Hirsutism is the condition of excessive male-pattern hair growth in women, resulting in the growth of dark, coarse hair on the facial area, chest, back, and inner thighs. It affects 10-15% of women around the world. While excessive hair growth is not a cause for a medical concern, it can have a great impact on mental health and self-esteem.
What Causes It?
Normally, hirsutism does not exist as an individual condition and is the result of an underlying hormonal imbalance, common in: polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), Cushing’s syndrome, and congenital adrenal hyperplasia.
Hirsutism is almost always linked to an excess of male hormones (most commonly testosterone). While all women have some amount of testosterone in their bodies, an excess can cause 'masculine' physiological features, like hirsutism, deepening of the voice, acne, and increased muscle mass.
Other possible causes of hirsutism include: thyroid disorders, chronic stress, high levels of sugar in the blood, and imbalanced nutrition (i.e. high sugar, fat and simple carbohydrate intake).
In many cases, hirsutism increases in the presence of androgens, which are exacerbated with the use of prescription birth control pills, estrogens, pain medications and steroids. Other medicines that can potentially signal the body to produce extra androgen hormones include prescriptions used to treat: nausea, schizophrenia, agitation, epileptic seizures, migraine headaches, bipolar disorder, aggression, and high blood pressure.
Lifestyle Medicine for Hirsutism
Although it may not be totally preventable, hirsutism can be managed effectively with healthy lifestyle changes and the use of naturopathic and herbal remedies. Eliminating unhealthy habits and adopting healthier ones can make it easy for you to manage your hirsutism, as well as its underlying causes. Consider weight loss, balanced nutrition, and self-care while creating a wellness regimen to combat hirsutism.
If your hirsutism is caused by PCOS, it can be accompanied by unhealthy weight gain, which often hinders the treatment and highlights the symptoms. While weight has no direct link to hirsutism, weight loss is considered one of the most effective interventions for treating PCOS. Therefore, healthy weight loss may help to naturally balance the hormones and hinder the unwanted hair growth seen with hirsutism (Lim et al, 2013).
Eating a healthy, low-calorie and high fiber diet can have a remarkable effect on the balancing of hormone levels and weight . A recent study showed that women suffering from hirsutism, who were put on this specific diet, saw a decrease in their BMI and testosterone levels (Krouni et al, 2018), which lead to reduced hair growth. The most beneficial diet is one that is low in starches, processed foods, refined sugars, and milk and high in fresh fruit and vegetables. It is also beneficial to reduce sugar intake and increase food items that are rich in inositol, such as: beans, grains, and nuts.
Another important yet overlooked aspect of hirsutism is the stigma associated with it. Women suffering from the condition often face issues with their body image, femininity, self-esteem, and confidence. They may also struggle with feelings of embarrassment due to the unwanted hair. It is important to manage the emotional health along with hirsutism symptoms for a better lifestyle. In general, high levels of cortisol may also play a role in the imbalance of androgens, further increasing hirsutism risk. Proper self care can help you in dealing with this imbalance while helping you to build up positivism and confidence.
Get Adequate Sleep. A constant routine and sufficient sleep can help your body recover from irregular hormone levels by resetting your body’s homeostasis.
Exercise. Physical exertion regulates your emotional health and ‘happy hormones’, helping with an active lifestyle and stress-relief.
Meditate. Practicing daily meditation can help you find peace with yourself as stress hormones are reduced and serotonin (feel good hormone) increases.
Practice Yoga. This self care practice can enhance proper perfusion of the cells of the reproductive symptoms and encourage the balancing of female hormones.
Counseling. Talking about your problems and feelings can be emotionally relieving and help towards a healthier mindset. You can even share your concerns with a friend or confidant.
There are many effective natural treatments that may help to slow down and hinder the growth of male pattern hair growth. These treatments have roots in traditional and herbal medicine and they have been shown to improve hirsutism symptoms. Here are the most common and effective methods.
The most common and well-known herb for the reduction of excessive hair is spearmint. Spearmint has been used as extract and infusion tea and has shown significant results in reducing testosterone levels due to its anti-androgenic properties (Grant, 2010). In result, spearmint can be used to manage hormone levels and reduce hair growth from the root. Try consuming spearmint twice daily for at least 8 weeks.
Flaxseeds have many nutritional benefits, but studies suggests that it can provide hormonal balance due to its anti-androgenic properties (Nowak et al, 2007). Regular intake of flaxseeds in your diet may help you manage and reduce male hormones, leading to the improvement of hirsutism, PCOS and weight control.
Licorice root has long been used as a medicinal and culinary ingredient and its effectiveness against unwanted body hair in women has been proven recently when used supplementary to other treatments (Faghihi et al, 2015). It can be used in gel form for topical application for best results, or taken orally in a herbal tea infusion. If taken in a herbal tea, use 1 tsp of dried licorice root to 8 oz of water daily.
WARNING: Avoid licorice root if you are pregnant or have high blood pressure.
Chaste Tree Berry
Chaste tree berry has shown to be an effective treatment for PCOS as it increases the body’s progesterone levels (an important female hormone), leading to hormonal balance. Due to its hormone balancing properties, it may also be effective against hirsutism, hormonal acne, and reproductive tissue overgrowth. The berry can be taken orally in a plant tincture or infusion. Recommended use for an infusion is 1-2 tsp of chaste tree berry in hot water up to 2 times daily.
Fennel seeds and leaves, often used as ingredients in Eastern cooking, have been recently called for their anti-hirsutism effects. When applied as a topical cream, fennel extract shows significant results in the thinning of the hair follicles. It is one of the easiest herbs to use in your daily life as you can include it in meal prepping.
Hirsutism can be emotionally and physically taxing on any woman, but it doesn't have to be. However, as it rarely exists on its own, it should be thought of as a symptom rather than a disease and the underlying cause should be corrected. With effective lifestyle and dietary changes along with the use of effect herbal remedies, hirsutism can be managed and potentially reversed.
Grant, P. (2010, February). Spearmint herbal tea has significant anti-androgen effects in polycystic ovarian syndrome. A randomized controlled trial. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19585478
Faghihi, G., Iraji, F., Abtahi-Naeini, B., Saffar, B., Saffaei, A., Pourazizi, M., … Nilforoushzadeh, M. A. (2015). Complementary Therapies for Idiopathic Hirsutism: Topical Licorice as Promising Option. Retrieved May 9, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4530245/
Lim, S. S., Norman, R. J., Davies, M. J., & Moran, L. J. (2013, February). The effect of obesity on polycystic ovary syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Retrieved May 9, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23114091
Nowak, D. A., Snyder, D. C., Brown, A. J., & Demark-Wahnefried, W. (2007). The Effect of Flaxseed Supplementation on Hormonal Levels Associated with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome: A Case Study. Retrieved May 9, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2752973/
Krouni, A., Forouhari, S., … & Alian, F. (2018). Effect of High Fiber, Low Calorie Balanced Diet in Obese Women with Hirsutism: A Randomized Clinical Trail. Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/325944426_Effect_of_High_Fibre_Low_Calorie_Balanced_Diet_in_Obese_Women_with_Hirsutism_A_Randomised_Clinical_Trail