An exotic plant related to the hibiscus and often used as a kind of tea has shown potential as a new hair loss treatment, according to a group of scientists in Korea.
Malva Verticillata, also known as Chinese Mallow, is already popular in natural medicine because of its long history as a natural remedy, including use as an anti-inflammatory and in dealing with renal disorders. WebMD also notes that it “might lower blood sugar and affect immune system function.”
Now, a Korean team comprising researchers from the Biotechnology, Pharmacy, Dermatology and Neurosurgery departments of various Korean institutions including Seongnam's CHA University, Kyungpook National University in Daegu, and the Chungnam National University in Daejeon has found that extracts from the plant’s seeds can manipulate the Wnt/β-catenin pathway.
What this means is that by increasing Wnt reporter activity, the seed extract led to increased β-catenin levels in cultured human dermal papilla cells (DPCs), this in turn can affect the phases of the hair growth cycle and may therefore be useful in treating certain hair loss conditions. Which specific conditions these are is unclear, however, the most likely are male pattern baldness and a number - such as female pattern hair loss and telogen effluvium - which cause thinning hair in women.
This study, published in this month's International Journal of Cosmetic Science, states that: 'The β-catenin pathway of dermal papilla cells (DPCs) plays a pivotal role in morphogenesis and normal regeneration of hair follicles. Deletion of β-catenin in the dermal papilla reduces proliferation of the hair follicle progenitor cells that generate the hair shaft and induces an early onset of the catagen phase.'
The catagen phase of the hair growth cycle - as per the diagram below - is the middle, resting stage that comes between the anagen phase of active growth and the telogen phase during which growth stops and the hair sheds ready for the anagen phase to begin again.
The Wnt pathway is key in the regulation of hair growth which has led to scientists, including teams at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Medicine, and a 2013 study into proteins that induce hair growth, investigating ways to manipulate this to prevent or treat genetic hair loss in both men and women. So far, however, this is the only plant-based study as the others have revolved around stem cells.
By using a Wnt/β-catenin reporter activity assay system (β-cateninTCF/LEF reporter gene) and cell proliferation analysis, the team were able to assess the effects of the Malva Verticillata seeds on the cultured human DPCs.
The Korean scientists detailed their methods, explaining: 'The synthesis of the factors related to hair growth and cycling was measured at both the mRNA and the protein level by semi-quantitative PCR and Western blot analysis, respectively.'
Concluding their results, the study authors state: 'Myristoleic acid, identified as an effective compound of M. verticillata seeds, stimulated the proliferation of DPCs in a dose-dependent manner and increased transcription levels of the downstream targets: IGF-1, KGF, VEGF and HGF. Myristoleic acid also enhanced the phosphorylation of MAPKs (Akt and p38)'.
The study also confirms that these results show the seed extract to be 'a good candidate for treating hair loss'. Details as to how the extract of Chinese Mallow (pictured) would be taken or applied in order to become useful either in promoting hair growth or fighting hair loss remains unknown, so further details are required although this discovery further backs the alopecia research community's decision to explore the Wnt pathway as a means to developing the hair loss treatments of the future.
This is by no means the first time that traditional Chinese mention has suggested a possible solution to hair loss, though western specialists who work in the field currently prefer to rely on clinically-proven products when trying to halt hair loss and encourage new regrowth.
Senior Belgravia hair loss specialist, Leonora Doclis, says that while popular Chinese herbs such as Panax Ginseng, Stinging Nettle, Saw Palmetto and Ginkgo Biloba can help make hair healthier, they have not been clinically proven to prevent or treat hair loss.
In the same way that you would not use prescription medication without the advice of your GP, using Chinese herbs without professional supervision is also unwise; recently a man reportedly died from liver failure after taking up to 3kg of Chinese knotweed - a traditional medicine often used to treat male pattern hair loss.
Whilst relatively little is known about the applications of this latest potential treatment, what is certainly true is that an eventual 'miracle cure' for hair loss could come from almost anywhere. Minoxidil, one of the two main clinically-proven hair loss treatments currently available and licensed by the UK's MHRA for use on genetic hair loss in both men and women, started life as a potential cure for ulcers and went on to be used as a treatment for high blood pressure.
It can take many years to develop safe and effective hair loss treatments so, if you are concerned that you are losing more hair than normal, the best thing to do is to have a specialist assess you. Following a free consultation and trichocheck - which can be done online for people who cannot visit our Central London hair loss clinics in person, including those who live abroad - a personalised treatment plan built around primary medications such as high strength minoxidil, will be recommended in order to help get your hair back to its full potential as quickly as possible, just like the clients featured in our extensive Success Stories gallery.
The Belgravia Centre is a world-renowned group of a hair loss clinic in Central London, UK. If you are worried about hair loss you can arrange a free consultation with a hair loss expert or complete our Online Consultation from anywhere in the world for home-use treatment.
View our Hair Loss Success Stories, which includes the world's largest gallery of hair growth photos and demonstrates the level of success that so many of Belgravia's patients achieve.