The battle against hair loss is an important one. Few men are likely to accept baldness arms-wide-open. Instead, they look for solutions and remedies to fix it, or hide it.
Male pattern baldness is permanent — if you stop taking an effective medication, the hair loss will progress.
In other words, there is no cure. And when dealing with a chronic condition like this, it makes sense to look into all potential treatments, including natural medicines.
Male pattern baldness, also known as androgenic or androgenetic alopecia (AGA), is the most common form of hair loss in men, and involves hair thinning and loss in a predictable pattern.
Generally, male pattern baldness begins with thinning above the temples, and a receding hairline into an “M” shape.
Hair also thins at the very top of the head, converging with the other thinning hair to eventually lead to baldness.
Across the world, 96 percent of men are reported to be at least somewhat concerned about hair loss, and 75 percent extremely concerned, according to a large scale survey.
And that concern is well-placed — male pattern baldness is associated not only with a change in appearance, but also low self-esteem and depression. If you’re already losing your hair, you likely know this all too well.
Androgenic alopecia is a type of hair loss possibly caused by both environmental and genetic factors. Generally, it occurs when increased androgens (and something known as dihydrotestosterone (DHT) leads to the miniaturization of hair over time through a shorter and shorter growth (telogen) phase. Ultimately, the thinner, shorter hair may not even break the surface of the skin.
Currently, there are only two medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of male pattern baldness.
Those are minoxidil and finasteride. Topical minoxidil, sold under the brand name Rogaine® and others, can be purchased over the counter without a prescription.
Finasteride, sold under the brand name Propecia®, is an oral medication that may have sexual side effects in some men.
While these are the most common treatments for androgenetic alopecia, there are others.
Low-light laser devices are cleared by the FDA for the promotion of hair growth at home. Hair transplants are another possibility. And there are many cutting edge treatments still being sorted out in scientific labs.
Complementary and alternative medicine, more commonly referred to as natural medicine or natural treatments, are those outside the realm of your doctor’s prescribed medications.
And when it comes to hair loss, there are several natural treatments and supplements marketed as being effective.
Unfortunately, as with many complementary treatments, the research is lacking. More scientific evidence must be revealed before it can be said, unequivocally, that one natural solution can provide effects on par with the medications approved by the FDA.
That said, here is a summary of natural minoxidil treatments and any scientific evidence there is that they may aid in treating hair loss:
One small study of 78 subjects found acupuncture showed greater improvements in hair regrowth than minoxidil (58.1 percent to 34.3 percent, respectfully).. It’s believed that increased circulation caused by the needle pricks can stimulate hair follicles.
Research indicates saw palmetto may have hair loss benefits when used either topically or orally.
The research is limited in size and scope, and while saw palmetto does not seem to outperform traditional therapies (when pitted against finasteride, for example), it does show some benefits. For example, when taken orally over a period of two years, 38 percent of men taking saw palmetto had an increase in hair growth, compared with 68 percent taking finasteride.
Rosemary oil comes from the culinary herb, rosemary, and has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, among others.
A study that compared it to minoxidil found that applying rosemary oil daily was “not inferior” to the results of 2% minoxidil.
Both groups of study participants showed positive results after 6 months of treatment.
Capsaicin is a compound found in peppers, and has been evaluated for oral and topical use. Oral use of capsaicin was found to improve hair growth in one 5-month study when compared to placebo.
However, this study involved fewer than 50 participants and combined capsaicin with isoflavone, making it difficult to credit capsaicin alone.
Topical capsaicin did result in the growth of vellus hair, but this isn’t the thick scalp-type hair men struggling with hair loss would be pleased to see.
It’s believed that caffeine counteracts the negative effects of androgens on hair growth.
In some small-scale studies, topical caffeine (such as a caffeine shampoo or lotion) has been shown to reduce hair loss progression and intensity.
Other studies combined caffeine with other treatments such as minoxidil, and reported more dramatic benefits than minoxidil alone.
Some research shows curcumin, which comes from turmeric, may improve the effects of topical minoxidil.
However, it does not support the use of curcumin alone for successful treatment of hair loss.
There are several amino acids that have been looked at for potential hair loss treatments, but cysteine and lysine, in particular, have been studied in humans.
In both cases, however, these amino acids were evaluated in conjunction with numerous other ingredients.
For example, a formula containing lysine, iron, vitamin B12, biotin, selenium, and vitamin C reduced hair shedding in women after six months.
With a treatment of so many components, it’s impossible to know whether the amino acid was responsible, one of the other ingredients, or the ingredients working together somehow synergistically.
Several similar studies, looking at cysteine in conjunction with other ingredients, showed those formulas to provide promising results in small groups of study subjects.
Biotin is also known as vitamin B7.
Biotin deficiency can cause hair loss, so it makes sense that biotin consumption may reduce hair loss in people suffering from deficiency.
Unfortunately, there isn’t any evidence that biotin is an effective hair loss treatment for people without a biotin deficiency.
Zinc may offer hair growth benefits, though more research is needed.
Studies have examined topical and oral zinc, and found that zinc supplementation in particular may be associated with hair regrowth in some people.
Pumpkin seed oil can be found in supplements generally including other ingredients. One study that evaluated such a supplement found positive hair growth effects.
However, it’s impossible to know whether those benefits are due to pumpkin seed oil or the many other components within the supplement.
Other natural solutions that are sometimes touted for having hair growth benefits include onion juice, melatonin, garlic, marine proteins, and vitamin E.
However, like those listed above, more rigorous scientific research is needed to determine their effectiveness.
Minoxidil, like finasteride, is approved by the FDA for the treatment of male pattern baldness. This happens after a lengthy and robust research and review period.
While some natural solutions discussed above show promise in providing hair loss benefits, the science is lacking.
Perhaps in years to come, additional well-designed human studies will confirm things like zinc and saw palmetto are definitively worth the investment.
But for now, that proof does not exist.