Information and Solutions for Men and Women

New Research on Chemotherapy-Caused Hair Loss

Research suggests certain topical and systemic treatments may help prevent hair loss from chemotherapy.

Despite the continued success of scalp cooling in helping reduce thinning hair caused by chemotherapy, hair loss continues to be a reality for many patients. Fortunately researchers continue to look for new ways to help reduce this type of hair loss:(12447448)

Focus: Are Dermal Papilla Cells Affected by Chemotherapy?

The damage from free radicals caused by a number of chemotherapy agents has been shown to kill hair follicle cells. Research on hair loss caused by chemotherapy has traditionally focused on the effects on keratinocyte skin cells. That's because this type of cell represents the majority of hair follicle cells.(12)

However, recent lab and animal studies indicate that dermal papilla cells in hair follicles may actually play a greater role in hair growth. Dermal papilla cells are also responsible for activating stem cells in the hair follicle bulge, which then initiate the growing phase for hair. These stem cells are also crucial for regenerating hair follicle cells.(12)

In the case of cisplatin chemotherapy, the free radicals specifically target the mitochondria in cell membranes. This targeting affects the balance of a certain family of proteins (Bcl-2) that controls cell growth and death. Dermal papilla cells contain high levels of Bcl-2 proteins.(12)

This new information means researchers can look for substances that help protect these cells. In fact, one of the ways minoxidil minimizes the effects of chemotherapy in breast cancer patients is by helping to regulate the life cycle of these cells. Protecting life cycle proteins in cells helps promote faster hair regrowth.(12)

Amla—An Ayurveda Herb to the Rescue

Emblica fruit extracts (called amla or āmalakī) have been used for centuries in Ayurveda traditional medicine. In particular, amla is often included in immune-boosting herbal remedies. It is rich in vitamin C, a potent antioxidant. Further, amla contains tannoids, compounds that stimulate the body's own antioxidants.(166)

Herbal extracts from amla have been shown to protect dermal papilla cells against free radical damage and cell death caused by cisplatin.(12)

Amla has also been shown to inhibit certain proteins known to be involved in hair follicle cell damage and death caused by chemotherapy. Results of separate animal studies indicate that topical application of CDK2 and p53 protein inhibitors can prevent chemotherapy-induced hair loss. Amla could be another inhibitor to add to that arsenal.(163167)

Boost Protective Growth Factors

On another front, university researchers are exploring how proteins that cause chemoresistance in cancer cells could potentially be used to protect health cells. For example, fibroblast growth factors (FGFs) often (harmfully) protect solid tumor cancer cells against chemotherapy. Could they also do the same, but in beneficial ways, for hair follicle cells?(161)

In fact, researchers discovered that topical FGFs do exert protective effects. Better yet, FGFs were successfully used in lab and animal studies against a broad spectrum representing all four major classes of chemotherapy drugs.(161)

Results also indicated that topical application of FGFs shows little systemic absorption. This means FGFs selectively protect hair follicles without interfering with the cancer-treatment effects of the chemotherapy drugs.(161)

Research suggests that both epidermal and fibroblast growth factors could help protect hair follicle cells against certain types of chemotherapy drugs known to cause hair loss. Animal studies show that systemic, topical, and injections of these growth factors may be beneficial. However, there are concerns that they could also help grow new blood vessels near tumors.(161163)

Restore Regulatory Cell Factors

Certain chemotherapy treatments are known to decrease cofactors and proteins in skin and hair follicle cells. Preclinical studies suggest that compounds that can restore levels of these cofactors and proteins may help prevent hair loss from chemotherapy.(448)

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Phyllanthus emblica, also known as Emblica officinalis.(12)
Such as superoxide, catalase, and glutathione peroxidase.(166)
Such as taxol, adriamycin, and cyclophosphamide drugs.(448)
Specifically, NAD+.(448)
Specifically, SIRT1.(448)