Q: I'm a 40-year-old female and my hair is coming out in handfuls. What can I do to stop it?
-Patricia C., Latham, Mo.
A: It is normal to lose about 100 strands of hair a day. If you don't wash your hair every day, most of these strands will come out when you do wash it, making the loss especially noticeable.
If you feel your hair loss is excessive, however, speak with your doctor. Hypothyroidism and other hormonal imbalances, as well as digestive disorders and stress, can cause an inordinate amount of hair loss.
To keep your hair healthy, avoid harsh soaps and unnecessary chemicals. Conditioners are particularly notorious for being loaded with chemicals. Buy your hair products at health food stores or from a company known to use all-natural ingredients. Also, avoid washing your hair more than necessary.
Two micronutrients are especially important for healthy hair: biotin, a type of B vitamin; and silica, a trace mineral. Take 8 to 10 mg of biotin daily. You can find silica in liquid or pill form; aim to take 250 to 500 mg daily for at least a year. You should see results (less hair falling out) within a month.
The most important macronutrient for hair health is protein: lean and clean is my motto. Avoid commercial chicken and commercial red meat, as they are loaded with hormones and antibiotics. Go for about 60 g daily of fish, free-range fowl, wild game or grass-fed meat (if you can get it), cage-free eggs, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
Q: I am an African-American woman who gets bruises that don't heal. Does this mean I'm deficient in certain vitamins? Also, I have acne scars that don't seem to fade even though I carefully apply medicin
-Tracy P., Cincinnati
A: The most important nutrients for strengthening vascular tissue are vitamin C and bioflavonoids. Many health care professionals suspect that the body can absorb up to 4,000 mg of vitamin C at a time, sometimes multiple times per day. When your bowel movements start to get loose, cut back on the dosage. Take as much as possible for several months. Make sure to eat ½ cup daily of deeply pigmented foods, such as berries (particularly blueberries), dark leafy greens, and bell peppers, to strengthen tiny blood vessels that break and cause bruising. These foods are high in bioflavonoids, which work with vitamin C to produce the connective tissue vessels needed for strength. Take 500 to 1,000 mg of bioflavonoid supplements if you are not getting them in your diet.
Because you are African-American, your symptoms could pose some genetic concerns. Although unlikely, you could be a carrier for sickle-cell anemia, which affects 8 to 13 percent of African-Americans. Occasional blood transfusions would be the therapy for you in this case. Please check with your health care provider.
According to some research, scarring in black skin is due to lower levels of natural cyanide in the blood. You can obtain natural cyanide in black cherry juice or the whole fruits. Add 1 quart of black cherry juice weekly to your diet for 6 to 12 months and see if that helps with the acne scars. These scars tend to fade with age and healthy levels of sun and fresh air exposure. Topical applications of fruit acids (such as azelaic acid) or a mix of castor oil and vitamin E also help fade acne scars. You could also add essential oils of carrot seed, lavender, and geranium to the oil blend. Don't use foundation or other makeup that clogs the pores and prevents your skin from breathing. Use a mild cleanser with very cold water followed by toner to tighten the pores. [Editor's note: Clear Skin Serum by MyChelle Dermaceuticals contains azelaic acid and is available at many health food stores.]
Q: I used to use a popular acne cure system that worked well, but I stopped because I was worried about chemicals in the product. My skin broke out, so I tried the product again, and it doesn't work anymore. I'm 19. What can I do?
-Anna H., Pismo Beach, Calif.
A: Some people find that any one acne solution doesn't work indefinitely, and you need to mix up the therapies to keep them working. I'm also wondering if your diet, stress level, or personal hygiene habits have changed. Plenty of water, adequate sleep, and a high-fiber/zero-grease diet are essential for combating acne. Avoid alcohol, sugar, processed flour products, caffeine, nicotine, and other drugs. Also, avoid dairy products-especially high-fat cheeses and ice cream, as they generally hinder skin healing.
The most important nutrient, if I had to choose one, would be vitamin A. High levels, as prescribed by a naturopathic doctor, work well, but make sure you don't get pregnant while on high doses of vitamin A. If you must, be on a birth control pill-although that's not my first choice of therapy. Choose one that has proven benefits for acne, such as Ortho Tri-Cyclen. Avoid using harsh soaps and products with alcohol. If your acne is worst premenstrually, adding vitamin B6 (250 mg daily) and zinc (30 to 50 mg daily) often helps. Another consideration for hormone-related acne is to help your body decrease the metabolism of testosterone into a more powerful androgen with 320 mg saw palmetto twice daily as standardized extract for at least three months. Keeping your bowels moving (at least one bowel movement daily) and liver-cleansing foods and herbs are very helpful to promote clear skin. Artichokes and beets are two favorite liver-cleansing foods.
Most health food stores carry a goldenseal/propolis cream that many of my patients have found helpful for preventing and treating acne. Other herbs my colleagues have used with success for skin cleansing are burdock and juniper. These are taken internally, as supplements. Sometimes a month-long course of probiotics (the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species, plus a prebiotic, such as FOS or lactoferrin) can kick-start liver cleansing and promote clear skin. Sunlight and vitamin D are very important for reversing acne. If your skin clears up when you're on vacation or getting a tan, then taking vitamin D daily will help (check your blood levels to get the exact dose you need).
Use a gentle wash in the morning, either just water or oatmeal water (run water through a clean sock stuffed with a few tablespoons of rolled oats) followed with a rose water/witch hazel combo toner. In the evening, rinse your face with water, then use a light cleansing cream; or look for an aloe-and-citrus wash-no soaps. Follow with splashes of very cold water or the morning toner. Use fruit acids or a dab of benzoyl peroxide on pimples overnight as needed. Choose a skin care system and stick with it for several weeks. If it's not working, modify and try again. Everyone's skin is unique, and it may take some experimenting with both diet and your skin care routine to figure out what works best for you.
DID YOU KNOW?
You can e-mail health questions to Emily Kane (aka Dr. Em) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Put "Ask the Naturopath" in the subject line.