitivity to androgen hormones. Until further research is done, it’s unclear whether PMR and PMRP are effective at preventing androgen production.
However, this study did show that a number of proteins were affected by the two separate Fo-Ti preparations and were effective at bringing telogen and catagen hair follicles into the anagen (growing) phase.
This means that Fo-Ti can be beneficial in promoting hair growth, even for those with hair loss caused by AGA.
Are There Side Effects Associated with the Use of Chinese Medicine?
Chinese medicine, when used as prescribed, is generally safe and effective.
When speaking of herbal medications, it’s important to remember that allergic reactions can occur in different individuals. Further, depending on the herb, interactions with other medications may be possible as well.
Other forms of treatment, such as acupuncture and massage, may also have their own side effects associated with them. Individuals receiving acupuncture, for example, may experience temporary side effects such as bruising, soreness, and fatigue. These side effects will usually subside over time, and side effects can be even further minimized by working with an acupuncturist who is properly trained and certified.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or if you have any chronic medical conditions, it’s best to consult with your physician prior to supplementation or treatment.
How to Incorporate Chinese Medicine Into Your Routine
As there are a variety of treatment methods present within traditional Chinese medicine, you’ll find that incorporating TCM into your routine isn’t difficult at all.
Herbal supplementation is one of the simplest ways to incorporate Chinese medicine into your hair care routine. So, what options are available to you?
Add It To Your Shampoo
There are a few herbs used commonly in TCM which have been shown to cause adverse effects when ingested. One of those herbs is Fo-Ti, and it more commonly applied directly to the scalp, either as a rub or in shampoo.
Here is an excellent recipe for herbal shampoo preparation for hair loss, and it can be used with a variety of herbs.
- 3 oz castile soap
- 2 cups distilled or spring water
- 8 oz bottle
- 5-6 tbsp herbs of your choice
- 1/8 tsp of oil, optional
Fill a pot with 2 cups of distilled or spring water and bring to a boil. Add your herb of choice and allow to boil for 40 minutes.
While your herbs are boiling, add the 3 oz of castile soap to the empty 8 oz bottle. Add ⅛ tsp of oil, if using, and swirl to combine.
Once the herbs have steeped for 40 minutes, strain the herb and water mixture and add the water only to the castile soap and oil. Cap the bottle and let it cool.
If you must mix, be sure to swirl or stir instead of shake.
For certain herbs, direct application to the scalp may make the most sense.
Direct application does have its own side effects, however, including rash and skin irritation. Prior to applying any herbs (crushed or otherwise) to your scalp, it’s best to test on a small area of skin on your arm.
If you’re unsure if a particular herb can be applied directly, consult with a physician prior to use.
Add It To Your Favorite Recipes
While certain herbs, such as Fo-Ti, may cause side effects when ingested, other herbs, like ginseng, can generally be tolerated when taken orally.
The simplest way to incorporate ginseng into your diet is to make it into tea.
SF Gate offers this simple recipe, which includes two to three grams of chopped ginseng.
Of course, ginseng can also be added to your favorite soups, stir frys, and other meals, though it’s not known how well ginseng can be absorbed by the body when combined with other foods.
Making the most of the ancient art and knowledge of Chinese medicine may offer you a slight advantage in regrowing your hair. Their powerful use of herbs in particular can be an effective remedy for hair loss when used correctly.
However, you should remember that Chinese medicine is not a ‘magic bullet’ or a cure. It may simply help a little bit. There are many other factors that you need to optimise to be able to regrow your hair. If you have a question then please leave a comment below.