Volume 3, Issue 30
August 12, 2010

How to improve hair
growth as you age

As we age, it's not uncommon for us to lose our hair. Men typically lose more than women — at least it's more obvious. But women often see thinning as well. There are plenty of products on the market claiming to restore your hair. However, none are as simple or effective as the one I'm about to reveal.

Hair grows in three phases. The catagen and telogen phases are resting phases. When the hair follicles are in these phases, they are getting ready for the anagen phase. This is the growth phase. There are two factors that determine the amount of time your hair remains in these various phases. They are your genetics and your age. The older you are, the less time your hair stays in the anagen phase, and the more time it stays in the resting phases.

If your hair is thinning, the anagen phase is the most important. Because the longer your hair stays in the anagen phase, the faster and longer it will grow. So how can you improve your hair growth as you age? A recent study suggests that a hormone that most people associate only with sleeping is also very much involved in keeping your hair in the anagen phase.

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Everyone knows that melatonin is an important hormone for sleep. As we age, the body produces less and less melatonin. This is probably the main reason why our bodies spend less time in the deeper stages of restorative sleep as we get older. It's also one reason why melatonin is an important anti-aging hormone.

But did you know that melatonin is also very active in the skin and hair follicles? For a long time, I thought that your body made melatonin only in the brain. But a number of studies have now shown that it is also made in the bile fluid, bone marrow, ovary, eye, lymphocytes, stomach, skin, and in hair follicles. And what it does in the hair follicles seems to induce hair growth.

Researchers in the Department of Dermatology and Allergology, at Friedrich-Schiller-University in Jena, Germany wanted to know more about melatonin and hair growth. They looked into whether or not melatonin applied topically to the scalp would influence hair growth. So they set up a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study in 40 women suffering from hair loss. They had the women apply either a 0.1% melatonin solution or a placebo solution on their scalp once a day for six months. During this time, they gave each woman a periodic trichogram. A trichogram is a method of hair analysis that involves plucking 50 to 100 hairs from different parts of the scalp. They study these hairs under a microscope where it's possible to determine how many are in the anagen phase. In addition to the trichograms, the researchers also monitored the blood levels of melatonin.

Here's what they found.

First, they found that the plasma melatonin levels increased as women applied melatonin topically. This simple fact should serve as a reminder that the chemicals you put on your skin, such as creams, bug repellents, sunscreens, etc. actually get into your bloodstream. So be careful what you put on your skin.
Next, they found that the melatonin group had an increase in the number of their hairs that were in the anagen growth phase. But the placebo group didn't show an increase. This means that their hair was growing faster and getting thicker with the melatonin applications. Their conclusion was that melatonin directly stimulated hair follicles to both enter into the anagen phase, and to remain there longer. Other studies prove that melatonin increases skin cell growth in humans. So it seems reasonable to expect that it would have the same effect on hair follicles.

So where can you get topical melatonin solution? So far as I can determine, the only way is through a compounding pharmacy. That would mean that your doctor would need to write you a prescription for a 0.1% topical melatonin solution. A compounding pharmacy can fill that prescription.

Will oral melatonin work just as well? I wouldn't be surprised, but so far we just don't know. I recommend to all my patients over the 50-year-old hump to take 3 mg of melatonin at bedtime (even if they appear to sleep well). This is a super general anti-aging measure. I also recommend that they take 100 mg of 5-HTP along with the melatonin. The 5-HTP is a potent precursor to melatonin. You can get both of at the health food store.

Finding your Real Cures,

Frank Shallenberger, MD

REFS:

Fischer TW, Slominski A, Zmijewski M, et al. Melatonin as a major skin protectant: from free radical scavenging to DNA damage repair. Experimental Dermatology Volume 17, Issue 9, Pages 713-730

Fischer TW, Burmeister G, Schmidt HW, Elsner P. Melatonin increases anagen hair rate in women with androgenetic alopecia or diffuse alopecia: results of a pilot randomized controlled trial. Br J Dermatol. 2005 Oct;153(4):859-60.


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