The philosophy behind hair loss according to Chinese medicine is that the essences of basic energy are qi and blood, which are stored in the liver and kidneys. If the organs are not working efficiently, they will not produce enough of these essences needed to nourish the hair. This will eventually lead to hair loss, according to Subhuti Dharmananda, director of the Institute for Traditional Medicine in Portland, Oregon.
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According to Dharmananda, a healthy head of hair is dependent on the sufficiency of blood supplies in the liver. If the liver blood is insufficient, it will not rise and provide nourishment to the head. The hair then turns gray or falls out. The condition of the kidneys is also conveyed by the health of the hair of the head, and graying or hair loss is a sign of a deficiency related to the kidneys, according to the Institute for Traditional Medicine.
Pattern baldness is the most prevalent type of hair loss. Pattern baldness can affect women but is more commonplace in men. Pattern baldness typically follows a pattern of a receding hairline and the thinning of hair on the crown. Ho-shou-wu is a herb that is highly valued in Chinese traditional medicine because it is said to increase strength in the kidneys and liver. Ho-shou-wu will commonly be prescribed by a Chinese herbalist to treat pattern baldness.
Alopecia areata is a condition that leads to hair falling out in clumps. Unlike pattern baldness that occurs gradually, alopecia areata can arise suddenly. Western doctors believe this type of hair loss may be caused by an autoimmune disease. Traditional Chinese medicine interprets alopecia as the result of blood deficiency, which can be caused by a poor diet, the use of drugs, aging or stress. Sudden health changes are thought to be a consequence of "wind," which is one of six damaging influences, according to Chinese medicine. Some treatments that may be prescribed by a Chinese doctor to treat alopecia are ginseng nutritive combination and Tang-kuei Four Combination.
Topical remedies for hair loss include applying hot pepper or ginger to help restore circulation to the scalp. Ho-shou-wu, the herb used to treat pattern baldness, can also be applied topically.
In 2007, David Barlow, a pharmaceutical chemist from the UK, and his colleagues undertook a study on the effectiveness of the active ingredients in traditional Chinese medicine. They used an analytical system called Random Forest to discover the root of activity of herbs and natural products used in Chinese medicine. Their study revealed that many of the claims made by Chinese herbalists on the healing properties of herbs did indeed have substance, and their findings also revealed several new compounds not used in the traditional system that may be useful to treat diseases and ailments.