How extreme exercise is linked to hair loss: Insights from Ayurveda

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Reading Time: 8 minutes

Is there a thing as too much exercising? , you may ask. This is an age of obesity, of food walks, of people describing themselves as foodies, of people wanting to quit their corporate jobs and start a restaurant, of the rise of several food networks, celebrity chefs, reality shows around food, and travel destinations centred on food.

Yes our addiction with food is not healthy. And is certainly causing an epidemic in weight gain.

However, there is also an exercise epidemic. Hand in hand with the addiction to food there is a growing addiction to working out. Almost every week, the newspaper I subscribe to, carries an interview of a corporate CEO, and 7 out of 10 of them describe their new found hobby of long distance running. Many of them describe running as a catharsis, and say they have seen good benefits in health and well being after embarking on their new exercise regimen.

1.extreme exercise

 

Ayurveda: and its goal of promoting health and well being

Ayurveda is described as the 5th Veda and a divine science and its goal is the promotion of Ayu and Ayush. Ayurveda attempts to reach its twin goals of Ayu and Ayush through balancing the 3 doshas in our body, and harmonising our interaction with our environment by controlling our regimes and our food.

2. ayurveda twin goals

It is important to note that Ayurveda is not rigid. The skilled Vaidya always tailors his / her recommendations to suit your individual constitution, nature of work, and the place where you live. Your goals and dreams are always to be taken into account when designing the right regimen for you.

 

Krya case study: hair loss due to weight loss and extreme exercise

One of the consumers we interact regularly with is a young aspiring actor who lives in Mumbai. He is in his twenties, and due to the demands of his profession, he maintains a very gruelling and rigorous exercise schedule. For his career, he needs to maintain a certain body aesthetic, muscle tone and appearance which is he is extremely dedicated and religious towards.

For a general grihasta (householder), Ayurveda maintains that the daily exercise should stop at “Ardha Shakti” or at half your capacity. This is reached when your forehead and axillae begin to sweat and you are no longer able to comfortably breathe through your nostrils and start breathing air through your mouth instead.

3. exercise - when to stop

In the case of a grihasta, the exercise is to ensure that the body is kept in good health through gentle regular exercise – the goal always is that exercise should aid him / her to conduct his day with energy, cheerfulness and the mental faculties remaining sharp. This is not possible if we have tired ourselves out by reaching our full capacity as we literally have no gas in the tank.

In the case of our young aspiring actor, his life goals are very different. In order to maintain his desired aesthetic, he need to exercise much more than the average grihasta – one could argue that the exercise itself forms a part of his goal. Also, given the changing nature of his movie roles, he may need to put on more muscles (bulkier look) or get much leaner.

In this case, Ayurvedic advice should be tailored to ensure that his dreams and aspirations are kept in mind – we cannot be rigid and insist he lead the life of a grihasta and stop at ardha Shakti alone.

 

Why hair loss follows high exercise and weight loss: insights from Ayurveda

But in his case, the extreme exercising was leading to a high level of hair loss. Ayurveda teaches us that many forms of exercise like running and weightlifting sharply lifts the Agni in the body.

 

Repetitive exercising uses the control and focus of pitta dosha – so the very form of exercise and its physical effect on the body raises the Agni in the body. This raised Agni manifests in hair loss – this is the classic male pattern baldness hair thinning we see. Here the excess Agni literally burns its way through your hair.

4. agni increase

 

Adequate kapha dosha levels important for good health:

Ayurveda also says that a basic level of good fats need to be present in the diet to provide adequate “kapha dosha”. This kapha dosha, at the right level, helps promote hair growth. This is validated by modern scientific research.

Good fats, in adequate quantity are essential in the body to help repair wear and tear, promote growth, improve connective tissue and ensure adequate collagen is present in the skin.

5.good fats

When the fat levels are high, as in lifestyle obesity, PCOD and PCOS, the excess kapha brings down the capacity of hair follicles to sprout new hair.

When the fat levels are low, as seen in extreme exercising and a conscious no fat diet, we see that skin starts to sag, darken, there is greater muscle wear and tear, joints are affected ad hair becomes dry and there is poor hair growth.

