There are 3 main reasons to start using stinging nettle for hair loss immediately. They are to:
- reduce inflammation in the scalp
- neutralize free radical damage in the scalp
- block DHT topically and internally
In this article, you will learn about these points in more detail. We will also present the results of a 6-month study with 620 patients that showed nettle could effectively block DHT.
You will also learn about the 3 different ways you can start using nettle in your hair care regime.
What Is Stinging Nettle?
Stinging Nettle, or Urtica dioica, is a flowering perennial plant native to many areas of the world. It grows in North America, Europe, and Asia. It can often reach a height of up to seven feet. You can recognize it by its heart-shaped leaves and its rough, bristly hair lining.
These fine little hairs are quite irritating to the touch. The plant’s leaves and stem are covered with needle-like hairs called trichomes. These defend the plant from being eaten by animals. Upon contact, trichomes inject a chemical cocktail rich in histamines and neurotransmitters, like serotonin and acetylcholine.
Though irritating to the touch, humans have used this plant for medicinal purposes going back centuries.
Today the nettle plant is used as an herbal remedy for a variety of conditions including:
- hay fever
- joint paint
- benign prostate enlargement (which we’ll come back to shortly)
Stinging Nettle Components
Stinging nettle is a powerful antioxidant and antimicrobial. It contains a wide range of constituents, including vitamins, minerals, and other phytochemicals.
These chemicals vary, depending on the part of the plant (root, stalk, or leaves).
The leaves of the plant contain high concentrations of vitamins A, C, D, E, F, K, and P, as well as of vitamin B-complexes (1). They also contain notable amounts of selenium, zinc, iron, and magnesium.
These various vitamins and minerals have been implicated in hair growth previously. Vitamin E, for example, was particularly helpful in increasing the number of hairs in a designated area of the scalp according to a 2010 study (2).
Iron and zinc also play particularly important roles in hair growth due to their contributions to DNA synthesis and gene expression, respectively (3).
The Different Parts of the Plant
The leaves appear to be the most micro- and macronutrient-dense. There are higher levels of proteins and fats here compared to either the stalk or the root.
In terms of bioactive compounds, the roots of the nettle are the least nutrient-rich part. They contain high levels of starches, sugars, and resins, but less in the way of proteins, fats, and micronutrients.
|Harvested Nettle Leaves
|Nettle Leaf Powder
It makes sense that nettle leaf powder, which is a dehydrated and more concentrated form of nettle leaves, would have higher macronutrient values.
The Connection Between Stinging Nettle, Inflammation, & Hair Loss
Inflammation of the scalp has been identified as a factor for chronic hair loss. When there is tissue damage from foreign or harmful particles, such as free radicals, DHT, and bacteria, the body reacts and attempts to fight it off.
One of the hallmarks of androgenetic alopecia is chronic, low-level inflammation (6). This inflammation is not visible to the naked eye, but researchers can see it with microscopes when they study the follicles’ immediate surroundings (the so-called peri-follicular space). Regardless if it is a cause or effect of pattern hair loss, it is a sign of an unhealthy scalp.
Some studies have explored the anti-inflammatory properties of stinging nettle. Results found that its effects are dose-dependent. This means that the more stinging nettle extract there is in a cell culture, the less degree of inflammation it undergoes (7).
Urtica extracts are rich in flavonoids and phenols that function as powerful antioxidants. These are essential for dealing with free radicals. We will now look at free radicals and their role in inflammation in more detail.
Free Radicals, Antioxidants, and Hair Loss
Molecules are made up of atoms, and atoms are made of protons, electrons, and neutrons. Electron comes in pairs, which helps the atom remain stable.
Free radicals are unstable molecules. They seek and attack other stable molecules to take their electrons, which causes insecurity in living cells. This produces widespread damage that will eventually induce an inflammatory response, of the kind seen in chronic hair loss.
The extent of hair loss from free radical damage has not been well studied. However, some studies have linked high oxidative stress in the scalp to alopecia (8). Compared to healthy controls, men with androgenetic alopecia have, on average, higher markers of oxidative stress.
