Stem Cell Therapy: What It Could Mean for Your Hair
For decades, hair thinning and hair loss have posed serious problems for both men and women. What’s worse, the damage was permanent. But in the last few years, stem cell therapy has emerged as a viable solution to thinning and patchiness – so what could it mean for your hair?
With new advances in medical technology, positive changes may be on the way. Until then, here’s what you need to know about the future of this treatment – and what you can do about hair loss until stem cell therapy becomes more readily available:
Hair Loss and Aging
Dealing with hair loss or excessive thinning can make you feel exposed and anxious. But you’re not alone.
According to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation, more than 6.8 million Americans suffer from alopecia, or some other form of premature hair loss.
Now, thanks to new research conducted in Japan, there’s help on the way.
According to a study recently published in Science, researchers uncovered the relationship between aging hair follicles and excessive thinning.
While scientists already understood that stem cells helped regenerate hair follicles, they didn’t realize that – over time – follicles under a lot of stress would essentially decide to stop producing.
“Our research revealed that hair follicle stem cells change their fate to be eliminated from the skin in response to DNA damage,” Emi Nishimura, the study’s lead scientist, told Time.
As Nishimura and his colleagues continue their research, they hope to discover ways to intervene in this process – essentially reversing the damage or preventing it altogether.
A Hair Loss Cure?
While stem cell therapy is still in the experimental phase, additional studies from Japan have led to “follicular regenerative medicine.”
This process “works by removing a small patch of skin and hair follicles from the patient’s scalp,” extracting stem cells from these follicles, and cultivating the stem cells in the lab, reports science writer John Boyd at Forbes.
Unlike other forms of hair transplants, follicular regenerative medicine promises to help patients continue growing their own hair in areas that have stopped producing new growth. This is a serious step up from hair transplants, where healthy hair follicles are moved from one part of the scalp to another to help hide patchy areas.
The developments, announced by Japan’s RIKEN medical research institute last summer, are due in no small part to previous research conducted at California’s Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute.
In 2015, scientists at Sanford-Burnham used similar methods to test hair regeneration in mice.
“If this approach is proven to work in humans, it will change existing treatments radically,” dermatologist Nicole Rogers told The Huffington Post in 2015.
It looks as if RIKEN scientists have continued the quest to bring follicular regenerative medicine to trial – which could one day help end baldness for good.
While You Wait: 4 Ways to Addressing Thinning Now
Even though the future stem cell therapy for hair loss looks promising, the reality is a long way off. So what can you do to address thinning in the meantime?
Don’t despair – there are plenty of steps you can take to encourage a healthy growth environment for new hair, from taking supplements to ordering a blood test in consultation with your doctor.
Here are four foolproof pieces of advice:
1. CONSIDER SUPPLEMENTS
Hair loss often stems from a lack of protein, biotin, antioxidants, and other essential nutrients – all of which can be addressed through supplements or vitamins.
According to a study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, 80 women with pattern baldness “took fish oil, blackcurrant seed oil, vitamin E, vitamin C, and lycopene supplements every day for 6 months.”
The result? Thicker, healthier hair in 62% of women. Meanwhile, a control group took no supplements – and didn’t see any results.
Fish oil promotes oil and elastin production thanks to its essential fatty acids, while lycopene helps protect the DNA in hair follicles. Antioxidants like vitamins E and C also help with regeneration – not a bad combo!
2. RAMP UP YOUR DIET
If you’ve noticed a distinct change in the volume and sheen of your hair, it might be time to re-examine your dinner plate.
“You start to notice more shine and elasticity, if you start treating your body from within,” she added.
Ramp up your diet with the Omega-3s in fish oil and walnuts, the protein in whole milk yogurt and eggs, and the iron in spinach and other leafy greens.
Each of these nutrients promotes strong, healthy follicles and a positive growth environment for hair.
3. SCALE BACK ON STYLING
While styling your hair differently is a superficial fix, it can ease the anxiety of going out in public when you’re dealing with hair loss.
Stylist Mia Santiago sees clients who struggle with hair loss – whether from traction alopecia or another cause – every day.
“Alopecia acts similarly to a wild cowlick in that your hair will want to split open right where the trouble spot is,” Santiago explained to Allure.
“The easiest solution is to choose a style that’s going to keep hair over the spot that’s balding,” she added. “Try a side braid, low ponytail, or a topknot, whichever would best cover your thinning area.”
You can also create more volume by using texture or volumizing sprays and dry shampoo to lift the roots before styling your hair.
If you count on a bristle brush or heat styling tools, though, you may want to re-think. Heat can make the already-fragile hair shaft brittle, leading to breakage, while a bristle brush might be too much for your hair to handle.
Instead, comb damp hair with a wide-tooth comb to prevent unnecessary shedding and preserve the volume you do have.
4. SCHEDULE A DOCTOR’S VISIT
The human head naturally sheds about 100 strands of hair each day. If you’re noticing an abnormal uptick in shedding, including bald spots or thinning patches, make an appointment with your physician ASAP.
“Routine blood work can test your ferritin (iron stored in the blood) and vitamin D,” suggests Sally Wadyka at Prevention.
“Low levels can lead to hair loss, and the fix may be as simple as adding an iron or vitamin supplement.”
When it comes to understanding the many reasons behind hair loss or hair thinning – as well as the kinds of therapies you should consider – you can’t go wrong with talking to your doctor.
They’ve seen it all, assures dermatologist Francesca Fusco, though some of the most common factors are stress and hormone changes, including pregnancy and starting or stopping birth control.
“Whether you’re just starting it, discontinuing it, or changing brands, your body can react by causing the hair to go into an increased shedding mode,” Fusco told Self, referring to hormonal birth control methods like the Pill.
Whatever the cause may be, a doctor’s visit – and a blood test – will often clear up the questions you have about the health of your hair. Don’t wait!
Suffering from hair loss or thinning can be uncomfortable and embarrassing – but it doesn’t have to be something that you go through alone.
From scheduling a doctor’s appointment to overhauling your diet, being proactive about your health is one way to start feeling in control of your body again.
The more you can provide your hair with the nutrients it needs to be happy and healthy, the easier it will be to get back on the path to healthy regrowth.
And while we’re excited to see new developments in stem cell therapy, the technology is still a long way off for most women suffering from hair loss now.
So keep one eye on the news – but don’t forget about everything that’s in your power to change today.