Home / TCM and Hair Health

“Darlin’, give me a head with hair, long beautiful hair Shining, gleaming, steaming, flaxen, waxen Give me down to there hair, shoulder length or longer Here, baby, there, momma, everywhere, daddy, daddy Hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair Flow it, show it, long as God can grow it, my hair!”

Songwriters: Galt Mac Dermot / Gerome Ragni / James Rado

Hair lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

by Susan Tretakis – Of all of the balls growing old has pitched at me, it’s the thinning and breaking of my shoulder length hair that saddens me the most. And yes, I fully understand how vain and somewhat petty that sounds – but for years, my hair was my cape. Whether it was perfectly coiled to complement my “pumps and pearls” working persona, or streaked with blue, purple and/or fuchsia to celebrate my retirement, I HAD hair. Lots of hair. Hair enough to even need to be thinned periodically by my hairdresser. In 1969 when the Cowsills released this song in concert, my hair was down to my waist.

I get it. My body is getting older; my teeth are getting older. It seems only natural that my hair should get older as well. Four weeks ago, as I sat in front of my Western Doctor reviewing my blood work, I listened as she spoke about my Vitamin B-12 and Vitamin D deficiency, I interrupted her by asking, “Doctor, could this be the reason why my hair is so drastically thinning? Could this be why it breaks so easily?”

She sat back and vehemently shook her head no.   She said that many vegetarians do not eat foods that contain these vitamins. (First warning bell rings in my head. I know I eat very well, because my doctor of Chinese Medicine tells what to eat.) She continued on to say that many vegetarians also suffer from skin blotches as they age. (Second warning bell rings. My skin has never been better; people who I haven’t seen in a while tell me my skin glows. Last month, my dermatologist told me I was a great advertisement for her practice.)

Finally, my Western Medicine Doctor concluded, tossing HER long hair back over her shoulder, “You should cut your hair; after a ‘certain age’, women’s’ hair naturally becomes thin and brittle. It’s simply a fact of life.” (Third and last warning bell rings. My restraint in not stabbing her with a ballpoint pen was admirable.)

As I sat in traffic on the way home, it hit me. Chinese herbs – along with acupuncture – have helped calm my nerves, improve my sleep, helped my arthritis, strengthen my teeth, healed my gums, assisted me in losing close to 80 pounds and have allowed me to keep my knees longer than any orthopedic said I would.

Could the right Chinese herbs help my hair? Haven’t Chinese herbs and TCM changed all of the facts of my life?

I do admit to some uncertainty here – I could just wait to ask my acupuncturist. But with the cavalier dismissal of my Western Doctor still echoing in my ears, I wasn’t willing to look like a vain, foolish old crone to someone less than ½ my age. It was time to hit GOOGLE. Maybe my own research would allow me to become more informed.

If anything, it would give me time to think how I would approach this as an informed adult, not as wilting, balding flower child, to my Doctor of Chinese Medicine.

The first thing I discovered is that my Western practitioner was a bit misinformed. I know that Omega 3 fatty acids are important for a healthy scalp and that is why I take a supplement and eat as much Alaskan salmon as I can. I add ground flax seeds and or ground walnuts to all my vegetable smoothies. But there it was – in multiple articles – both in Western and Chinese Medicine posts” “Vitamin B-12 is essential to healthy hair and is found in eggs, poultry and meats.

It may be helpful for vegetarians to take B-12 as a supplement.” My Western Doctor had asked if I took a multiple vitamin daily; I said I did. She said that was enough. Apparently, it is not.

In TCM, the quality and quantity of one’s hair relates to the sufficient qi, blood and kidney energy within the body. Nourishment to the hair is controlled by the kidneys. “When the body has an insufficiency of qi, blood and kidney energy, hair loss results. By now, I know acupuncture improves qi and the blood flow within the body.

Acupuncture strengthens the kidneys and can thereby promote healthy hair growth. What I did not know is that applying acupuncture directly to the scalp can stimulate blood flow, which in turn, would stimulate new hair growth.

Let me also state here that the sheer amount of information on Chinese herbs and hair growth and hair care made me feel less like a vain, old crone. Obviously, for this amount of information to exist, there are many others who are facing the same issue – others for whom just cutting one’s hair is not necessarily the answer. Either there are many of us, men and women, who are old and vain, or we are just trying to look and feel our best. I am opting for the latter.

Chinese herbs can help restore hair growth and condition. Blood tonic herbs nourish the blood and activate the circulation to reinvigorate the hair follicle.   Many Chinese herbs are used in combination to help regulate age-related hormonal imbalances that can lead to both male and female pattern baldness, thinning and pre-mature graying. In fact, there have been studies that show specific Chinese herbs which help the hair shaft retain melanin, the actual color of one’s hair.

As I read through the lists of Chinese herbs – and there were many – some seemed to be mentioned more than others. One of the most “commonly used Chinese herbs is Fo Ti. It has been used for hair growth and to restore the natural pigmentation of the hair. Nu Shen Zi is especially good for treating bald patches by purifying the blood and increases blood circulation to the scalp. Wu Wei Zi helps in hair growth and is often given to patients who have undergone chemotherapy and wish to regrow their own hair as soon as possible.”

Somewhere between the two pages of Chinese herbs I was writing out to ask for from my TCM doctor, it hit me. Thinning and breaking hair does not have to be a “fact of life”. I do not have to be embarrassed by what is obviously either a nutritional or herbal lacking.   I do not have to write out lists of herbs because I have a Doctor of Chinese Medicine whom I both trust and know will not laugh at me.

He knows his herbs and he knows his supplements. I know he will check my tongue, check my two pulses and listen to what I say. I will bring him my blood work and let him suggest by brands and dosage of B-12 and Vitamin D. In short, I will take advantage of what TCM can do for me.

And I did just that.   And he – after first expressing his anger at the cavalier “cut your hair” comment – explained what foods I should add, how to rotate my meals, and while I was “pinned” he left to mix my two weeks’ worth of herbs – herbs chosen specifically for me, my qi, my blood, my kidneys and for my hair.

A major mind shift – at least for me – is going from the Western “quick fix now” mentality to the TCM method which may take longer to act, but the results are longer lasting.   Just as it took a year for me to get control of my weight, I do not expect my hair to return to its Woodstock length by next week. But I do feel empowered that I am not letting my aging strike me out. I’m back in the game and I’m ready and willing to play ball.



  1. Yinova Center
  2. Progressive Health
  3. Pacific College
  4. Natural Treatments database