Pure unprocessed fats which are madhura and growth promoting are therefore recommended in Ayurveda as a part of a healthy diet. These include pure cow’s milk which is drunk warm without any additives like sugar or health drink powders.  It also includes small quantities of good fats like A2 cows ghee.

When physical wear and tear is high (for example during extreme exercising, or high physical stress), we are advised to adequately supplement our diet further with good fats to ensure good cell repair.

 6. right kapha level

 

Insights from traditional Indian wrestling – how to balance high vata and pitta while exercising:

To suggest the right balance for our young actor consumer, we had to turn to the texts to see how professional sportsmen conducted their day. We found some answers in the akhadas which trained professional wrestlers.

Professional wrestlers of yore would typically train for 4 – 5 hours intensively. Their regime included running, skipping, working the upper body using a very heavy type of “gada” or mace followed by one on one contact wrestling. If you recall the Mahabharata, Duryodhona and Bheema would come to mind as examples of this.

7. akhada

There were 2 ways in which the Akhadas balanced the heat generated by this exercising. The Agni would be balanced by kapha – so badam milk was given to the wrestlers as a part of their diet. Badam added kapha and the heaviness of earth, and milk was both cooling and kapha promoting – so it would balance the Agni produced during the exercising and give the fat required to ground vayu and Agni.

This kapha in the form of milk would also help quickly repair minor injuries and muscle tears that usually arise as a result of intensive training. Apart from this internal consumption, professional wrestlers would usually devote the last hour of their practice to an abhyanga. If the exercising was this intensive, they would do an abhyanga EVERY SINGLE DAY. The abhyanga is so much a part of this routine that it was sometimes added to the exercise regime itself as an additional challenge – so the Puranas and our ancient tales describe the sport of oiled wrestling – where the wrestlers would wrestle after applying copious amounts of oil to their body – this made the whole thing extremely challenging and promoted dexterity and skill in the game.

8. abhyanga

 

Krya’s recommendation to the consumer:

The above was the source of our recommendation to the consumer who exercised professionally. He had to add kapha promoting foods to his diet – and this had to be foods that would not imbalance another dosha. So cashew nuts are not suggested, but almonds are as cashew nuts are slightly higher in pitta compared to almonds. Ayurveda says that the almond’s skin is high in pitta and can irritate the stomach, so it must be soaked overnight in water and the skin removed before consuming in the morning.

9.soaked almonds

To balance the digestive capacity of the body which could be thrown out of gear due to excessive heat, we suggested the addition of cooling vegetables like pumpkin, lauki, okra, parwal and other pitta balancing native vegetables. Coconut water (nariyal paani) was also suggested as a good natural electrolyte replenishing drink which also helped bring down pitta. We also advised the consumption of cow ghee from a native cow which is tridoshic. He had long forgotten the use of ghee and was living on highly processed artificial protein substitutes.

 

We also suggested shifting the timing of the exercise – he was currently doing this around midday which is the time when the world carries the highest Agni due to the movement of the sun. Moving this exercising to a cool part of the day, preferably early morning, would help balance Agni.

And to add to his regimen, we suggested a daily abhyanga if possible and a proper cool down after the exercise preferably using cooling yogic poses.

Along with this, frequent hair oiling in small amounts was suggested to ensure excess pitta accumulated in the upper region of the body is also removed, cooling the scalp, brain and eyes.

9. krya hair system

 

Krya note on protein supplements :

No matter what your views may be on supplementing protein while sculpting your body, here are some insights from Ayurveda. Ayurveda classifies proteins as vata aggravating or not, depending upon their source. This classification further changes depending on how exactly they have been processed.

So in general, plant based proteins are considered vata aggravating. But if they have been isolated, and freeze dried, they would become highly vata aggravating. Similarly, animal proteins like dairy or meat are less vata aggravating. But if you are having dairy isolates, then the properties again change to vata aggravating.

10.supplementing

High amount of vata dosha in the body promotes hair loss, and joint pains. So you need to balance vata by eating madhura (sweet), growth promoting foods in a warm state – like warm milk, supplementation of ghee, and addition of wind reducing spices like cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, etc.

So golden milk (turmeric flavoured warm cow’s milk) is a good addition to your diet if you’re supplementing for lean mass, for example.

