The word alopecia means hair loss. It sounds like a medical term because it is the Latin word for hair loss and many medical words are derived from Latin. In fact, the term alopecia can be traced back to the Greek language and the word alopekia. This may seem a bit odd to you, as alopekia comes from alopek, which means fox when translated literally. When you learn that alopekia is the way people used to refer to mange in foxes, it all starts to make sense. Hence, today, we refer to hair loss as “alopecia”.
Not to confuse things: although mange can result in hair loss (alopecia), it is actually a skin condition associated with parasitic mites that irritate the skin causing an immune response and sometimes resulting in bacterial infections. This is not the case with many types of hair loss in humans, which can be genetic, hormonal or dietary. Alopecia spelt with a capital A (Alopecia) refers to a medically diagnosed condition as opposed to general “hair falling”.
Causes of alopecia
Hair loss (alopecia) can be caused by a range of different triggers, or even no trigger at all. A host of different reasons can be found for different people’s hair loss: everything from a sudden shock or chronic illness, a hormonal trigger, dietary deficiencies, stress, pharmaceuticals or chemicals, and genetics, to an insect eating the hair away at the root, as villagers in Southern Iran found following an night-time invasion of ants.
Who gets alopecia?
Men and women can both experience hair loss (alopecia). It may be confined to losses on the scalp or anywhere on the body. Animals also experience hair loss. In animals, particularly wild animals, it is often the result of a nasty disease such as mange, or insect infestation. Domestic pets tend to be cared for much better and are less likely to experience this “environmental” alopecia. Lions and stray dogs tend to suffer badly from mange, which causes great irritation to the skin. They get very, very itchy, so much so they may scratch away the top layers of skin (where the follicles are) resulting in hair loss. Monkeys also experience hair loss, and in a similar pattern to humans, which potentially points to a genetic trigger in monkeys as well as humans. However, people don’t get mange, so hair loss in humans quite distinct from other animals.
If you are starting to notice hair loss, there are a number of causes to consider when investigating your particular situation. You can also seek the advice of a general medical practitioner (doctor) or naturopath, or Chinese medicine practitioner.
Alopecia in men
Alopecia (hair loss) is more common in men, and the common type of “male-pattern baldness” is more likely to be permanent. It may result from genetics or hormonal triggers, which can cause the follicles to prematurely cease producing new hairs.
Herbal supplements for alopecia
There are many creams and ointments recommended for alopecia, but the best results, apart from scalp surgery (transplantation), are being found from supplementation. Chinese herbs and tonics are delivering good results for some people with hair loss. By providing specific herbs that help the blood deliver nutrients to the extremities, and invigorate the circulation follicle stimulation promoting hair growth can occur in some people, resulting in more hair and regrowth. Herbs and nutrients can also help improve the look, colour and strength of hair. Formulations created specifically for hair, skin and nails, are the ones to look out for.
So, while alopecia is not a medical condition like heart disease or diabetes, it is a health condition that can, in some cases, benefit from treatment with appropriate herbal or pharmaceutical medicines. By improving the health status of the body overall, taking the right herbs and vitamins to improve your nutrient profile with the specific intention of triggering hair regrowth or follicle support, you may find hair begins to regrow. You will also notice that your hair looks healthier and feels better too.
Katherine West is a health freak and freelance writer who in 2003 studied for a Diploma of Nutrition. She is also into yoga and pilates.