A MYSTERIOUS FAR EAST
Ever since the likes of Charlie Chan, early television’s detective extraordinaire, –and Bruce Lee who kicked his way across our movie screens, America has been increasingly fascinated by the ways of a mysterious Far East.
From kung fu to acupuncture, to the austere spirituality of Zen Buddhism, these cultural imports were adopted by many a Westerner looking for something fresh and new.
One Asian tradition that continues to make inroads is its approach to health –including healthy hair. Unlike Western medicine’s concern with the treatment of illness and disease, Eastern medicine focuses on prevention. Health is seen as a body’s natural state throughout the duration of one’s entire life. Disease is not seen as something to be fought –but instead, disease is seen as a symptom of a person’s lack of harmony, either within the body or with the environment.
Harmony In Our Diet For Healthy Hair
Of course one must ask: what does ‘harmony’ mean? The answer lies in the fact that the healing arts are not seen as a specific separate field, but rather as part of a larger interconnected philosophy. Finding health and harmony becomes something of a balancing act. A Japanese version of this philosophy of balance made its way to America under the moniker of ‘macrobiotics‘. It’s very name meaning great or large (macro) way of life (biotic), indicates its philosophical scope –but it is most commonly viewed as a strict form of dietary practice derived from Zen Buddhism.
The perceived strictness of macrobiotics led to mixed reviews in its early attempts to find a foothold in America, ranging from fanatical enthusiasm to dangerous fringe diet labels. It quickly proved its adaptability however, and before long it developed a healthy following.
Authors and teachers like George Oshawa, Michio Kushi and Herman Aihara travel worldwide to share their message, playing a significant role in the development of the natural foods and alternative healing movements. Macrobiotics, as an all-encompassing philosophy is beyond the scope of just a few pages. However, a brief examination of some of its basic ideas will allow the reader to see how it applies to hair health, and even hair loss prevention.
A Balancing Act
A good starting point is with the yin yang symbol. As the image suggests, it is a symbol of balance: two relative opposites, each containing a seed of the other –in constant transformation as they move in an endless circle. We see this everywhere in nature: winter and summer, night and day, male and female.
By using these polarities as a kind of compass, it becomes possible to achieve some kind of ‘balance.’ As this system can become quite complicated, a more straightforward approach in terms of diet, is to classify foods in terms of pH-acidity or alkalinity -and the effects they have on the body.
Central to this dietary practice is what is known as the ‘standard macrobiotic diet.’ In terms of yin and yang, these foods sit pretty close to the middle – not too acidic, not too alkaline -so they are considered safe foods for daily consumption. They are preferably locally grown, or at least grown in climate conditions similar to those in your area. For those of us in temperate zones this means the majority of our diet should consist of whole grains (e.g. wheat, rice, oats), beans and certain vegetables, supplemented with fish, sea vegetables, nuts and seeds. As we move towards the more extreme foods, the balancing act becomes more complicated, so that for optimal health it is recommended that these foods be avoided.
A quick glance at the more yin and yang foods might leave you saying “…that’s all fine, but there is nothing good left to eat!” Most of our favorite foods fall into either extreme. The key point to remember, however, is balance, and thinking in these terms might still prove useful for health, especially when there are some things that you don’t want to give up.
For example, having a bit of cheese (yang) with that glass of wine (yin) balances things out quite nicely.
To illustrate how these principles apply to hair loss, some macrobiotic teachers will compare hair to a growing plant. Hair loss is related to the condition of the scalp, which is compared to the soil in which the plant grows. If the soil is too moist and watery (yin), the plant doesn’t grown deep roots; it is uprooted easily. Conversely, if the soil is too dry and sandy (yang), the plant is again easily removed.
There are different ways of finding out whether we have too much yin or too much yang (it is possible to have both). Most obviously we can observe our diet. Accomplished macrobiotic practitioners uses a more sophisticated technique known as oriental diagnosis, an ancient method used in many eastern healing practices. This involves observing the many characteristics that make us unique individuals, from posture and physique to skin tone, facial features, pulse and quality of voice. Each of these is said to reflect some kinds of internal state, such as blood quality or the health of an organ. By putting all of this together, a person condition becomes apparent to the trained practitioner.
