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Androgenic or androgenetic alopecia, also known as male or female pattern hair loss, is one of the most common chronic problems seen by dermatologists. Wait; so it’s called male pattern hair loss and female pattern hair loss? Yeah, in men they call it male pattern hair loss, and in women they call it female pattern hair loss. Okay. Either way, it is characterized by progressive hair loss, predominantly of the central scalp. I’ve talked about hair-loss supplements. I’ve talked about hair-loss drugs. What about foods for hair loss? What role might diet play in the treatment of hair loss?

Human experiments with fecal transplants offer a clue to how powerful our microbiome is, with reports of improvements in hair loss after a fecal slurry made from freshly-passed stools from a donor was administered into another person’s colon, and not just by a little. A totally bald guy starts growing back hair a few months after a fecal transplant, and a little over a year later––check it out, completely regrown. The moral of the story is not to drink brown smoothies, but to keep your good gut bugs happy.

Population studies have found that male pattern baldness is associated with poor sleeping habits and the consumption of meat and junk food, whereas protective associations were found for the consumption of raw vegetables, fresh herbs, as well as the frequent consumption of soy milk. Drinking soy beverages on a weekly basis was associated with 62 percent lower odds of moderate to severe hair loss, raising the possibility that there may be compounds in plants that may be protective.

Complementary and alternative medicine treatments “boast the ability to ’cure’ hair loss ‘safely’ with ‘less side effects’ than conventional medicine. However, it is important…to look beyond the overarching claims and marketing to critically review the literature.” For example, many studies have little relevance because the evidence was obtained on shaved rodents. Hey, let’s smear shaved mice with bee venom. And even when they do clinical studies on actual people, sometime there’s no placebo control; so, you have no idea if the food had anything to do with it.

But there has been a randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of compounds in hot peppers and soy, showing significantly higher promotion of hair growth. Here are some before-and-after pictures of both men and women. Okay, but what kind of doses were they using? They used 6 mg of capsaicin a day, and 75 milligrams of isoflavones. Okay, what does that translate out to in real food? You can get 6 mg of capsaicin in just a quarter of a fresh jalapeno pepper a day. That sounds pretty doable. And you can get 75 mg of isoflavones eating ¾ of a cup of tempeh, or just straight soybeans. Soy nuts (dry-roasted soybeans) are even more concentrated, but given the formation of advanced glycation end-products in high fat/high protein foods at high temperatures, I’d suggest avoiding routinely eating roasted or toasted nuts, seeds, or soy.

There’s also been a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of pumpkin seed oil. Where did they get that idea? In 2009, a study out of South Korea found that randomizing men with BPH—enlarged prostate glands—to just 320 mg of pumpkin seed oil a day (that’s about a 16th of a teaspoon, so just a few drops a day) improved urinary flow rates. Urinary flow continued to kink off and decline in the control group, but those taking the equivalent of just like eating two single pumpkin seeds a day saw a significant improvement. That would seem to be an anti-androgen effect, so maybe it would help with hair loss.

It seems to work in mice when used topically, but what about in people just eating pumpkin seeds? It couldn’t hurt. Sadly, we often throw away pumpkin seeds, squash seeds, or watermelon seeds, and they actually have a rich repertoire of nutrition. But you don’t know if they actually work for hair loss, until you put it to the test.

In a study, 76 men with male pattern baldness received 400 mg of pumpkin seed oil a day hidden in capsules, or they took placebo capsules for a few months. Again, that’s only like eating two pumpkin seeds a day––maybe two and a half pumpkin seeds. They measured scalp hair growth with all sorts of objective and subjective measures, and…after 24 weeks of treatment, self-rated improvement and satisfaction scores in the pumpkin seed oil group were higher, and they objectively had more hair, a 40 percent increase in hair counts, compared to only 10 percent in the placebo group. Here are some representative before-and-after shots of the improvement in hair coverage on two and a half pumpkin seed’s worth of daily oil. Show those pictures to blinded investigators who don’t know who’s in which group, and they rate the placebo groups as getting slightly worse over time, but the pumpkin seed oil group getting significantly better.

In the pumpkin group, 95 percent remained either unchanged or improved, whereas in the control group, more than 90 percent remained unchanged or worsened. Given such a pronounced effect, might we be worried about sexual side effects. They looked before and after at an index of erectile dysfunction, and found no evidence of adverse effects.

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