Woodland Herbs November 2010

In this issue
Welcome to your regular newsletter from Woodland Herbs. We hope you will find it interesting, entertaining and useful. If you do not wish to continue to receive this email please use the link at the bottom of this email.

Healthy Hair and Hair Loss

With winter fast approaching, it's easy to forget about our hair stuffed into a cosy hat or snug under a hood. As well as providing protection for the head, hair plays a major role in regulating body temperature. Those with little or no head hair are likely to feel the cold more and will need extra protection from the elements, both in winter and summer.

The condition of someone's hair can also give a good indication of a person's general health, as hair is very sensitive to vitamin and mineral imbalances in the body. In spite of this, beyond cosmetic concerns, our hair is something we rarely think about until it begins to cause us problems.  Hair complaints, from balding to dandruff, can be a result of many different factors: diet and lifestyle, medical treatments (such as chemotherapy), genetic predisposition, an underlying health issue (eg hypothyroidism) or simply the ageing process.  Though the causes are not always under our control, there are steps we can take to encourage healthy hair growth.

Hair today, gone tomorrow?
Hair is largely made from keratin, the fibrous protein also found in nails and skin. It is non-living tissue, so while slathering on rich conditioners and glossy serums may make it look nice, no amount of 'product' will improve the actual health of your hair. Instead, healthy hair needs nutrient-rich blood to nourish the follicles from which hair grows.

We naturally lose between 50 to 100 hairs every day, a number which only becomes a problem if the hair follicles can no longer replace the hair at the rate at which they're lost. Hair loss (alopecia) affects both men and women, usually in different ways, with males often suffering the receding hairline and central hair loss typical of male pattern baldness, and females often suffering from thinning hair by losing hair from all over the scalp.

Male pattern baldness is a natural process often caused by DHT (dihydrotestosterone), a hormone which causes hair follicles to shrink. It runs in families and is a genetic condition. Clinical trials have shown that Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens) can help treat enlarged prostate glands by inhibiting DHT. This action on DHT suggests that Saw Palmetto may be useful to treat male pattern baldness, though there is limited evidence for this.  Due to the strong taste capsules or tablets are the most common form of Saw Palmetto. Green tea and pumpkin seed oil may also be beneficial in reducing the level of DHT.

It is not only men who suffer from hair loss, however. Women may also find that their hair is thinning. This is most often linked to low iron levels, especially if it occurs when the woman affected is between 18 and 50 years old. If it is the crown of the head that is affected by thinning (normally with older women) this can also be due to increased levels of DHT (female-pattern baldness). DHT levels have been shown to rise in post-menopausal women, therefore some of the remedies mentioned above may be of use (in particular the green tea and the pumpkin seed oil).

Did you know ? - Nearly two-thirds of all adults experience some degree of hair loss by the age of 50.

Supplements that can help with problem hair
Many modern diets are low in nutrients essential to a healthy scalp. There are 3 main minerals that may need extra focus in a healthy hair diet: iron, zinc and selenium.

As well as boosting thyroid function (low thyroid function can lead to hair loss), helping resistance to infection and aiding skin complaints, zinc reduces the activity of the enzyme (5-alpha reductase) which converts testosterone to DHT. As DHT is linked to male pattern baldness in men and hair loss in women, supplemental zinc may be beneficial.  While it makes sense that taking zinc may help prevent hair loss, there is not scientific evidence to prove this. 

Selenium is an antioxidant mineral which is essential in the maintenance of body tissue made from keratin.  It is also useful in the treatment and prevention of dandruff.

Iron is a key mineral for health. A low serum ferritin level in the body (serum ferritin is a measure of the reservoir of stored iron in your body) has been shown to be linked to hair loss, generally a diffuse (all over) pattern of hair loss, most often in women. Improving iron levels by increasing foods high in iron, or supplementing with an absorbable iron supplement may help.

Omega-3 fatty acids , found in algae, fish and flaxseeds, also lubricate the follicles in cases of dry and itchy scalps.

A good multi such as Solgar's Formula VM-75 can provide many of the requirements needed to help maintain a healthy head of hair. Dedicated supplements for the hair and skin normally contain sulphur, which is essential for the production, structure and maintenance of these parts of the body. Solgar's Hair, Skin and Nails formula also contains zinc, copper, vitamin C, amino acids and silica. Silica is a substance vital to the formation of collagen, the primary protein in the body's connective tissue and strengthens hair.

Did you know? -  On average, hair grows about half an inch (1.25cm) per month. Though the 'old wives' tale that you should cut your hair at the new moon to encourage healthy growth may not hold true (what you're snipping at is dead), many gardeners and farmers would agree that lunar phases affect growth rates of their plants and crops (especially biodynamic gardeners).

