Stinging Nettle for Hair Loss: Does It Work?
Hair loss is the result of many factors including genetics, hormones, environmental toxins, medications, and deficiencies from poor nutrition.
Eating a whole plant based diet will give your body the nutrients it needs to maintain balance and reduce inflammation, however, additional measures should be taken to stimulate hair growth.
Botanical products have also been found to fight inflammation, minimize hair cell oxidation, and block hormones like dihydrotestosterone (DHT) (1). Stinging nettle has healing and health benefits that make it a viable option for hair loss.
What is Stinging Nettle?
Stinging Nettle also known as Urtica dioica is a herbaceous perennial flowering plant reaching heights of seven feet tall when placed in sunny damp soil (2).
The plant gets its name from the Latin word uro meaning “I burn.” If not handled properly you can end up with a burning rash. The hot, stinging sensation is the result of antigenic proteins shot down from the needle-like hairs that run along the plant’s leaves and stems (3).
A stinging nettle plant.
In addition to dating back all the way to Ancient Greece, stinging nettle has been used among Native American, English, and Austrian cultures.
Native Americans used raw leaves to treat arthritis. The English created a tonic to improve lactation. Austrians found it fought inflammation in kidney and urinary tract infections, the flu, gout, hemorrhage, and cardiovascular and gastrointestinal diseases (4).
The anti-inflammatory and nutritive properties make stinging nettle helpful for hair loss.
Nutritive Properties of Stinging Nettle Help Improve Hair Loss
Scalp hair follicles require vitamins, minerals, and other bioactive compounds to produce healthy hair (5). Inadequate consumption of nutrients leads to deficiencies has long been tied to hair loss (6).
The vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients found in stinging nettle account for why nettle may be beneficial for hair loss. (7)
Vitamin A is needed for various body processes including vision. It is made up of a group of compounds known as retinol, retinoic acid, and provitamin A carotenoids.
Too much vitamin A can also be problematic. Hair loss has seen when consuming up to 3,000 micrograms or more per day. This often results from over supplementation and is accompanied with changes in skin, vision and bone (7).
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
Vitamin B2 also known as riboflavin is a B vitamin that plays a role in how cells grow and function. Deficiencies in this nutrient have been associated with hair loss (5).
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
Decreased blood flow to the scalp is often a cause of inflammation and hair loss (9). Vitamin B3 or niacin is a B vitamin that helps to increase circulation and suppress inflammation.
Niacin also acts as a transporter. It brings nutrients to the scalp and then excretes waste products from hair cells. Therefore, getting adequate niacin can be helpful for increased flow of oxygen, blood and nutrients to the hair follicle to prevent inflammation and hair loss.
In addition to dietary intake, niacin applied to the scalp was found to have a positive effect on hair loss. A pilot study of 6 people using topical niacin showed an increase in hair thickness among women who were suffering from hair loss (10).
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
Vitamins B6 also known as pyridoxine is a nutrient that has been added to over the counter treatments for hair loss (7). Prevention of alopecia was also seen in mice who were exposed to environmental toxins like cigarette smoke with a mixture of the amino acid l-cysteine and B6.
Vitamin B9 (Folate)
Vitamin B9 better known as folate is a B vitamin that is needed for cognitive function along with making red blood cells and DNA (11). This indicates that folate may also stimulate follicle cells to grow. However, the research is limited showing no difference in blood levels between health individuals and those with AA.
Vitamin C is both a vitamin and an antioxidant. It is needed by most body cells and also fights free radicals and inflammation (5).
Research on vitamin C is mixed. Some say there is no data to links a correlation between vitamin C and hair loss, while other studies say this nutrient can lead to processes that will stimulate hair growth. One example is the formation of new blood vessels in vitamin C’s vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) creating better blood flow to to the scalp (12).
Vitamin C has also been praised as a possible prevention for balding as a result of blocking DHT production (7).
