Alternative Medicine and Alopecia Areata

Alopeica Areata a bald spot on head or scalp. loss of hair from stress
Kevlaraz/Wikimedia Commons/CC0 1.0

For help in managing alopecia areata, some patients turn to a range of natural treatments and alternative therapies. A type of autoimmune disease, alopecia areata occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks your hair follicles and, as a result, causes hair loss on the scalp and various parts of the body.

Related: 5 Ways to Boost Your Immune System Naturally

Currently, there is no cure for alopecia areata.

There are also no medications approved for its treatment. Common coping strategies for alopecia areata include use of sunscreen to shield exposed areas from sun damage, as well as counseling to deal with the emotional challenges of living with hair loss.

Research on Natural Treatments for Alopecia Areata

For a report published in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology in 2010, scientists sized up the available research on the use of complementary and alternative remedies and therapies in the treatment of alopecia areata. However, in their analysis of the 13 studies selected for the review, the authors found that no study was well-designed enough to provide "robust evidence" of the benefit of any type of complementary and/or alternative approach in the management of this condition.

Still, there's some evidence that certain natural treatments may benefit people with alopecia areata. These treatments include:

1) Korean Red Ginseng

A form of Panax ginseng, Korean red ginseng shows promise in the treatment of alopecia areata. In a preliminary study published in the Journal of Ginseng Research in 2012, scientists observed that Korean red ginseng may help promote hair growth in alopecia areata patients.

Related: The Benefits of Ginseng

2) Hypnosis 

A number of small studies indicate that hypnosis may be beneficial to people with alopecia areata. These include a study published in the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis in 2008, for which 28 people with alopecia areata received hypnotherapy.

Of the 21 patients who completed the study, 12 participants experienced significant hair growth after undergoing hypnosis. What's more, all study participants showed a significant decrease in anxiety and depression after receiving hypnotherapy.

A study published in the Swedish journal Acta Dermato-Venereologica in 2011 also found that hypnosis may benefit alopecia areata patients. For this study, 21 people with alopecia areata received 10 sessions of hypnosis over a six-month period. By the study's end, participants showed improvements in several markers of psychological wellbeing, including anxiety and depression.

Related: What is Hypnosis?

3) Onion Juice

Applying onion juice to parts of the head or body affected by alopecia areata may help promote hair growth, according to a small study published in the Journal of Dermatology in 2002.

In an experiment involving 38 people with alopecia areata, those who used an onion-juice-based treatment twice daily for two months experienced significantly more hair growth compared to those assigned to a tap-water-based treatment for the same time period.

4) Aromatherapy 

In a small study published in Archives of Dermatology in 1998, an aromatherapy treatment involving a blend of essential oils of thyme, rosemary, lavender, and cedarwood appeared to aid in the treatment of alopecia areata for some patients.

For the study, 43 people with alopecia areata massaged a combination of these essential oils and the carrier oils jojoba and grapeseed into their scalps every day for seven months. Meanwhile, a second group of 41 alopecia areata patients massaged only jojoba and grapeseed oils into their scalp each day for the same time period.

At the study's end, 19 members of the aromatherapy group showed improvement in their condition, while only six members of the second group showed improvement.

Related: What You Need to Know About Aromatherapy

5) Acupuncture

In a preliminary study published in Acupuncture in Medicine in 2013, tests on mice demonstrated that electroacupuncture may inhibit certain alopecia-related changes in skin cells. Electroacupuncture is a form of acupuncture in which needles are attached to a device that produces continuous electric impulses, and then placed at specific points on the patient's body.

Alopecia Areata and Stress Management

Stress may play an important role in triggering episodes of alopecia areata, according to a study published in the Journal of Dermatology in 1999. Although it's possible that practicing stress management techniques could offer some protection against episodes of alopecia areata, there's currently a lack of studies testing the use of such techniques in alopecia areata management.

Using Natural Treatments to Manage Alopecia Areata?

While it's too soon to recommend natural treatments in the management of alopecia areata, certain alternative therapies or remedies may be helpful to some degree. If you're thinking of using any type of natural treatment for alopecia areata, make sure to consult your healthcare provider.

Sources

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Hay IC1, Jamieson M, Ormerod AD. "Randomized trial of aromatherapy. Successful treatment for alopecia areata." Arch Dermatol. 1998 Nov;134(11):1349-52.

Lee HW1, Jun JH2, Lee JA3, Lim HJ4, Lim HS5, Lee MS2. "Acupuncture for treating alopecia areata: a protocol of systematic review of randomised clinical trials." BMJ Open. 2015 Oct 26;5(10):e008841.

Maeda T, Taniguchi M, Matsuzaki S, Shingaki K, Kanazawa S, Miyata S. "Anti-inflammatory effect of electroacupuncture in the C3H/HeJ mouse model of alopecia areata." Acupunct Med. 2013 Mar;31(1):117-9.

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. "Questions and Answers About Alopecia Areata." NIH Publication No. 15-5143. Last accessed January 2016.

Oh GN1, Son SW. "Efficacy of korean red ginseng in the treatment of alopecia areata." J Ginseng Res. 2012 Oct;36(4):391-5.

Sharquie KE1, Al-Obaidi HK. " Onion juice (Allium cepa L.), a new topical treatment for alopecia areata." J Dermatol. 2002 Jun;29(6):343-6.

van den Biggelaar FJ1, Smolders J, Jansen JF. "Complementary and alternative medicine in alopecia areata." Am J Clin Dermatol. 2010;11(1):11-20.

Willemsen R1, Haentjens P, Roseeuw D, Vanderlinden J. "Hypnosis and alopecia areata: Long-term beneficial effects on psychological well-being." Acta Derm Venereol. 2011 Jan;91(1):35-9.

Willemsen R1, Vanderlinden J. "Hypnotic approaches for alopecia areata." Int J Clin Exp Hypn. 2008 Jul;56(3):318-33.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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