Oriental medicine relates the condition of the hair to the condition of the intestines. Where you lose your hair, however, is indicative of how you are imbalanced: hair loss towards the top and front of the head indicates too much yin, especially sweets, fruits and alcohol. Hair loss at the crown indicates excessive yang, notably salt and animal protein. An interesting correlation between this view and modern medicine is that too much cholesterol can raise levels of DHT, the “bad” testosterone, leading to male pattern baldness at the top of the head. High cholesterol stems from over-consumption of foods like meat and eggs – in other words, too much yang.
The Pine Needle Scalp Massage
The natural approach of macrobiotics also offers some techniques to help prevent hair loss and perhaps even stimulate new growth. One such treatment is the pine needle scalp massage. This method requires a bundle of fresh pine needles, approximately one inch in diameter, bound up in a pen shape. The scalp is stimulated by poking it gently, increasing blood circulation.
Short periods of use each day gradually strengthen the skin and help bring nutrients to hair follicles. It is also possible that some pine oil is imparted to the scalp, which may have its own usefulness: France’s Pasteur Institute has shown this invigorating oil to have strong antiseptic activity. Following the massage it is recommended that you vigorously rub a mixture of fresh, raw ginger juice and sesame oil (in a 1:1 ratio), a nourishing and stimulating combination similar to those recommended elsewhere in this book.
|Foods most YIN||Foods most YANG|
|butter & oils||poultry|
|nightshade plants (tomato, potato, eggplant)||red meat|
|local fruits and nuts||eggs|
The Chinese Approach
Explaining the entire Chinese approach to medicine to the unacquainted Western mind requires the length of books, not chapters. But with space constraints in mind, we will jump right into the middle and hope those who might want more information, will be sufficiently stimulated to acquire it.
In Oriental tradition the human is a microcosm of nature – an inseparable manifestation of nature as people. We represent the offspring of heaven and Earth: a fusion of cosmic and terrestrial forces. Nature is a single unified system, as symbolized by the Tao: the opposing and complementary aspects of Yin and Yang. Life flows with harmony when the elements of Nature are in balance, and when the balance is upset there is ‘dis’-ease. This is the philosophical base from which the very practical methods of Chinese medicine stem.
The vocabulary of Chinese medicine includes metaphors from Nature such as; Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, Heat, Wind and Cold. While these words have specific meaning in the Chinese medical system only, the West shares the terminology that refers to the organs. For example, both systems will use words like deficient to describe a condition of the kidney. In Chinese medicine, however a deficient kidney cannot be strictly interpreted as a weak kidney.
This is because Chinese medicine defines the organs functionally, not structurally. In the west, when we refer to the kidney we simply mean that particular organ and nothing else. The Chinese system, however, is based on organ networks. The Kidney refers not only to the organ itself, but the meridians or pathways that run through the organs, along which acupuncture points are located. This is how, for example, a Chinese doctor can locate a problem with a patient’s liver by looking at the condition of the eyes. Because the eyes are part of the liver organ network.
Using this network system, a single symptom is observed in relationship to the entire body environment, and problems are not isolated from the context in which they occur. It is interesting to note that while these pathway systems were charted some 5000 years ago, Western science has only recently been able to create electronics sensitive enough to detect and verify the electrical vortex present at each acupuncture point.
To the Oriental medical system, hair is considered to be an extension of the ‘Blood’ (capitalizing the name of the organ is to imply the organ’s network. In the case of Blood, this includes the entire process of generating, distributing, and storing nutrients).
The condition of the hair is one indicator of the quality of the Blood. By improving the quality of Blood and strengthening the Spleen-Pancreas and Kidneys, we can begin to address the problems of hair loss and prematurely gray hair. Healthy hair also depends on sufficient blood being stored in the Liver. When Liver-Blood is deficient it is unable to rise and nourish the head.
Traditionally, the Chinese have used huiki seaweed (a member of the kelp family), nettles (commonly used in the European tradition as well) and wheat grass to keep hair from falling out and to prevent gray hair. These foods are rich in Blood-building chlorophyll (the nettles and wheat grass), and all will detoxify the blood.