Vitamin D is both a hormone and a vitamin that plays a large role in immunity, calcium metabolism, bone formation, along with cell growth and function (13).
Hair follicles are very sensitive to hormones and hair growth is dependent on vitamin D (14).
Vitamin D binds with specific receptors within the nucleus of cells known as vitamin D receptors or VDR. VDRs are activated in hair follicles that are healthy and in the stage of growth have activated in animal studies (13). This shows vitamin D is needed for normal hair growth as cells without VDR will have reduced growth and not thrive.
Vitamin E is made up of tocotrienols and tocopherol. These compounds have been known to help prevent chronic diseases (15). This nutrient also functions an antioxidant known to help calm inflammation in the body.
The chemical structure of vitamin E
Elevated inflammatory markers along with decreased antioxidants levels was apparent in scalps of those who have experienced hair loss (16).
Calming scalp inflammation with antioxidants like vitamin E may improve hair loss. Twenty-one individuals with hair loss saw a 34.5 percent increase in the number of hairs when given an oral dose of 100 mg of mixed tocotrienols daily for 8 months (16). A 0.1 percent decrease in the number of hairs was seen among those who did not get the supplement.
There is a high abundance of essential minerals found in stinging nettle. These include iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, copper, zinc, cobalt, silicon, and manganese (17).
Calcium is a nutrient that is needed to keep hair intact. There is 200 times more calcium in the hair than the blood and cells. In effect, if calcium is deficient then hair loss could also be likely (18). Calcium is essential for vitamin D function and lack of this nutrient follicle cells cannot thrive (19).
While a deficiency in iron can lead to a dry, thin, and fragile scalp, the role iron plays in hair loss is a somewhat vague. Changes in hair growth is regulated by genetics. Knowing iron is needed to create DNA this nutrient may also be essential to regulate genes that promote hair growth.
Hair growth was also seen among when iron deficiencies were corrected among mice (6). This points to a possible connection between hair loss and iron levels but further research needs to be conducted on the topic.
Potassium is a nutrient that works in tandem with sodium. When the diet is high in sodium the potassium levels tend to be low. A diet high in salt can restrict blood flow to the scalp and decrease the amount of potassium that gets to the hair follicles.
Nettle plants contain a high amount of potassium. This nutrient also plays a large role in the prevention of inflammation of cardiovascular disease (20).
Magnesium also plays a role gene function. It helps to catalyze enzymes that carry out digestion of food and facilitate antioxidant function. Intake of this nutrient alleviates physical effects of stress and lessen inflammation in hair follicles (20).
Zinc is a mineral needed for many body processes. It plays a role in the way hair genes function (21). Zinc also prevents inflammation and was shown to stimulate the formation of scalp cells.
Deficiencies in zinc play a role in hair loss. Research on zinc showed lower blood levels in those with hair loss. The lower the level the worse the progression of AA.
A year long study of administration of a topical solution containing zinc showed more complete hair growth in 33 percent of participants compared with those who were given none (19).
When the body is low in zinc telogen effluvium (TE) develops. This is characterized by hair thinning at the scalp. Zinc supplementation has been shown to be a good complementary treatment for AA patients suffering from low levels of this nutrient (22).
Copper has been shown to encourage hair growth and prevent hormonal factors such as dihydrotestosterone (DHT) that lead to hair loss (23). When combined with zinc in the body it creates an enzyme that has antioxidant properties. An imbalance of copper and zinc ratio can play a role in hair loss due to inflammation of the hair follicles.
Manganese works as an anti-inflammatory agent. Hair loss is often linked to oxidative stress and a deficiency of manganese can lead to impaired growth in animals. In effect, the presence of this nutrient helps to reduce stress on the scalp and improve follicle cell function (24).
Stinging nettle is also a good source of the bioactive substances known as phytonutrients. These compounds are what give the plant its ability to fight against bacteria and promote health and wellness. Phytonutrients found in stinging nettle include omega 3 fatty acids, phenols, carotenoids, and chlorophyll (17).