 

To conclude:

If you are a heavy exerciser, do long distance running or cycling, or follow any form of rigorous sport, you may notice fatigue, dull looking skin and hair loss over time. To control the excess vata and pitta generated as a result of this exercise and to balance depleted kapha dosha, here is what we suggest:

  • Regular abhyanga on the days you exercise much more than Ardha Shakti
    • This abhyanga will remove the fatigue of excess vata which comes after exercising and cool down the excess Agni generated after intensive exercising.

1.abhyanga

 

  • Monitoring and ensuring that you compensate for kapha loss due to exercise by adding adequate good fat to your diet
    • This is critical especially if you are supplementing with protein supplements as fats are needed to balance the high vata of protein supplements
    • This helps promote kapha dosha to help muscle repair, regeneration and internal lubrication of your bones, joints and organ systems.

Krya’s abhyanga range can be explored here. Our hair care range can be explored here.

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Does onion juice really stimulate hair growth? Ayurvedic insights from Krya

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Reading Time: 6 minutes

We are often asked about 2 Internet miracle cure remedies for hairfall: the application of Onion juice on scalp and the use of castor oil on hair for boosting hair growth and to treat alopecia and balding. Even when we suggest Krya products, a change in diet and lifestyle practices like Abhyanga and Yoga, we are asked if these home remedies can be continued along with our products and suggestions.

 

What is the cause of intense hairfall according to Ayurveda? Is there any scientific basis to some of these miracle cures? Why might they work / might not work according to Ayurveda? This post will explore whether there is a scientific basis behind onion juice for the scalp and what Ayurveda has to say about it.

1. hairfall

Onion juice application on the scalp

Onion juice is a very popular hair growth remedy on the Internet. It is considered a miraculous hair growth boosting treatment supposed to boost micro circulation on the scalp, “rejuvenate follicles” and improve hair growth.

2. onion juice therapy

There is only one scientific study which has attempted to study the effects of onion juice on the scalp, and this study was performed on a very tiny sample of people in 2002. The study was published in the Journal of Dermatology in 2002.

 

Study design and sample size used:

Patients were divided into 2 groups. The control group had to apply plain tap water on their scalp. The second group had to apply onion juice onto the scalp. The control group had 15 patients (8 men and 7 women) and the second group had 23 patients (16 men and 7 women).  After 4 weeks, hair growth was seen in 17 out of 23 patients and at 6 weeks among 20 out of 23 patients.

 

Scientific loopholes in the study :

The sample size is small and statistically insignificant and does not have a meaningful number of patients spanning ages. The average median age of both groups was between 18 – 22 years of age. The groups did not follow any fair patterns of selection like the same number, same composition of men and women and age groups.

The control group was treated with plain tap water. What is significant that even when the scalp was massaged with plain tap water, 2 out of the 15 patients experienced hair growth.

If we assume tap water to be a neutral hair growth ingredient, anything in comparison should give us good hair results, like a vegetable oil or any other herb. This study therefore does not do justice to the hype around onion juice as a miraculous hair growth ingredient, and does not form any kind of basis for the hundreds of websites now out there promoting onion juice.

 

Is there a chance it could work? What does Ayurveda say?

Onion juice is considered high in pitta as per Ayurveda. It is a natural anti bacterial and high sulphur containing herb. It is advised to be used in small quantities in the diet whenever pitta is required to be stimulated.

3. onon and garlic pitta herbs

 

We typically need the properties of Pitta when we are trying to digest a heavy meal. Therefore onion and garlic are usually used when we cook meat to help us digest the meat better. Similarly we find the use of onions in making hard to digest lentils like rajma, chickpeas, etc.  Additionally, if we are eating heavy meals or at odd times when pitta is naturally low, onion and garlic can be used. Onion and garlic is also used in very cold seasons where pitta is naturally low. This helps stimulate the digestive fire.

4. rajma and onion

In cases where Pitta is already high, like in the case of hair thinning and premature greying brought on by excess Pitta, Ayurveda advises that we cut down on pitta stimulating foods like onion and garlic.

