This could be a B-vitamin deficiency, an endocrine problem, a stress response or even heavy-metal poisoning.
Cindy was starting to think about investing in a wig. At age 45, she was single with a career in research that she enjoyed. Lately, she had taken to not leaving the house without a hat or scarf on her head. Naturally shy, the prospect of dating or socializing was even more agonizing now since over the past 18 months the hair on her head, once quite thick and lustrous, was noticeably thin. She used to enjoy brushing and “fixing” her hair, which she had considered one of her best features. She came to me quite depressed about her on-going hair loss, because the problem was progressing. I confirmed she had not recently had a Hepatitis B shot series. An article appeared last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association (278:117-8, 1997) linking the Hep B vaccine to increased incidence of alopecia (balding) in women. No, she hadn’t had the Hep B series. I asked if she had ever had cancer and been exposed to chemotherapy. No. My next thought was to make sure she didn’t have a thyroid problem. Either over or under-active thyroid function can cause hair thinning. No problem there according to a review of symptoms, confirmed by a blood test.
My next thought was B-vitamin deficiencies, in particular a vitamin in the B family called biotin which is crucial for proper hair and nail growth. In high doses, 5-8 grams daily (5000-8000 mg), biotin can be very effective in restoring head-hair growth, with no known side-effects. Some specialty shampoos feature biotin for this reason. After a 6 week trial of high dose biotin, however, Cindy’s hair looked about the same. I started digging a little deeper. It turns out that Cindy had moved into a house 18 months previous who’s water supply came from a well that is close to an old mine (we live in Southeast Alaska). Both cyanide and mercury were commonly used during the height of the mining days to separate the ore from the “tailings” or rocky debris from the old mines. A hair analysis confirmed that Cindy had high levels of both of these heavy metal toxins in her tissues and that this was very likely a prime cause for her hair loss. So she began a chelation program to rid her body of these toxic metals. The Greek word “chelare” means “to bind.” Chelation means binding of one substance to another. The protocol was:
- 8 grams daily of Vitamin C in 4 divided doses to help clear toxins out of the fat cells, where they preferentially “hide out.”
- 2 tablespoons daily of spirulina powder in pineapple or cherry juice in 2 divided doses. In Germany there is a popular mining technique for nearly spent mines with very little ore remaining. This consists of spraying an algal slurry over the mine walls, then scraping it off with a huge squeegy. The algae is extremely effective at chelating the bits of metal that remain in the mine walls. The algae binds to the metals and in mining, is taken to a lab where heavy solvents are used to remove the ore, but in the human body, the bound up metal will be excreted through the urine and fecal matter, which is exactly what you want to happen. Other algal products are fine for this purpose; Hawaiian spirulina is, however, my favorite.
- Diet modification to include lots of dark leafy greens, fresh fruit and organic grains but no sugar, dairy, fried foods, alcohol, caffeine or red meat for 4-6 weeks. Tofu or fish is fine if baked or steamed.
- At least 8 large glasses of pure water daily, but NOT with food. Drinking water with meals will dilute those precious digestive enzymes and make nutrient absorbption less efficient. It will also reduce the amount of water available to the body for dilution of toxins.
Cindy was very motivated, and followed the protocol faithfully. She started to see improvements in the lustre of her hair within the first week. I asked to add another component to her protocol; a trick I learned in China while studying acupuncture. This is to rub a slice of fresh ginger directly onto the scalp daily before a gentle hair washing, using a very mild shampoo. Try to get a shampoo with a minimum of chemical ingredients. The ginger is a warming herb which stimulates circulation to the scalp, providing fresh blood with oxygen and nutrients to the tender new shoots of hair. In the second week on her cleansing diet, Cindy was delighted to observe lots of new hair growth. After 2 months, her cyanide level was normal and the mercury level was much reduced. She continued on with the diet, with some modifications so that she could eat out or with friends, because by this time her confidence about going out without covering up her head had been restored.
For older women for whom biotin/silica supplements have failed, low dose Minoxidil (the old blood pressure medication that is the basis of topical Rogaine) taken by mouth often helps within a few months. This requires a prescription but is increasingly popular as a way to grow more head hair. Warning: if it works for you, you will also grow more hair elsewhere!
- The Harvard Guide to Somen’s Health. Carlson KJ, Eisenstat SA, Ziporyn T. Harvard U Press, Cambridge MA, 1996
- Optimal Wellness. Golan R. Ballantine Books, 1995
- Principles of Dermatology. Lookingbill DP, Marks JG. WB Saudners Co, Philadelphia PA, 1993.