Does Grape Seed Extract Promote Hair Growth?
Can grape seed extract help the 70% of men who will experience some degree of male pattern baldness (also known as Androgenetic Alopecia or AGA) in their lifetime (17)? While some may succumb early in life, the lion’s share of men experience this progressive hair loss after the age of 50.
A majority of men report being relatively unbothered by this fate. But more than a quarter admit to being “very to extremely upset” by their alopecia (1). Research confirms that hair thinning and progressive hair loss can lead to “adverse psychological effects,” such as low self esteem, low confidence, and negative influences on social interaction (5). Evidently, for some men, the prospect of going bald is essentially…hair-raising.
The Usual Suspects
Several factors have been identified that may influence hair loss, including diet, so-called “micro-inflammation,” and certain medications. Heredity is also known to play a role, as are “male” androgenic hormones.
The latter is especially true of the testosterone-derived hormone, Dihydrotestosterone (DHT). In fact, inheritance and DHT are believed to be the primary drivers of androgenetic (aka androgenic) alopecia. Inflammation probably exacerbates the situation. Micro-inflammation evidently further encourages the miniaturization of hair follicles. The shrinkage of follicles typifies this form of baldness as the condition progresses (10).
Needless to say, men have always longed for a solution to baldness. A remarkable assortment of treatments have been attempted, including all manner of herbal treatments (1, 5). These run the gamut from capsaicin (from hot peppers), and caffeine, to garlic and onion juice, among other inventive – dare we say, fragrant? – therapies. But do any of them really help slow, or even reverse, this condition?
Just Say No to Drugs
In the modern age, men have turned to potent new drugs, such as topical minoxidil and oral finasteride for hope – and help. And let’s not forget women. They are also subject to a form of alopecia. Perhaps not surprisingly, a higher percentage of women report being significantly disturbed by alopecia than men (1).
Incidentally, “male” hormones are not only present among men. Women also produce testosterone, albeit in much smaller quantities than men typically do.
But these relatively new drugs have serious drawbacks. They are expensive. They come with not-insignificant side effects. And they are only partially effective in most instances.
Less than a third of patients who try these drugs continue taking them after one year of therapy (17). This suggests that a majority of patients who tried one of these medications gave up in frustration, whether due to a lack of adequate effectiveness, or an unwillingness to tolerate side effects.
Minoxidil, for example, frequently causes itching and scaling (flaking) of the scalp. Originally prescribed for a condition called Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH, or enlarged prostate), finasteride has been linked to sexual side effects. These include flagging libido, declines in ejaculate volume, an inability to reach orgasm, and outright erectile dysfunction (impotence).
No wonder sufferers are willing to explore other, less onerous treatments, which do not involve problematic drugs.
The Promise of Natural Supplements
Certain dietary supplements, for example, offer tantalizing hope. Among these is grape seed oil. Obtained by pressing grape seeds left over from winemaking, this light oil is packed with intriguing antioxidants and other potent compounds. In particular, it contains procyanidins; flavonoid compounds also found in fruits and other plants, such as apples, barley, cocoa, cinnamon and tea.
Some of these have, indeed, shown promise in early trials. Although research is largely preliminary – and therefore essentially inconclusive – results have been intriguing to say the least.
Although it did not directly involve grape seed extract, in 2014, Korea-based researchers published the results of a clinical trail involving male subjects suffering from mild to moderate androgenic alopecia. They took 400 milligrams of pumpkin seed oil, daily, for six months, or an inactive placebo (17).
This research is relevant to grape seed oil because both pumpkin seed and grape seed contain compounds called procyanidin oligomers. Human subjects experienced mean hair count increases of 40% in this clinical trail. This study is notable not least because of its rigorous design. It was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial with 70 patients.
This study design is considered the gold standard for science, as it rules out the possible effects of subject or investigator bias or expectations. In this instance, for example, subjects receiving the sham oil experienced objective mean hair count increases of 10%. Such is the power of belief.
In contrast, men who where blindly assigned to take the actual extract experienced hair count increases of 40%. They also reported significantly greater self-rated improvement scores and self-rated satisfaction scores compared to men taking the placebo.
