Approximately 35 million male population and 21 million female populations suffer from hair loss worldwide. The frequency of hair loss increases as age advances. Conventional hair loss treatments include minoxidil, finasteride, hair transplants, and the use of camouflaging hair products.
In recent years, herbal alternatives such as stinging nettle for hair loss to hair loss treatment have become more popular due to their accessibility, affordability, and sustainability. But do they actually work, or are you just wasting your time?
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What causes hair loss?
Androgenetic alopecia is the most common form of hair loss among men and women. This may involve frontal, bitemporal, and crown regions of the scalp in males and the crown region of the scalp in females. Androgenetic alopecia arises due to the exaggerated response of hair follicles to androgens leading to miniaturization of the hair follicles.
Alopecia areata is characterized by autoimmune-mediated damage of the hair follicles manifesting as round bald patches on the scalp and/or beard.
Telogen effluvium is a diffuse form of hair loss that usually affects women in the presence of a stressor. In this hair loss condition, hair follicles prematurely enter into the telogen phase followed by premature hair shedding.
Trichotillomania is a behavioral disorder characterized by an urge to pull out own hair. During childhood, boys predominantly suffer from trichotillomania, while this trend is reciprocated in adulthood.
Traction alopecia occurs as the hair is subjected to increased tension over long durations. Traction alopecia is most prevalent among the African-American population owing to distinct hairstyles including tight braids.
Common hair loss treatments
Various pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic options are available for the use of treatment and management of hair loss conditions.
- Minoxidil is an androgen-independent medication that works by increasing the duration of the anagen phase of the hair growth cycle. Topical 2% minoxidil solution is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of hair loss and shall be continued for 12 months to observe results.
- Finasteride is an androgen-dependent medication that acts by suppressing the catalytic activity of 5-alpha reductase II.
- Cyproterone acetate is also an androgen-dependent medication that suppresses gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) as well as interferes with the androgen receptors.
- Spironolactone is also classified as an androgen-dependent medication that blocks androgen receptors and androgen production.
- Flutamide has a similar mode of action as spironolactone, however, these drugs are associated with more severe side effects than spironolactone.
- Camouflaging products are widely used for concealing hair loss conditions effectively. These products include hair-building fibers, alopecia masking lotion, hair extensions, and hair wigs.
- Hair transplantation is a surgical form of treatment. Donor hair strands are retrieved from the occipital area and transplanted in the frontal regions of the scalp.
Why should you consider stinging nettle?
Despite the high success and satisfaction rate of the treatment modalities mentioned above, there are side effects that might be concerning.
- The patient may suffer temporarily from telogen effluvium after initiating minoxidil treatment for hair loss. Topical application of minoxidil may also lead to scalp skin irritation due to contact dermatitis.
- Finasteride has less severe and less frequent side effects that include decreased libido and breast tenderness among females. However, these side effects are dose-dependent and reversible.
- Adverse effects of cyproterone acetate for hair loss treatment include menstrual irregularities, weight gain, depression, gastrointestinal disturbances, loss of libido, and breast tenderness.
- Spironolactone's side effect profile comprises postural hypotension, menstrual irregularities, breast tenderness, hematological disturbances, electrolyte imbalances, fatigue, and urticaria.
- Flutamide has relatively more severe side effects as compared to other pharmacologic formulations for hair loss. This includes breast tenderness and hepatic toxicity that leads to hepatic dysfunction. Therefore, individuals using flutamide shall be strictly monitored for elevated liver transaminases.
- Side effects associated with hair transplantation include temporary telogen effluvium and other surgery-related complications.
So, without further ado, let's talk about stinging nettle or nettle root.
What is stinging nettle?
Urtica dioica, famously known as stinging nettle, belongs to the genus Urtica and the family Urticaceae. Stinging nettle contains a myriad of bioactive compounds having therapeutic properties.
Nettle leaf stings are a good source of fatty acids, carotenoids, terpenoids, essential amino acids, chlorophyll, carbohydrates, tannins, and sterols.
Nettle root contains steryl glycosides, sterols, and oleanolic acid.
