Is it safe to use Ayurvedic medicine for hair loss?
Could this type of holistic healing be right for you?
This article looks at Ayurveda from a western perspective, to help you decide if it may work better for you than conventional remedies.
Ayurvedic medicine - known as Ayurveda - is the primary healthcare system of India.
Developed there thousands of years ago, it is one of the world's oldest medical systems still in use today.
Although Ayurveda is a fairly new concept to the western world, it is slowly gaining in popularity, particularly when western medicine fails and patients seek new approaches to their conditions.
The internet has made information about Ayurveda much more accessible, of course, and you will quite often come across Ayurvedic remedies when searching for hair loss solutions online.
In the US and other western countries, doctors tend to diagnose a health problem, then prescribe a treatment (usually medication) for that particular problem.
Ayurvedic medicine, on the other hand, is focused more on promoting overall good health, rather than on treating specific diseases. Indeed, some view Ayurveda as more of a 'way of life' than a medical system.
A practitioner of Ayurveda (vaidya) strives to promote harmony between his patient's body, mind and spirit. The principle of Ayurveda is that this delicate balance is essential to good health and that any imbalance can result in disease.
Ayurvedic medicine, then, is based on a 'holistic' (whole body) approach, where treatments are very much tailored to the individual.
Treatments are based on all sorts of factors in addition to the symptoms presenting themselves... the patient's employment, for example, and current relationships.
By tackling problems this way, Ayurvedic practitioners aim to encourage the body to heal itself and to maintain good health in the future.
Clinical and laboratory research on Ayurveda is supported by the Indian government and by other institutions around the world.
According to Ayurvedic medicine, there are three 'doshas', known as :
A dosha is a type of energy believed to circulate in the body. It influences a person's health, mental well-being and body type. Ayurvedic practitioners can determine a patient's dosha and identify any imbalance.
It is the imbalance which is then treated, with the aim of restoring the mind, body and spirit to complete harmony and good health.
Unlike most western medicine, treatments are not just drug based (although there are some remedies that may be commonly recommended for particular conditions).
Ayurveda encompasses a range of healing methods to rebalance doshas, including dietary changes, massage with herbal oils, meditation, yoga, elimination of toxins, stress reduction, counseling and supervised fasting.
Rather than being issued with medication and sent on their way, the patient of a vaidya will be given a program of treatment involving a combination of these methods.
Experts in Ayurveda believe that hair loss is caused by too much 'pitta dosha' in the body.
They also believe that hair is a by-product of bone formation, or is produced as a breakdown of bone tissue. They say that the metabolism of this tissue is dependent on 'digestive fire', which must be balanced.
Too much pitta dosha, therefore, causes an imbalance which triggers hair problems.
There are certain foods and habits that are believed to contribute to this imbalance and which may ultimately lead to hair loss.
These include too much:
Living in a hot climate is also believed to aggravate pitta dosha.
There are many remedies for hair loss recommended by practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine and I've listed some of the more common ones here.
Ayurvedic medicine has not been widely studied in the west - in fact, this interesting article published in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrated Medicine discusses how western research has focused more on the effects of certain Ayurvedic treatments, rather than in understanding Ayurveda's main concepts and principles.
In the US, Ayurvedic medicine is viewed as a type of CAM - Complementary and Alternative Medicine. According to a 2007 National Health Interview Survey, it was used by 200,000 US adults in the previous year.
In India, a practitioner of Ayurveda (vaidya) will have undergone years of extensive, state recognized, institutionalized training.
In the US, however, no states license Ayurvedic practitioners and there are no national standards for training.
This means that it is VERY important that you thoroughly check the training and background of anyone you consult regarding Ayurvedic treatment.
There are LOTS of Ayurvedic remedies available online and they can be very tempting to those of us affected by hair loss and anxious to find a solution as quickly as possible.
However, Ayurvedic products are considered 'dietary supplements' in the US. This means that they do not have to meet the same standards of safety and effectiveness as conventional medications.
In 2008, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) funded a study of the contents of Ayurvedic products bought over the internet. These products were either made in India or the US.
Worryingly, the research revealed that 21% of these products contained lead, mercury and/or arsenic that exceeded standards standards acceptable for daily intake.
Another problem with Ayurvedic medicines bought online is that they may produce side effects you weren't expecting. There is also the risk that they may interact with any conventional medications you are taking, causing unwelcome problems, or - if you try more than one Ayurvedic remedy at a time - may even interact with each other.
To me as a hair loss sufferer, many of the principles of Ayurveda make perfect sense... and the idea of treating the body as a whole in order to tackle the issue of hair loss is an attractive one.
Indeed, many Ayurvedic treatments - such as ensuring the diet is rich in protein and other valuable nutrients, plus the use of scalp massage with certain oils - are more or less in line with western approaches to treating thinning hair.
Respected institutions such as John Hopkins agree that Ayurvedic medicine can certainly produce positive results, but it is very important to take the proper precautions if you wish to try Ayurvedic medicine for hair loss in the west...
If so, then I would love to hear about your experiences.
Please do contact me here with any comments, tips or advice you may have.