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Alpha linoleic acid better known as omega 3 fatty acids is an essential fat we must get from diet. These healthy fats are known for their antioxidant properties in heart disease prevention. Mature leaves contain about 40 percent of this essential healthy fat.
Phenols consist of the following compounds: flavonoids, phenolic acids, and tannins (25). Like omega 3 fatty acids, they have shown to have an anticarcinogenic, antimutagenic, and anti‐inflammatory effect on the body.
Phenolics have been also found to prevent cell death (26). When given orally the flavonoid compounds in nettle have shown to improve antioxidant enzyme activity improving immune function in mice when taken for 14 days. Other research shows the nettle plant also increased antioxidant enzyme activity on the kidney, lung, and stomach (20).
Carotenoids are the yellow, orange, and red pigments made by plants. Found primarily in the leaves of the nettle plant they are a preformed version of vitamin A known as retinal.
The level of carotenoids differs by age. Mature leaves contain lower amounts of zeaxanthin compared with younger varieties (27). Like phenols, and omega 3 fatty acids, carotenoids also protect the body from inflammation and disease.
Chlorophyll is another plant pigment that is considered a phytonutrient. Nettle leaves contain a large amount of chlorophyll. This substance cleanses and detoxifies the body regenerating hair cells (20).
Ways To Use Stinging Nettle
Stinging nettle is versatile. It exists as a powder or liquid and has been added to topical creams and pills. This enables the user to take it in just about any form they want: orally in a pill or tea, or add it directly to their scalp with a rinse or topical cream.
With any food processing, there is a risk for nutrient loss. This is also the case with stinging nettle. When compared with dried nettle, tests of fresh samples of the plant showed higher phenolic contents (28).
Nettle Tea and Pills
Nettle tea including the root, stalk, and leaves was found to have less antioxidant properties than the fresh plant parts. Losses could be due to how the tea was processed.
A kettle of stinging nettle tea.
There is little evidence on the efficacy of stinging nettle in tea or pill form and the effect on hair loss. It did, however, exhibit decreased inflammation when dried nettle extract was added to a supplement for osteoarthritis sufferers (29).
Nettle Topical Mixtures & Serums
Researchers concluded that a herbal topical mixture containing stinging nettle may be a promising agent to treat androgenetic alopecia (AGA), telogen effluvium (TE), and AA.
Another study on herbal extracts including stinging nettle has been shown to exhibit an increase in human follicle dermal papilla (DPA) cells (30).
Stressed and inflamed cells contain interleukin 1 alpha (IL-1α) (31). This compound has been responsible for androgenic alopecia (AGA), telogen effluvium (TE), and alopecia areata (AA). A hair extract serum containing nettle showed a decrease in the amount of IL-1α when measured (7).
Human keratinocyte cells (HaCAT cells) are the components of hair follicles and also known to produce a lot of IL-1α.
The human keratinocyte cell (HaCaT cells) have been studied for hair growth tactics due to the ectodermal keratinocytes being among the functional components of the hair follicle and they are as well as the major producers of IL-1α.
An extract containing herbs may be a positive therapy for hair loss and by preventing the formation of IL-1α in HaCaT cells with this abundance of nutrients (32).
Neurotransmitters May Be What Make Nettle Work
The stinging reaction caused by the plant hairs is said to contain many active ingredients, such as formic acid. Other ingredients include histamine, serotonin, acetylcholine, hydroxytryptamine, and other irritants.
These substances have different effects on the body. They often are the cause of the rash and irritation that occurs when the plant touches the skin.
Serotonin, also known as 5-hydroxytryptamine, is made from the amino acid tryptophan. Occurring in the brain, intestinal tissue, blood, and mast cells it is often found in venoms including wasp and toad.
