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By Marika Sboros
You know the kick caffeine in a cup of coffee gives to your body and mind first thing in the morning. Now, German scientist Dr Adolph Klenk says that same caffeine can prevent hereditary and hormonal hair loss in men and women.
Klenk was in South Africa recently to present his pioneering research on caffeine and hair loss to delegates attending the second international conference of the Dr Wolff Group in Cape Town.
On the back of his research, Klenk has developed a range products for topical application of caffeine that are available in South Africa (distributed by the Litha HealthCare Group) and across the globe. The products are different for men and women, and include shampoos and leave-on tonics with an “oil-free” formulation, designed to prevent any residue on the hair.
Klenk is often asked whether drinking enough coffee would have the same effect as his products. It wouldn’t. You’d have to drink to 40 to 50 cups of coffee to get a therapeutic dose of caffeine able to make its way up to your hair root, he says, because caffeine is quickly diluted and excreted by the body. Even if you were able to drink that much coffee, it would be extremely toxic, as caffeine is a drug-like substance with a pharmacological action.
Klenk says your hair won’t build up resistance to the products over time, as the caffeine effect does not work on a receptor mechanisms as many other drugs do. “It’s just energy supply to the hair root,” he says.
He also says there are no contraindications. However, if the products are used ahead of a medical therapy or as a cosmetic treatment along with a therapy, the doctor should be told.
It’s easy to be sceptical of such a safe, natural way to turn back the losing tide, and products that for a change are very reasonably priced. There are many other products on the market that claim to do something similar. Research also shows that a nutritional, inside-out approach to hair loss is most effective.
However, Klenk does have compelling research – and not just his own – to back up his claims, including most recently an independent study by researchers at the Institute for Dermatology at Germany’s Lübeck University, published in the British Journal of Dermatology.
Here’s what he had to say in a phone interview with me:
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Today, I’m speaking to Dr Adolph Klenk. He is a scientist and head of research for the German-based Dr Wolff Group, a cosmeceutical company that has been involved in some very interesting research on hairloss products. Dr Klenk, you have done pioneering research into a compound in caffeine. Is it a compound or is it pure caffeine for hair loss?
It’s pure caffeine into which we put a lot of research. However, in the product we talk about the caffeine complex because it’s not only the caffeine, it’s also zinc, a very essential trace element for healthy hair growth. In addition, it’s the energy vitamin niacin, which helps the complex to supply the hair root (at its base). However, the main effect depends on the caffeine.
You mentioned niacin. Is that a B-vitamin?
Yes, that’s correct.
What first stimulated your interest in caffeine? Did you have a cup of coffee and put it on your hair?
No, definitely not. I learned that caffeine is a very powerful substance. Many years ago, there was some research in literature that caffeine can interact with an enzyme, called phosphodiesterase which, on the other side, is an enzyme that which controls CAMP (cyclic adenosine monophosphate), and this is an issue of energy supply. In addition, I knew at that time that caffeine was used as a doping agent, so it’s more or less a matter of energy supply.
When you say doping, you mean to improve sports performance?
Yes. This was inspirational in that the hair is also a tissue/organ with a very high-energy demand. When you look at the growth period, the hair root needs tenfold more energy than in its resting phase. This inspired me to look at the interaction of caffeine, the hair root, and of course, testosterone in the hair root.
Does the product you developed have testosterone in it, too?
No. Testosterone is obligatory in the organism. In all of our research, we always compare it with testosterone because this is the obligatory negative impact and challenge. Therefore, the real trial has been what happens if there is some testosterone influence on the hair root and additional treatment of caffeine. So far, we’ve learned that caffeine can modulate the negative effects of testosterone in the hair root.
Is this product applied topically or is it taken systemically?
The product is easy to apply topically. We have a range of caffeine products. Our best working and selling product (because of the convenience) is a caffeine shampoo. We were the first to give scientific proof that it’s possible to penetrate an active compound of caffeine to the hair root and prevent hair-loss, which is a very short treatment. It’s not a leave-on treatment, and we have to prove that it is possible. On the other side, we have a “leave on” treatment as well. It’s a water- and alcohol-based tonic treatment and it’s very easy to use.
