There are many natural plants and herbs that are used for medicinal purposes and this includes plants that claim to help stop hair loss or encourage the growth of hair. One of these plants is the nettle. We know by know that just because something claims to have medicinal powers doesn’t mean that actually do. So what are nettles? Do they cause hair growth? Are their side effects? Let’s begin by looking at what nettles are.
What are Nettles?
Nettles, also known as stinging nettles, common nettle or greater nettle are plants that grow up to two to three feet tall and have dark green serrated leaves. Nettles have little flowers and they are covered with tiny little hairs on the stems and leaves. When the leaves are touched, they release a compound substance that is irritating to the skin. However, if the plant is dried or cooked, the irritant is removed and the tops of the plant can actually be eaten.
Nettles grow all over the word and have been used both as a vegetable and as a medicinal remedy for centuries. They have been used for asthma, a diuretic, an astringent and as an expectorant. Nettles have been used as a treatment for chronic rheumatism. And, yes, an extract of nettles applied to the scalp is thought to encourage the growth of hair.
One properties of nettles that may contribute to the growth of hair is that they are a great source of beta carotene, Vitamin C, Vitamin 3 and several minerals- especially silica. There have also been studies that show that nettle extracts can partially block the body’s production of the enzymes 5alpha-reductase and aromatase, which contribute to the production of dihydrotestosterone, a major contributor to hair loss.
Research Regarding Nettles and Hair Loss
Most evidence of the success of nettles when it comes to hair growth is anecdotal. In the book, Flavonoids in Cell Function: which is from the proceedings of the Symposium, Flavonoids in Cell Function Held March 29-30, During the 219th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in San Francisco, California, the authors (Béla S. Buslig, John A. Manthey, American Chemical Society, American Chemical Society Meeting) reference the use of nettles as far back as the first century.
Much of the research regarding the use of nettles and how they block the enzymes that cause production of dihydrotestosterone are actually done for the purpose of prostate research. However, since the same enzymes and hormones are those that affect hair loss, these are the studies used as clinical proof of using nettle extracts to prevent the loss of hair. One of those studies is here:
Hartmann, R.W., Mark, M., and Soldati, F. 1996. Inhibition of 5 alpha-reductase and aromatase by PHL-00801 (Prostatonin®), a combination of PY 102 (Pygeum africanum) and UR 102 (Uritca dioica) extracts. Phytomedicine 3(2):121-128.]
Another study looking at nettle root for the purposes of BPH is here:
A comprehensive review on the stinging nettle effect and efficacy profiles. Part II: Urticae radix . Phytomedicine , Volume 14 , Issue 7 – 8 , Pages 568 – 579 J . Chrubasik , B . Roufogalis , H . Wagner , S . Chrubasik
Side Effects of Nettles
Nettles can cause irritation to the skin. Ironically, this is thought to be one of the reasons it works to encourage the growth of hair. It is important to note nettle root does have some negative interactions with prescription drugs. Be careful if you are taking blood pressure medication, diabetes medicine or sedatives.