Like Prescriptions Medications, Without the Side Effects
Interestingly, these improvements in hair count and hair thickness were attributed to the same mechanism that underlies the previously mentioned prescription drugs. Namely, inhibition of a natural enzyme called 5-Alpha-Reductase (aka 5α-reductase or 5AR).
In contrast to the prescription-only drugs, however, subjects reported no significant side effects when using these natural substances.
More recently, researchers writing in the journal Clinical Drug Investigation reviewed 14 off-label uses of topical substances for hair growth improvement. Nine were determined to have some activity.
But procyanidin oligomers (such as those in grape seed or pumpkin seed oils) were superior in terms of mean change from hair count and hair diameter. As one recent report noted: “…Short-term (24-week) use may provide benefit for hair loss patients (4).”
Another study on human subjects, which made use of 1% procyanidin B-2 tonic, with the plant compound extracted from apples, also noted significant hair-growth effects after six months of daily topical use. “Procyanidin B-2 therapy shows potential as a safe and promising cure for male pattern baldness,” researchers noted (6). Although the study population was smaller, at 29 subjects, it also featured a double-blind, placebo-controlled design.
Of Mice and Men
This line of inquiry arose out of animal and laboratory studies that examined the effects of procyanidins on mouse hair cells (14, 8). These studies on hair cells growing in a mouse model of human hair behavior showed that the addition of procyanidins significantly increased the shaft width of hairs.
This finding is best summed up by a typical study title: “Procyanidin…selectively and intensively promote proliferation of mouse hair epithelial cells…and activate hair follicle growth (14)…” Activation of hair follicles is important, as alopecia involves a significant drop-off in follicle activity.
In addition to hair loss, alopecia is characterized by thinning of individual hairs. In essence, they become finer – wispier, if you will – as alopecia progresses. As a result, even remaining hair looks thinner and less healthy. Thus, treatments that result in hair shaft thickening yield significant improvements in the appearance and texture of hair.
How Might Procyanidins Work?
The genesis – and progression – of androgenic alopecia evidently involves multiple factors, often featuring complex interplays among everything from diet and inflammation to one’s genetics. Even the regulation of blood sugar may play a role.
So-called insulin resistance, which often precedes type 2 diabetes, has also been implicated. Both alopecia and insulin resistance feature abnormal patterns of androgen metabolism. In other words, both of these conditions are linked to over-production of DHT from testosterone (10).
Procyanidins from natural sources, such as apple, grape seed, and pumpkin seed, have been shown to behave somewhat like the prescription drug finasteride. They inhibit the enzyme, 5α-reductase, which is implicated in the overproduction of DHT (17).
Presumably, by limiting the activity of this enzyme, these natural therapies help limit the conversion of testosterone to hair loss-promoting DHT. They may also limit so-called subclinical inflammation, by reducing the production of certain immune system proteins. Low grade, or subclinical, inflammation appears to play a role in hair loss (10).
A related disorder, Alopecia Areata (AA), is known to be an autoimmune diseases, for example. Autoimmune diseases are characterized by an immune system gone awry. Immune system proteins, such as cytokines, misidentify cells of the self as foreign, and attempt to destroy them.
If the target of those attacks happens to be a protein that encases nerve cells, the patient may develop multiple sclerosis. If the protein is involved in hair production in the follicle, the affected individual may develop alopecia areata.
Working with mice, investigators have shown that grape seed-derived procyanidin B2 protects the pancreas from inflammation in a mouse model of human type 2 diabetes. While not directly related to hair loss, this demonstrates the powerful anti-inflammatory potential of grape seed extract (16).
And finally, research suggests grape seed procyanidins in particular may improve scalp blood flow. Blood flow to the scalp has emerged in recent years as yet another suspect implicated in male pattern baldness. Therapies to improve blood flow to this key area are believed to be beneficial, in that they may encourage the healthy growth of hair follicles.
Solid scientific evidence is somewhat limited when it comes to the potential benefits of grape seed procyanidins for the prevention of hair loss. But tantalizing preliminary evidence suggests several mechanisms by which this natural extract may, indeed, combat some of the processes known to lead to hair loss. Given that these extracts have few if any side effects – whether taken internally, or applied to the scalp – grape seed extract would appear to be well worth further consideration.