You may have heard of the Chinese herb Ho Shou Wu, also known as Fo Ti in North America (Polygonum Muliflorum). Fo Ti is a traditional tonic for restoring gray hair, and is considered a general rejuvenator and longevity agent. Fo Ti has been marketed to Westerners in formulas promising to re-grow lost hair. At least one modern Chinese text (Healing With Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford) however, suggests that Fo Ti is too warming and toxifying to the Liver for most Westerners, causing depression and anger in many cases.
That book recommends it only for those who were raised on low-fat, low- meat diets, who do not show signs of an “excessive liver” (i.e. eye problems, excessive irritability and anger, or deep vertical lines between the eyebrows).
The Chinese system supports the thesis of this book: that the standard Western diet is at least partly to blame for the current epidemic of hair loss, and general poor health of the hair. It confirms that the high-fat, high-protein diet common in America acidifies the blood and damages the Kidneys. Meat and dairy products are considered “sweet” (i.e. Yin) in Chinese medicine, and when added to the high consumption of desserts, sugar-laden foods and drink that’s common in the West, reveal a typical diet unbalanced in favor of the Yin foods.
The ‘Yellow Emperors Classic of Internal Medicine,’ revered by Chinese healers for more than 3000 years, advises that ‘too much sweet-flavored foods make the head hair fall out.’ Though, lest we forget the principles of balance found in both Japanese and Chinese medicine, the Inner Classic also points out that ‘too much salt damages the blood’ –and therefore the hair.
The spleen-pancreas, whose function is to produce blood and assimilate nutrients, is most readily affected by worry and anxiety. In China this is called ‘excessive thinking.’ Because worry weakens the blood, which carries the nutrients necessary for cell regeneration, it accelerates aging in general. Eating meals with simple combinations of whole foods helps produce deeper, less busy thinking. Meditation and relaxed awareness leads to less worry and stress.
Chinese doctors use acupuncture and moxibustion (using heat rather than needles to stimulate the points) in the treatment of hair loss, but the process is not as simple as describing a few points that you can use at home. It is best for one choosing this approach to find an experienced practitioner to work with, as a degree of personalization is involved. Acupuncture treatment is not fixed, but is determined by the characteristic of each individual patient.
The strategy for treatment is based on the location of the patient’s weaknesses, time of year, time of day, patient’s work environment and daily habits. It is then modified based on things like degree of overall progress, shifting symptoms, the color and texture of the tongue, the nature of pulse, and the tone and timbre of the voice.
Herbal formulas are often tailored to the individual and modified to follow his changing patterns. But Chinese medicine does have general formulas to meet common illness patterns that are uncomplicated by individual idiosyncrasies. One such formula is the ‘Seven Treasures Special Pill for Beautiful Whiskers‘ from the Analytic collection of Medical Formulas.
This remedy is designed to ‘enrich Kidney Yin and nourish the Liver- Blood.’ The treatable symptoms are general enough to include premature graying of the hair or hair loss, loose teeth, nocturnal and spontaneous emissions, soreness and weakness of the lower back, declining libido, dry eyes, or unsatisfying sleep.
Kidney Essence maintains tissue and blood, elasticity of skin and muscle, and agility of the mind and clarity of the senses. The above symptoms indicate that depleted Kidney reserves have precipitated a deficiency of the blood of the liver and heart.
The commercial pre-made version of the ‘Seven Treasures‘ formula can be found in Chinese herbal stores, but because this formula does contain ‘Ho Shou Wu,’ –remember the warning issued earlier.
REMEMBER, preventing, halting or reversing hair loss is not an overnight affair. It may take months before improvements are noted, and could take a year before any new growth is apparent. In any case there are no guarantees. The key to success is daily hair care, a must for anyone with problem scalp or hair.
A condition that took a lifetime to develop cannot be reversed in a matter of days or weeks. The techniques you choose to apply must be used consistently and rigorously. Haphazard, occasional therapy will have little or no effect.
In attempting to prevent or reverse hair loss it is wise to think in terms of synergy –the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The more multi-layered your approach the greater your chances of success.
