Many of the medications we take today have their roots in nature, based either on mechanisms found in the natural world or taken directly from the earth in one way or another.
In fact, natural ingredients are sometimes the best option.
Some examples from the last century? The important immune suppression medication rapamycin was discovered in a sample of soil from the well-known Easter Island. The antibiotic penicillin was discovered being secreted from a mold sample in a Staphylococcus-filled petri dish.
Mother nature delivers.
Hair loss isn’t so different. If you suffer from androgenic alopecia, natural ingredients have been helping people like you for decades.
What Drives Hair Loss?
First, it helps to understand what drives hair loss. Androgenic alopecia refers to a genetic predisposition to “androgen” hormones. These are the male sex hormones present in both men and women (at lower levels in women): namely testosterone and dihydrotestosterone (DHT). In folks with androgenic alopecia, hair follicles are especially sensitive to the androgen hormones. Androgens bind to hair follicles, then weaken and shrink the follicle. As a result, the follicles create weaker and finer hairs, and they stay in “grow mode” for less time and “resting mode” for longer.
In androgenic alopecia, androgen hormones = less hair.
While all androgen hormones can contribute to this process, DHT is the most potent, and it’s widely considered the “hair loss hormone.”
Blocking DHT at the scalp or reducing DHT in the body is a proven, well-validated approach to fighting hair loss and even reversing hair loss with new growth.
Most natural DHT blockers inhibit the enzyme 5-alpha reductase (5AR). 5AR is the natural enzyme that converts testosterone into DHT, and by blocking the 5AR you can prevent testosterone from metabolizing into this potent androgen.
Research has found several natural ingredients that inhibit 5-alpha reductase and help return hair to its natural growth cycle, in addition to prescription-grade medications based on the same mechanism. Finasteride is an oral medication approved for us in men with hair loss that works by reducing how much of the 5AR enzyme is in the body; it can lower 5AR by as much as 85%, and it works to help men get more density.
Let’s take a look.
The saw palmetto is a plant native to the Southeastern region of the U.S and central America. It has small red berries that have been used in indigenous medicine for centuries.
Now, people use saw palmetto berry extracts to treat numerous health conditions, including hair loss. This ingredient is one of the most commonly used natural substances in the treatment of hair loss.
Lab tests show that extracts from the plant and berries block the 5-alpha reductase. Research on topical applications of saw palmetto have demonstrated that 48% of the men with androgenic alopecia improved after receiving treatment that contained the natural DHT blocker. The hair counts in these men increased after applying the medication regularly. Some people also take saw palmetto extracts orally, though this may carry health risks as it can affect hormones systemically.
A variety of studies have demonstrated that saw palmetto and its extracts can help men with hair loss, and it’s been used in natural medicine for centuries.
Pumpkin Seed Oil
Pumpkin seeds are a powerhouse in the natural world. They’re chock full of antioxidants and vital nutrients. Eating them may lower your risk of certain cancers, and they’re good for heart, bladder and prostate health. Another thing they seem to be good at is blocking the conversion of testosterone to DHT.
Specifically, the oil from the pumpkin seed has an impact on DHT production. Researchers have shown that the substance inhibits 5-alpha reductase in mice. In a study on men with androgenic alopecia, researchers found that pumpkin seed oil positively affected hair growth. The mean rate of hair growth after a 24-week treatment period was 40%, versus the 10% seen in a group that took a placebo.
Try to say that 10 times fast! Though you might not guess it from that mouthful of a name, this substance is found in a mouthful of beneficial, tasty green tea. EGCG, as it’s known, is one of the primary polyphenols found in green tea, also known to have numerous health benefits. Green tea is a potent antioxidant and has powerful anti-inflammatory effects. Consuming green tea regularly may reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer and even improve brain function.
Extracting EGCG from the green tea plant can also help those who have androgenic alopecia. In one study, scientists measured the effect of EGCG on hair growth by applying it to hair follicles in scalp tissue of healthy adult men. The treated follicles showed much greater hair growth than the untreated hair follicles. When they applied 10% EGCG directly onto human scalps they observed similar changes. In another study, mice were injected with testosterone, which led to hair loss at the injection site. When researchers used topical green tea extract at the injection site, fewer cells died and more hair follicles remained functional.
A study on the impact of this polyphenol in men with prostate cancer demonstrated that the substance antagonizes androgens on multiple levels. Though the research was not conducted specifically on hair loss, the results support using EGCG as a natural DHT blocker.
Oh, the joys of that delicious first cup of coffee in the morning. Everyone knows it’s caffeine that’s responsible for that pick-me-up when you drink a cup of joe, but have you ever considered pouring a cooled-down cup of coffee over your head instead?
It turns out there are some good reasons to lean into caffeine for hair loss...though you don’t have to resort to rinsing your hair with coffee.
For instance, hair follicles treated with testosterone in one study faced significant growth suppression. When caffeine was applied, however, the effects were counteracted and caffeine led to stimulation of growth. Another study found that caffeine “enhanced hair shaft elongation, prolonged anagen duration [the active growth phase of hair] and stimulated hair matrix keratinocyte proliferation.”
Like you and your morning brew, caffeine gives your hair follicles that ready-to-rock feeling too.
If you like tomatoes, keep eating them! This delicious summer fruit contains high levels of lycopene, the carotenoid that gives tomatoes and other fruits and veggies their red color. Lycopene is an antioxidant that can protect against cancer and promote heart health. This nutrient may also improve conditions for those who have androgenic alopecia.
Eating tomatoes has been shown to inhibit 5-alpha reductase, thus reducing the production of DHT. Including red- or pink-colored fruits and veggies in your diet is a good way to obtain natural DHT blockers. These foods can provide a supplement to any topical medication you receive too.
Selenium is a naturally occurring mineral found in soil. It’s also found in some foods, most notably Brazil nuts and walnuts. While people don’t need to get large amounts of selenium to meet their daily needs (consuming more than 400 micrograms is too much), many are deficient in this vital nutrient. In addition to being a natural DHT blocker, selenium is often created in the laboratory, providing an easy means of utilizing the mineral for hair loss.
Research on rats has shown that the mineral inhibits androgen gene expression, and that 5-alpha reductase activity was much lower in rats that ate a diet rich in selenium compared to those that did not. While you might think rats have nothing to do with humans, these animals are often used in research because of the similarities between their biological systems and brains with those of humans.
Coconut oil has received a lot of attention over the years as a healthy oil alternative. This natural ingredient is rich in fatty acids and has numerous positive attributes when ingested. People also use coconut oil topically to protect skin and hair from the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays.
Research on coconut oil and its effects on DHT have shown some ability to inhibit androgen production in test tubes and when given orally to Sprague-Dawley rats.
Natural remedies for hair loss have been around for a long, long time. These ingredients aren’t new, but the science supporting their mechanisms of action is better understood today than ever before.
That was part of the reason Drs. Steven Shapiro and Michael Borenstein co-founded Shapiro MD. Their years of clinical dermatology practice informed their views on what worked -- and what didn’t. Wanting something they could give safely to all of their patients for effective hair loss treatment, they turned to natural ingredients.
Their uniquely formulated and patented shampoo and conditioner are where it all started, both of which contain powerful ingredients including saw palmetto, ECGC, and caffeine. They were a huge success in private practice, and today they’re available to anyone with internet access.
At Shapiro MD, we help people grow healthy hair. If you’re concerned about hair loss, take our free quiz to find out more.