 

Sudden excessive hairfall in Ayurveda: Indralupta

Indralupta is the condition described in Ayurveda which is closest to alopecia. Here the texts describe that hair fall is both sudden and intense where the hair becomes weak rooted and falls on the slightest pressure. Indralupta is usually seen as a tridosha disorder where 2 things happen:

Aggravated Pitta and Vata enters into the hair follicle. The effect of these 2 doshas is twofold: Pitta heats the hair follicle, dries out moisture and thins it down and greys it. Vata sucks out oil and moisture and dries out the hair. It also weakens the root making it fall very easily. Kapha which produces Sleshma (oily and fatty layer giving strength) oozes below the scalp, blocking the follicles from sprouting new hair. Therefore you have 2 doshas weakening existing hair and making them fall and the third dosha preventing the growth of new hair.

 

Indralupta therefore sees symptoms attributed to derangement of all 3 doshas: deranged vata will cause dryness, whitish discoloration of scalp, and rough frizzy hair that breaks and falls. Deranged Pitta will cause premature greying and thinning and ring pattern balding. Deranged kapha will cause prevention of hair growth. Depending upon the dosha imbalance in the specific person, we could have Vataja Indralupta where the deranged Vata is very high, Kaphaja Indralupta, where Kapha derangement is highest and Pittaja Indralupta where Pitta derangement is highest.

5. indralupta tridosha

 

Ayurvedic treatment for different kinds of intense hair loss (Indralupta)

Treatment given for each kind of Indralupta varies slightly. In Pittaja Indralupta, emphasis is given on cooling the whole body. So Milk and butter is prescribed and application of the paste of cooling and Madhura herbs like Mulethi and Amla is suggested.

6.pittaja

 

In Vataja Indralupta, herbs like Sugarcane are added to nourish the body and citrus fruits are used in combination with wound healing herbs like Tulsi to reducing the itching and dryness associated with Vataja Indralupta.

7.vataja indralupta

 

Since many times there is a combination of doshas leading to imbalance, the texts advice using a combination of heating herbs to dissolve kleshma, sweet and astringent herbs to nourish and reduce Pitta and unctuous, healing and nourishing herbs to bring down Vata.

 

How Krya treats intense hairfall: varies as per dosha imbalance

At Krya, whenever we receive complaints of excessive hairfall, we try and analyse the dosha imbalance behind this hairfall. Based on this, we suggest either using the Krya Intense hair system alone or the intense hair oil with a combination of our other hair oils.

10. krya intense hair system

 

So for a Pittaja Indralupta, we may suggest Krya classic hair oil + Krya Intense hair Oil. For Kaphaja Indralupta, we may go along with Krya Intense hair Oil alone for the hair + body abhyanga to bring down Kapha as a whole. For Vataja Indralupta, we may suggest supplementation of milk and ghee along with combination of Krya conditioning hair oil + Krya Intense hair oil.

 

For mental stress based Vataja Indralupta, we have successfully tried a combination of Krya harmony hair oil + Krya Intense hair oil.17.frequent oiling

 

Ayurvedic approach: identify dosha imbalance behind hairloss and treat accordingly

The point being made here is that Ayurveda treats balding and hair loss as a combination of several factors. Depending upon the reason behind the hair loss, we have to use herbs in the right combination to treat the disorder.

Onion juice application may help in Kaphaja Indralupta as Onion juice can irritate the scalp, produce heat and help dissolve Kleshma. However, it cannot add nourishing substances or astringent factors and these are also required to support hair growth. It is also worth noting that the texts have not used onion juice application for the scalp at all, despite suggesting a very wide array of herbs of both plants, mineral and animal origin.

 

Krya verdict: to continue with onion juice or not?

As we have said above, unless we have identified the dosha imbalance behind the hairloss, we cannot adopt or suggest any single herb remedy. So if you have pitta or vata imbalanced Indralupta, onion juice will worsen the problem and not cure it.

When in doubt and facing a serious hair loss, it is far better to consult an Ayurvedic Vaidya and determine the cause behind hairfall then try out an internet remedy.

It is also important in the case of severe hair loss to seriously adopt health giving habits like the abhyanga, correct your diet, reduce stress and eat well. Ayurveda tells us always to choose the holistic, long term solution and choose good health. When we follow health giving habits and a diet, our imbalances are gently but steadily corrected.

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