It's normal for a person to experience hair loss: On average, a person can lose up to 100 hairs from his scalp every day. However, while most people grow them back, those with alopecia experience extreme hair loss, either due to diseases like lupus, thyroid issues or diabetes; environmental exposure; medication; or even poor nutrition. In their study, a team from the University of California, Irvine investigated whether alternative treatments can help relieve the condition.
“Multiple factors contribute to hair loss, including genetics, hormones, environmental exposure, medications, and nutrition,” they wrote in the study. “Treatment of hair loss requires a multimodal approach and the use of [complementary and alternative medicines] may provide added benefits,” the researchers said.
Effective remedies for hair loss
The UC Irvine team reviewed existing studies regarding the use of natural products as adjunct therapies for hair loss. According to the 2012 National Health Survey, around 17 percent of Americans reported using natural therapies such as vitamins and minerals, herbs and botanicals, and probiotics, among others. In their study, the team gathered up past research for 16 alternative hair loss remedies to test their effectiveness and found some standouts:
Caffeine. A recent study has shown that topical caffeine can be used to complement conventional treatments for hair loss. In particular, multiple studies have shown the potential of caffeine lotions and topical liquids when used to boost hair growth and reduce shedding.
Capsaicin. A clinical trial found oral capsaicin improved hair growth in 64.5 percent of patients after treatment. In another study, researchers found that applying capsaicin cream to the scalp of patients with alopecia areata, better known as spot balding, can boost hair growth after three weeks.
Curcumin. While curcumin wasn't found to boost hair growth, it can help improve the delivery of minoxidil, a drug for treating male-pattern hair loss.
Marine proteins. Once the secret to healthy skin of the Inuit people, marine proteins can boost hair count and hair volume with regular use. While these are generally well-tolerated, people with shellfish allergies should consult with a healthcare professional before use.
Onion juice. Participants with alopecia areata who applied onion juice on their scalp had full hair regrowth after eight weeks, according to a study published in the Journal of Dermatology. However, the participants also reported an adverse effect of using onion juice -- unpleasant odors.
Rosemary oil. Two clinical trials showed that applying rosemary oil lotion on the affected area has the same effect as minoxidil when used to treat androgenetic alopecia, a form of hair loss that affects around 50 million men and 30 million women in the United States. According to researchers, rosemary oil can potentially be an alternative to prescription drugs for the condition.
Zinc. An essential trace mineral, zinc supplementation -- whether topical or oral -- can be used for treating both alopecia areata and androgenetic alopecia. A clinical trial using zinc sulfate and calcium pantothenate revealed that the effects of the two were comparable to that of a two-percent minoxidil solution in women with androgenetic alopecia.
The research team did not rule out other remedies like curcumin, garlic oil and vitamin D. However, they did note that more work should be done to understand their effectiveness. For instance, while early studies have shown that topical vitamin D can potentially help with hair loss, most of these studies had small sample sizes, provided inconsistent results or did not have appropriate controls. (Related: Study reveals fermented water chestnuts help with symptoms of balding, hair loss.)
“There are a variety of complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs) on the market for alopecia; however, only a few are backed by strong clinical evidence,” explains lead author Anna-Marie Hosking. “Clinicians should be aware of these products, the marketing strategies used to promote said products, expected clinical outcomes, and side effect profiles to ensure accurate patient [counseling].”