In one of the releases, it says that these products can treat genetic hair loss for men and post-menopausal hair loss for women. Are you, in effect, saying that these products can override genes?
No, definitely not. People have genetic predispositions, which means that from to a certain extent, some organs are very sensitive to testosterone. In that case, due to the hereditary predisposition, some hairs on the scalp are very sensitive to testosterone and so you have to counteract this negative testosterone.
There’s no overriding genetic information. This is impossible. I hope that it would be possible in future due to any risk in that. It’s a very comfortable solution because we only counteract the effect of this sensitivity against testosterone. It’s not a hormonal effect, either. It’s only on the level of energy supply because we learned that testosterone can suppress the energy supply in the hair root and therefore, can lead to major hair-loss.
You mentioned that one of the products is a shampoo. Is it really possible that a substance can be on the hair for such a very short while (as in a shampoo), rather than a leave-on product?
It’s possible. We did a very powerful trial at the university in Berlin with Professor Laudeman. We carried out a very sophisticated penetration study. We shaved a big area on the chest. We primarily tried to do it on the scalp. However, all the subjects refused. They gave us no written consent and therefore, we moved to the chest.
It was only the penetration study and the chest is much more difficult to penetrate because there aren’t that many hair follicles. Then we applied the shampoo for a contact time of two minutes, which is our recommendation time so it’s not a quick hair wash, as usual and then you can rinse it off. The hair, hair follicles and the surrounding tissue is a reservoir for about 24 hours of a small release of caffeine. We got the caffeine signal for 24 hours out of one single hair wash.
I presume that the hair would not grow back overnight.
No, definitely not. Hair growth is a long-term process. Usually, the growth period goes for about five to eight years and the resting, recovery period goes for six to eight months, and so a complete cycle process would go for many years. We recommend that the product is tested for at least three months and then you will see a very quick reduction of hair-loss. This is the first signal that the product is working.
With the ongoing treatment, you’ll feel your hair is thickening and becoming more resistant. It looks healthier and the hair loss will be reduced to the normal level because hair-loss is usually, quite a normal symptom of hair regeneration. It’s only when a certain limit is exceeded, that you’d then have a pathologic situation and the risk of baldness.
Are you, in effect, saying that this is a balding cure?
No. We usually educate our consumer to prevent this as early as possible. It’s very easy to ascertain whether you are affected or not. You need only look in your family album and when you see some bald guys, you can be sure that you will be genetically affected. Then you should start the prevention treatment from the very beginning. The young guys should start during puberty and the ladies should start at least, at the end of menopause in terms of prevention of this premature hair-loss.
To go back a bit Dr Klenk, what are you talking about in terms of prevention – that young men should start using the product as early as possible?
Testosterone is available and active for the first time in the organism, from puberty. It can cause harm in the hair root as well and to counteract/prevent this negative effect from the very beginning, caffeine shampoo treatment or liquid treatment is a prerequisite to keeping your hair for as long as possible.
Wow, it’s rather revolutionary.
Yes, and it works much better than a very late reaction to hope for regrowth. This is a serious issue of disappointment; people feel very depressed because they are too late. It’s a better way, to prevent as early as possible.
The product in the caffeine is not that effective for reversal, but it could be very good for prevention. Is that correct?
What about other causes of hair-loss that don’t have a genetic basis, such as stress, alopecia, bad diet, or environmental causes? Can caffeine help there as well?
I think alopecia areata (immunologic hair-loss) is a very serious, discrete form of alopecia and so I think the caffeine would never work in this area. To my knowledge, there is no proven drug for the treatment of alopecia areata.
However, there are many other issues where caffeine might work. We know it works in terms of stress because we also did stress research in hair organs and we found that stress hormones work similarly to testosterone. It’s much more disastrous because we found apoptosis (cell death) after stress impulse, and caffeine can balance and counteract in these conditions as well.
In addition, I think there could be a certain expectation that preventative treatment used ahead of chemotherapy or drug-based hair-loss, could help. However, we haven’t investigated such an application because that’s a drug development but in terms of the general mechanism to support the hair root’s energy; it could be that to a certain extent, such a cosmetic treatment could help.