Antioxidants prevent free radicals from causing damage by donating one of their electrons.
There are likely thousands of different antioxidants (vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene to name a few) to counteract different subsets of free radicals.
(Learn more about one particular form of vitamin E (tocopherol) and how it can help hair loss here.)
Recent reports from Guder et al. have shown that stinging nettles are abundant in antioxidants (9). The most notable are flavonoids and polyphenols, both of which have proven anti-inflammatory properties as well (10).
Stinging nettle also contains a healthy source of vitamin C, which in addition to the antioxidative properties, also contributes directly to healthy skin and hair.
Stinging nettle has shown antibacterial potentials, including those directly affecting the hair. Specifically, folliculitis is a common skin condition that is characterized by focal inflammation of hair follicles. It is usually accompanied by itching or soreness.
The most common cause of folliculitis is bacterial infections, specifically by a species called Staphylococcus aureus. While it is normal to have these bacteria present on the skin, it may become over-active in the scalp and cause hair follicle damage.
Researchers have found that stinging nettle was highly effective in inhibiting the Staphylococcus strand, mainly due to the nettle’s ability to target the bacterial cell wall.
A review by Jan et al. supports stinging nettle’s potential as an anti-microbial, anti-oxidant, and anti-inflammatory (13).
Stinging Nettle and DHT
DHT and Hair Loss
Dihydrotestosterone, or DHT, is a sex steroid and androgen hormone that our bodies naturally synthesize from testosterone. About 5 – 10% of circulating free testosterone, with the help of the enzyme 5-alpha reductase, converts to DHT. DHT is thought to be largely responsible for hair loss and male pattern baldness.
During adolescence, DHT plays a vital role in secondary male characteristics such as facial hair, chest hair, deepening voice, and muscle mass. In adulthood, its usefulness is less clear. Rather than doing anything useful, it appears to have two unpleasant effects on men.
Firstly, it causes the prostate to enlarge. This condition is called Benign Prostate Hyperplasia or (BHP). While BPP is not life-threatening, it can cause many problems in daily life, including difficulty urinating and poor sleep. Numerous studies have linked DHT to BPE (14).
Secondly, it is involved in male pattern hair loss, or androgenetic alopecia (AGA). Like with BPE, scientists don’t understand exactly how DHT affects normal hair growth. The end result of its action, however, is a process called hair follicle miniaturization. The follicles in affected areas of the scalp become progressively smaller, and their hair shaft is progressively shorter. Eventually, the hair shaft is so short that it cannot even protrude from the scalp.
Stinging Nettle Inhibits DHT
A study conducted by Nahata et al examined the effects of stinging nettles on BPH that is induced by testosterone in rats (15). They compared the group treated with nettle to the group on 1 mg of finasteride. This is a DHT-blocking drug used to shrink an enlarged prostate and increase hair growth (we will discuss it below).
The researchers found that the stinging nettle contains constituents that can markedly inhibit 5a-reductase enzyme activity.
They also found that the stinging nettle may match the benefits of finasteride while avoiding undesirable side effects.
Another researcher out of Iran attempted to see if stinging nettle is useful against BPH in men. In 2005, he conducted a randomized, double-blinded crossover study on 620 patients with BPH (16).
He found nettle root extract to be superior to placebo in the treatment of BHP. After 6 months, 81% of patients on nettle root extract reported an improvement in their prostate-related symptoms. This compared to 43% of patients who were on placebo.
The researcher behind this very promising study did not want to make any assumptions about the nettle’s molecular mechanism of action. He did not claim that it works by blocking DHT.
Given all the other evidence, however, this seems like a reasonable assumption. If it turns out to be correct, it could have significant implications for the treatment of male pattern baldness.
Applying Stinging Nettle For Hair Loss
There are several ways to incorporate stinging nettle into your hair care routine.
Option 1: Take it as a supplement
You don’t need a doctor’s prescription to start using nettle root. It is a widely available product that you can find on Amazon and other online vendors, as well as your local health food store.
The most commonly sold supplement is a capsule, with a potency that is typically between 250 and 300mg. You can also get it as a liquid extract, in the form of a tincture. Some vendors also offer it as a loose powder that you can dissolve in water.