- Cash TF, Price VH, Savin RC: Psychological effects of androgenetic alopecia on women: comparisons with balding men and with female control subjects. J Am Acad Dermatol 1993; 29: 568–575.
- Darwin E, Hirt PA, et al. Alopecia Areata: Review of Epidemiology, Clinical Features, Pathogenesis, and New Treatment Options. Int J Trichology. 2018 Mar-Apr;10(2):51-60. doi: 10.4103/ijt.ijt_99_17.
- Dhariwala MY, Ravikumar P. An overview of herbal alternatives in androgenetic alopecia. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2019 Apr 13. doi: 10.1111/jocd.12930. [Epub ahead of print]
- Gupta AK, Mays RR, Efficacy of Off-Label Topical Treatments for the Management of Androgenetic Alopecia: A Review. Clin Drug Investig. 2019 Mar;39(3):233-239. doi: 10.1007/s40261-018-00743-8.
- Hosking AM, Juhasz M, Atanaskova Mesinkovska N. Complementary and Alternative Treatments for Alopecia: A Comprehensive Review. Skin Appendage Disord. 2019 Feb;5(2):72-89. doi: 10.1159/000492035. Epub 2018 Aug 21.
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- Kamimura A, Takahashi T, Morohashi M, Takano Y: Procyanidin oligomers counteract TGF-β1- and TGF-β2-induced apoptosis in hair epithelial cells: an insight into their mechanisms. Skin Pharmacol Physiol 2006; 19: 259–265.
- Kamimura A, Takahashi T: Procyanidin B-3, isolated from barley and identified as a hair-growth stimulant, has the potential to counteract inhibitory regulation by TGF-beta1. Exp Dermatol 2002; 11: 532–541.
- Kaufman KD. Androgens and alopecia. Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2002 Dec 30;198(1-2):89-95.
- Sadgrove NJ. The new paradigm for androgenetic alopecia and plant-based folk remedies: 5α-reductase inhibition, reversal of secondary microinflammation and improving insulin resistance. J Ethnopharmacol. 2018 Dec 5;227:206-236. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2018.09.009. Epub 2018 Sep 6.
- Shahidi-Dadras M, Bahraini N, Rajabi F, Younespour S. Patients with alopecia areata show signs of insulin resistance. Arch Dermatol Res. 2019 May 14. doi: 10.1007/s00403-019-01929-6. [Epub ahead of print]
- Stough D, Stenn K, et al. Psychological effect, pathophysiology, and management of androgenetic alopecia in men. Mayo Clin Proc. 2005 Oct;80(10):1316-22.
- Takahashi T, Kamimura A, Yokoo Y, Honda S, Watanabe Y. The first clinical trial of topical application of procyanidin B-2 to investigate its potential as a hair growing agent. Phytother Res. 2001 Jun;15(4):331-6.
- Takahashi T, Kamiya T, Hasegawa A, Yokoo Y. Procyanidin oligomers selectively and intensively promote proliferation of mouse hair epithelial cells in vitro and activate hair follicle growth in vivo. J Invest Dermatol. 1999 Mar;112(3):310-6.
- Tenore GC, Caruso D, Buonomo G, D’Avino M, Santamaria R, Irace C, et al: Annurca apple nutraceutical formulation enhances keratin expression in a human model of skin and promotes hair growth and tropism in a randomized clinical trial. J Med Food 2018; 21: 90–103.
- Yin W, Li B, Li X, Yu F, Cai Q, Zhang Z, Cheng M, Gao H. Anti-inflammatory effects of grape seed procyanidin B2 on a diabetic pancreas. Food Funct. 2015 Sep;6(9):3065-71. doi: 10.1039/c5fo00496a.
- Young Hye Cho, Sang Yeoup Lee, et al. Effect of Pumpkin Seed Oil on Hair Growth in Men with Androgenetic Alopecia: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2014; 2014: 549721.Published online 2014 Apr 23. doi: 10.1155/2014/549721