Stinging nettle leaf and root are among the most common medicinal plants owing to their bioactive compounds and health-promoting qualities. It comprises phytochemicals that demonstrate antibacterial activity against gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria. This is beneficial for the treatment of bladder and urinary tract infections. Moreover, stinging nettle also protects against prostate gland pathologies.
The anti-inflammatory properties of stinging nettle alleviate symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders. These include joint pain and osteoarthritis that involves hands, hips, knees, and the spine. This also reduces the consumption of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for improving pain and inflammation, thus, also protecting an individual from NSAID-associated health complications.
Stinging nettle also has anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine properties that make it an important ingredient in anti-allergic formulations. This relieves nasal congestion, itching, sneezing, and other symptoms of allergic reactions. Other medicinal uses of stinging nettle include the treatment of cancer, headache, skin disorders, rheumatism, other autoimmune conditions, atherosclerosis, and degenerative brain disorders.
How does stinging nettle combat hair loss?
The root extract of stinging nettle suppresses the activity of 5-alpha reductase, an enzyme that catalyzes the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
This is primarily beneficial for the treatment of androgenetic alopecia. Similar to a DHT blocker, the nettle causes reduced DHT concentration resulting in human dermal papilla cells undergo increased proliferation.
Stinging nettle root extract contains a bioactive compound known for its therapeutic properties concerning hair fall, beta-sitosterol. Beta-sitosterol promotes the synthesis and release of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) that stimulates angiogenesis. The improved blood supply, in turn, enhances hair growth.
The hair regrowth property of stinging nettle can also be attributed to the inhibition of the release of IL-1-alpha cytokines in the hair follicles. IL-1-alpha inhibits the growth of the hair follicle and plays a crucial role in the pathogenesis of androgenetic alopecia, alopecia areata, and telogen effluvium. IL-1-alpha is released by epidermal cells of the scalp and has anti-proliferative effects on the hair follicles.
Inhibition of the release of IL-1-alpha promotes the anagen phase of the hair growth cycle and has opposite effects on the catagen and telogen phases of the hair growth cycle. Under normal physiologic conditions, this cytokine causes different forms of non-scarring inflammatory alopecia. Reduction in the concentration of IL-1-alpha reduces the onset of these hair loss conditions and also promotes regrowth of hair.
How to use stinging nettle for hair regrowth?
There are various modes of application of stinging nettle. The best part? It's probably is grown in your local park or forest.
Dry nettle powder is applied topically or added to smoothies, drinks, and foods for its health benefits.
Nettle infusion shampoo helps combat dry, itchy scalp and dandruff. It can also help assist in the fight against male pattern baldness.
Dried nettle leaves or fresh nettle are used as nettle tea for their anti inflammatory property, which aids in improving your hair health.
Packaged nettle tea is usually enriched with vitamin C and vitamin A for added benefits.
Nettle hair mask
Nettle hair mask, made using nettle leaf extract, aids in hair care for you to get that amazing healthy hair that you've been longing for.
Nettle oil is used to help in a variety of problems ranging from muscle pain to fighting male pattern hair loss.
Side effects of stinging nettle herbal treatment
Oral consumption of stinging nettle is well tolerated and relatively safe up to one year of usage.
However, some individuals may suffer from gastrointestinal symptoms including diarrhea and constipation after oral intake of stinging nettle.
Topical application of stinging nettle extract is also a safe treatment method for hair loss conditions. Handling of stinging nettle may lead to contact dermatitis and skin irritation.
Stinging nettle may also interact with other medications. Stinging nettle may alter the therapeutic effects of anti-diabetic medications, warfarin, lithium, and diuretic drugs. Therefore, it is important to consult with a doctor before starting your stinging nettle application.
How effective is stinging nettle for hair loss?
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Stinging nettle is an effective herbal ingredient that is used for the treatment of non-scarring inflammatory hair loss conditions. Stinging nettle herbal extract comprises vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.
Stinging nettle treats hair loss via inhibition of 5-alpha reductase, reduction of dihydrotestosterone, and suppression of the release of inflammatory cytokine IL-1-alpha.