All these various forms are for oral, systemic use. There are no established dosage guidelines, but 300mg a day is a good starting point if you’re taking nettle for hair loss or benign prostate enlargement.
Option 2: Drink it as a nettle tea tonic
You can simply infuse it in hot water and drink it as a tea.
Chances are, there may be some nettles growing in your yard. If you go hunting for nettles, wear gloves, a long-sleeved shirt, and long pants. If you touch any part of the plant, it will be mildly annoying and can persist for many hours.
Should you manage to locate the plant, don’t take the entire stalk. Instead, use scissors or clippers to cut the top two bracts of the leaves. This will allow the rest of the plant to regenerate again for future use. If you are unable to source fresh leaves locally, you can simply purchase dry leaves from the market.
Here’s a simple recipe for a nice brew.
- Boil approximately four cups of water
- Finely chop four teaspoons worth of fresh nettle
- Add the nettle into the water and steep for approximately 20 minutes with the lid on – you can make the tea stronger by steeping it longer
- Pour the liquid through a small strainer
- Enjoy hot or cold
Option 3: Infuse the nettle into oil
You can add nettle to any existing homemade shampoo and hair products. You can also use it separately as a deep conditioner, which you can leave overnight and wash off in the morning.
Stinging Nettle Risks and Side Effects
There are not many reports of harmful side effects, besides the obvious stinging. Avoid stinging nettle if you are allergic or sensitive to the herb.
Stinging nettle has many wonderful benefits – but it can interact with some medications. According to WebMD, use with caution if you are taking the following:
- Blood-thinning drugs
- Blood pressure drugs
- Anti-inflammatory drugs
We recommend consulting a doctor who is familiar with herbal remedies before implementing the stinging nettle into your routine.
FDA-Approved Alternatives to Stinging Nettle
If you prefer a mainstream approach to hair growth, there are FDA-approved medications for hair loss. You can use these on their own or alongside natural treatments like stinging nettle.
Minoxidil is a vasodilator. It widens the blood vessels so blood can flow more easily. This results in more oxygen and nutrients reaching the hair follicles.
Scientists don’t know if minoxidil also promotes hair growth in other ways. Some believe that it also upregulates growth factors in dermal papilla cells, among other mechanisms (17).
As a topical treatment, the main benefit of minoxidil is the low risk of systemic side effects. While minoxidil does enter the bloodstream, it does so in very low concentrations. This means the potential for systemic side effects is limited.
Unlike finasteride, minoxidil can also be used by both men and women. This makes it a treatment option for both male and female-pattern hair loss.
Finasteride, also known as Propecia, is an oral hair loss drug that first hit the market in 1992. The FDA originally approved it to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia in men. A few years later, in 1997, it also approved it against male pattern hair loss (18).
Finasteride is in a class of drugs called 5-alpha-reductase inhibitors. It inhibits the activities of the enzyme 5-alpha-reductase. This enzyme plays a significant role in DHT synthesis. With 5-alpha-reductase blocked, our body is unable to synthesize as much DHT. The result is that levels of DHT in the body and scalp plummet.
While this treatment can be effective for men with pattern baldness, it carries some risks. The most common side effects include erectile dysfunction, ejaculatory dysfunction, and loss of libido (19). The risk is relatively low, as these side effects only occur at a rate of 2.1% to 3.8%. In many cases, they resolve on their own after some time, even while the patient continues on finasteride.
Finasteride is only approved for the treatment of hair loss in men, so it is not an option for women. It is only available by prescription, meaning you will need to work with a doctor to start this treatment.
Stinging nettle, whether topical or systemic, can be an effective way to fight hair loss and enable hair growth.
While direct studies on hair growth in humans are lacking, there is indirect evidence to suggest it is effective in regrowing hair. Studies find it can:
- reduce scalp inflammation
- neutralize free radical damage
- block DHT
However, this plant is just one step in the right direction. To truly be able to regrow your hair and keep it for the rest of your life, you will need to use it as part of a larger, multi-pronged treatment regimen.