Eliminating the causative factors under your control (e.g. smoking, excess salt consumption, excess cholesterol, high stress levels), combined with dietary changes, nutritional supplementation, scalp stimulation, externally applied formulas, proper hair care and hygiene, can accomplish far more than any isolated approach or technique. You are the experiment, and you are biochemically unique. Therefore a certain amount of trial and error is inevitable.
To conclude we shall detail a basic routine designed to minimize hair loss, including both internal and external remedies. Of course, some personalization is necessary. Find the combination that works best for you and stick with it.
Follicle cleaning is critical to preventing fallage. While Polysorbate 80 has the best researched track record, it is somewhat awkward to apply. Jojoba Oil performs the same function of cleansing the follicles and is much easier to use, as it can be left on all night, doesn’t stain, and washes out easily. It also regulates sebum production, preventing the scalp from becoming too dry or too oily, and revitalizes the hair shaft. Rosemary or peppermint oil may be added to the jojoba oil to stimulate circulation.
For a deeper cleaning action try alternating jojoba oil with apple cider vinegar. Apple cider vinegar should rubbed into the scalp at full strength, and left on for fifteen minutes before shampooing. Cider vinegar normalizes the acid mantle on the scalp and kills off any bad bacteria that may be breeding in the buildup of dead skin cells.
Circulation: Bending over from the waist and gently brushing the entire scalp will enhance circulation and clean dead skin and debris which clogs the follicles from the scalp. If you have dead cell buildup on the scalp, flaking, and/or itchy scalp, it is important to shampoo regularly to aid in keeping the follicles unplugged.
Vegetal Silica: 500 mg, three per day (providing 30mg elemental silica).
Saw Palmetto Berry Extract: 160 mg Standardized Extract — twice a day if you have prostate problems, once per day if you do not.
Vitamin A: (5000 iu) with Beta Carotene (25,000 iu). Specify natural source.
Vitamin C: At least 500 mg per day. Specify ‘Buffered.’
Vitamin E: At least 400 iu per day. Specify, ‘Natural Source.’
Multi-mineral Complex: that includes Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc and trace minerals.
Nothing so effectively prevents hair loss due to breakage as Vegetal Silica. Take Saw Palmetto Berry Extract for its proven ability to prevent the formation of DHT. The three vitamins (A, C, E) are the best researched and proven antioxidants. By scavenging the free radicals that cause cellular degeneration they naturally ward off cancer and heart disease, and also help prevent premature aging and the attendant hair loss. Vitamin C also supports the function of the adrenal glands, helping to combat the excess androgens produced by these glands when under stress. Calcium and Magnesium aid in stress prevention. Zinc helps to prevent the conversion of testosterone to DHT. All other major macro minerals should be presented along with trace minerals.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs)
Essential Fatty Acids are best taken in the form of Flax seed and Fish body oils. Try to use good quality products like BARLEAN’s Organic, currently available all over the US. Alternate or take them together: For example, take a tablespoon of Flax oil with your breakfast oatmeal, and a few Fish oil caps with dinner. Take supplements or eat fish at least three times per week. Omega 3 EFAs are found predominantly in the deep-water fish –including salmon, herring, mackerel, trout, or sardines.
EFAs support immune functions, prevent premature aging, and regulate sebum functions, keeping the skin and hair healthy and vibrant. Because of the link between fats, EFAs, and the formation of DHI surrounding prostate problems and Male Pattern Baldness, this is perhaps the most important area in which to exercise dietary controls. In order to raise and maintain adequate EFA levels one must also restrict the intake of ‘bad’ fats.
The appeal of macrobiotics for supporting hair health may lie in its sheer practicality. Its dietary focus encourages self-reliance in healing and makes it markedly less expensive than many other prevention techniques. Using food to heal is nothing new, nor is it exclusively Eastern – the father of Western medicine, Hippocrates, once said, “Let food be thy medicine.” In modern times, this seemingly radical message is as accessible and as flexible as it was two thousand years ago. If the macrobiotic approach is correct, it is indeed possible to prevent hair loss and even re-grow hair through diet alone. What could be simpler?
Excerpted from the book”Healthy Body; Healthy Hair” by Ken Peters and Nick Waddell.