Serotonin can cause blood vessels to constrict. In the brain, it functions as a chemical and affects mood function. Too little or too much this substance can be problematic for the body. Too little can results in depression and mood disorders while too much causes migraines and nausea.
Formic acid is a chemical that is both naturally occurring and frequently synthesized in laboratories. In nature, it is most commonly found in the bites and stings of insects, namely ants and bees. It is this compound that causes most of the irritation that occurs immediately following an ant bite or a bee sting.
Although it can be very dangerous when highly concentrated, formic acid is frequently used in food products as a preservative or a pesticide. In its purest form, it has little to no color and a very strong odor. Despite its natural use as a deterrent for predators, humans have found many practical, everyday uses for this versatile chemical.
Histamine is an active substance found in many living organisms including nettle plants. The histamine in the trichomes is what causes the swelling and itching when the skin comes in contact with the plant. In humans, it acts as a blood vessel dilator and also serves as a neurotransmitter to help carry chemical messages between nerve cells.
Acetylcholine is a compound that helps nerve impulses be transmitted throughout the nervous system. It helps to control the autonomic nervous system which will dilate blood vessels and slows down heart rate.
Nerve Function & Hair Loss
Nerve function has been tied to hair loss and explored as a means for regrowth strategies. All of these substances are neurotransmitters and their function could be what prevents hair loss (33).
Nerves are part of the sympathetic nervous system. Pupil dilation, heart rate, and other automatic processes were found to be situated next to stem cells that are needed for the creation of hair follicles. The hormone norepinephrine also needs to be secreted in follicles for hair growth.
Nerves next to hair follicles are wrapped around tiny arrector pili muscles (APM). When contracted these make hair cells stand on end, causing goosebumps. Animal studies showed mice without APM also lacked sympathetic nerves and did not grow hair back normally (33).
Men scalps exhibiting male pattern baldness also lacked APM. This suggests that restoring nerve and muscle function may lead to hair growth. However, further research needs to be researched on this subject to show a better connection (34).
Things to Consider About Stinging Nettle
Stinging nettle is a nutrient-rich plant which has a lot of promising qualities to help with hair loss. There are some things to consider about the use of this plant for hair loss.
Nutrient Content Vary by Plant
There were distinct variations between the nutrient content of plants from different regions as well as age when tested.
The number of vitamins, minerals, and bioactive compounds present in the plant depended on soil and climate conditions. Stalk samples of nettles from the Black Sea and Mediterranean region contained the highest amount of phenolic compounds (28).
When it came to leaves the plants from the Marmara and Mediterranean region had more total antioxidant levels. This means that knowing where the nettle plants are coming from is just as important when picking the type of nettle you use.
Side Effects of Stinging Nettle
There are some side effects to be aware of if you use this plant.
If you get exposed to the hairs or juice of the plant it may cause
Taking Stinging Nettle May Cause:
- Low Blood Pressure
- Changes in blood sugar levels
- Digestive discomfort
- Bleeding or uterine contractions
Risks associated with using nettle:
- Avoid if you are allergic to this or any other plant in the same family
- Avoid if you are pregnant or breastfeeding
Use with Caution if:
- You have diabetes (may raise or lower blood sugar)
Stinging Nettle can also interact with certain medications:
- Blood-thinning drugs
- Blood pressure drugs
- Anti-inflammatory drugs
Stinging Nettle may also interact with other herbs and supplements. If you are unsure check with your doctor before starting a supplement.
Stinging nettle is a powerful plant that has shown to be helpful in stopping hair loss while also enabling the growth of new hair follicles through various means.
Nerves and hormones play a large role in hair loss. Improving nerve impulses in hair follicles and blocking DHT production is an ultimate goal for hair loss reversal.
Stinging nettle can be taken in different forms with the most effective way of being applied directly to the affected area. This plant has been shown to be helpful for hair loss, but there are risks to consider. Especially if someone is on medication or has a health condition.