Herbal remedies have seen a resurgence in recent years, along with the interest in natural solutions to maintain a healthier body and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
A mice study shows that that reishi mushroom (Lingzhi), a wonderful herb in TCM, exhibits hair growth activity and can be used to treat alopecia (researchgate.net). Another study shows that reishi mushroom contains 5-alpha-reductase inhibitors which reduce the levels of Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) that can lead to hair loss. (nih.gov)
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, hair is a reflection of one’s health, in particular, the condition of one’s kidneys, spleen, and liver. The kidney, spleen, and liver are considered Yin organs that store, produce, and transform Qi, Jing, blood, spirit, and fluids. Qi is the vital energy that forms every living thing, and Jing specifically refers to kidney essence, which is integral to the overall balance and health of a person and hair.
Personal Experience with TCM
In terms of hair, I’ve been lucky so far in my youth to not have to deal with problems of excessive hair loss or white hair, but from talking to my family members about their hair struggles, what they personally did was incorporate foods that are traditionally associated with hair health and growth in TCM, such as black beans, and black fungus (or cloud ear fungus) in their diet.
My father, in particular, has seen visible effects in his hair health, as seen in the picture above his hair is still growing out black, without need for dye at all at 50 years of age!
With this in mind, here is a compilation of Chinese medicines and tonic herbs that can help fix common hair problems.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is focused on managing the balance of the body and mind and is rooted in more than 3,500 years of history. The Taoist philosophy of Yin-Yang is applied in TCM, representing passive and active forces respectively. Ailments may occur due to imbalance in such forces; For instance, a yin deficiency may cause insomnia.
The main cause of hair loss can be attributed to blood deficiency in TCM. Blood is governed by the spleen and liver, which may malfunction due to aging, chronic illness, stress, and anxiety.
When malfunctioning, the liver produces an insufficient amount of blood to nourish the scalp, and the spleen converts nutrients into ‘heat’ and ‘dampness’, transferring upward to erode the hair follicle, which triggers hair loss and dandruff.
Hair loss due to age is mostly due to the gradual loss of blood circulation, kidney Qi, and Jing.
Herbs to combat this:
To nourish blood circulation: red dates, longan, wolfberries, e jiao. Other foods such as spinach, black beans, and black fungus can help as well.
To replenish kidney Qi: pine bark, magnolia tree bark
Perhaps one of the most famous herbs associated with healthier hair is He Shou-Wu (Polygonum Multiflorum, also known as Fo-ti root/ Fleeceflower root). It is a type of vine that is used in various remedies to promote healthy aging and treat various health conditions. Thus, it is often prescribed for most of the hair troubles people experience.
For hair loss unrelated with age, these are some general herbs to strengthen the blood, kidney system, and liver functions:
He Shou-Wu/Fo-ti root/ Fleeceflower root
To strengthen the kidney: Asiatic Cornelian cherry fruit, Dodder seed
To strengthen the spleen: Dandelion, coix seed, aloe, oriental water plantain
Fruits: Blueberries, kiwi fruits, oranges
Supplements available over the counter you may consider: HairVive, FotiHair
White/ Greying Hair:
The depletion of Jing also leads to brittle, dull hair that has lost its original coloring as well. Tonics to restore Jing can be divided into Yin or Yang Jing herbs. In general Yin Jing herbs promote hair returning to their natural color, healthy nails, and support hormonal balance.
For those that want healthier, darker hair, consider adding the foods and herbs below to your diet:
He Shou-Wu/Fo-ti root/ Fleeceflower root
Go Ji Zi/ Goji berry
Shu Di Huang/ Rehmannia root
Sang Shen /Mulberry fruit
Nu Shen Zi/ Glossy privet fruit
Though consuming these specific herbs and foods may help, it is important to maintain an overall healthy lifestyle. Nothing can replace the benefits of a balanced diet and a healthy sleeping schedule. Make sure you are consuming a plethora of foods to ensure sufficient vitamin and nutrient intake. Avoid overindulging on oily, spicy food, and alcohol, as it may further weaken the spleen.
Acupuncture for Hair
Acupuncture treatment is another form of TCM that may help in lustrous hair. It is the practice of stimulating specific acupuncture points in your body with a thin needle, with each point determined by the ailment you are experiencing. This restores a healthy energy flow by circulating Qi and blood across your body. For healthier hair, it targets your hair follicles and nerves across your scalp.
Overall Approach in TCM
Furthermore, consider taking extra supplements if required, especially if you are on a diet that restricts the variety of food you can intake, such as vegetarianism, taking note of Vitamin B-12. For those working on weight loss, take note that excessive dieting may cause hair loss as well.
As rest is vital for liver and blood health, aim for eight hours of sleep a day, ideally between 10 pm and 6 am - as recommended by TCM physicians - to replenish the ‘qi’ needed for hair growth.
Besides foods, other ways you can achieve healthy hair include daily scalp massages, which you can do by yourself by using your fingertips on both hands to rub small circles around your scalp lightly. Do it twice a day: once in the morning, and once at night. Five minutes per session should be sufficient to stimulate the scalp. You may also consider going to a professional hair care center or massage shop, for healthy scalp massages when you have the time.
In general, it is best to book an appointment with a TCM physician for information and prescribed remedies most tailored to your needs, and when in doubt always check in with a health practitioner before you proceed. Take care to observe the potential side effects of herbal medicine, and speak with your doctor before you proceed.