What else you can do
Psychological and emotional states invariably impact on our physical health, and the condition of our hair can often reflect less visible problems. It is not unknown for people to suffer hair loss after bereavement, periods of severe stress, or another major life change. While we often cannot control such events, we can take steps to reduce the negative impact on our well-being by seeking help and support from others, and incorporating proper relaxation (not watching violent, stressful TV or films!) into our daily lives. Regular exercise helps alleviate stress and stimulates blood flow. Avoid smoking, which increases hair loss. Harsh chemicals can affect hair quality (eg ammonia which is used in permanent hair treatments, and chlorine at the swimming pool). Consider using milder products that won't strip the hair of its natural protective and conditioning oils.

Top tip... treat your scalp to a weekly massage to relieve stress and stimulate blood flow.  Weleda's Rosemary Scalp Lotion or Woodland Herbs own blend of Rosemary, Juniper, Lavender and Cedarwood essential oils in a base of Jojoba are invigorating and help promote healthy blood circulation to the scalp.  You can do it yourself before a bath or shower, or better still ask a friend.  You can always reciprocate!

See your health practitioner if hair loss occurs suddenly, when it is accompanied by cessation of periods, or your scalp begins to itch intensely or develops large dry patches. If you suspect your hair loss is due to an underlying condition such as hypothyroidism, see your medical professional.

  floradix Supplement of the Month - Iron
Iron is essential to haemoglobin, which carries oxygen around the body in the blood. Iron deficiency is very common, particularly in women of menstruating age. This is compounded if not enough iron is consumed in the diet, a common problem in poorly managed vegetarian and vegan diets, and those who crash diet. Low iron can lead to fatigue, anaemia, palpitations, poor concentration levels and an increased susceptibility to cold temperatures and infections. The EU's recommended daily allowance of iron - defined as the minimum daily amount required to avoid a deficiency - is 14mg for women aged 19 to 50 and 8.7mg for men.

Iron can be difficult to absorb as it needs some of the B vitamins and vitamin C to be absorbed, so take it just after eating. Some cheaper (and difficult to absorb) forms of iron including Ferrous Sulphate which can upset some people's digestion, so it may be better to take it in a form more suited to easy absorption. Solgar's Gentle Iron uses bisglycinate, a unique form of chelated iron that normally avoids any intestinal irritation.  Salus's Floradix and yeast/gluten-free Floravital offer 15mg and 19mg of iron respectively per day.  Taken in liquid form, they include B vitamins and vitamin C, all required for iron assimilation. To check you like the taste of Floradix, drop us an email and we can send a sample.
Nettle is considered to be one of the herbs containing the most iron (plus the right vitamins to help iron to be absorbed). Because of its rich iron content it is reported to be useful in helping women with heavy periods. Nettle also contains silica and as such may be helpful for weak, thin hair. Nettle is a nice green tasting tea and makes a good morning or all-day drink. It is also available as a tincture.

Use caution when taking iron supplements , as they could mask an underlying cause of anaemia such as a bleeding ulcer. Always consult your medical practitioner before self treating, especially if you have medical condition, are on other medication or are pregnant or breast feeding. Iron overdose can be dangerous and supplements should be kept out of children's reach.

horsetail Herb of the Month - Horsetail
Horsetail ( Equisetum arvense ) is a bushy perennial herb traditionally used to treat kidney and bladder problems because its high mineral content helps to heal damaged tissue. As well as potassium and calcium, Horsetail is rich in silica, a major component of the connective tissue of hair, skin and nails. Bones also rely on silica for the structure of their connective tissue and Horsetail may be a useful addition to other bone-building supplements.

The name Horsetail comes from the way it looks, but it was also called 'pan scourer' because the branches were used to scour dirty dishes, as the high silica content made the plant an ideal scrubber. Even today the fresh Horsetail is still used by some martial artists as the last thing they use to sharpen the edge of their swords.

How to make the tea: There are different opinions, however many authors suggest simply making it as an infusion, by using one teaspoon per cup and drinking a cup up to three times a day. It is not recommend to use it long term because its high mineral content can be too strong for the kidneys. Some authors suggest one month on one month off, however it is probably best just to use it short term when you need it. At Woodland Herbs we sell Horsetail as a loose tea  and tincture , plus we also carry Salus's  fresh plant juice .

Cautions and contraindications: We normally recommend seeking advice from your doctor, herbalist or other health professional if taking prescription medicines and thinking about self-treating with herbs.