Research Snippet of the Month – December 2008

Jo Goss, Former Research Director

Jo Goss, Former Research Director

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition that results in sudden and recurrent hair loss from the scalp and other areas of the body, and it is believed that stress, anxiety and trauma play a significant role in its onset. Despite this, until recently little research into the efficacy of hypnotherapy as a part of the treatment has been carried out. However, one major study, carried out at the Free University of Brussels, indicates that it may be beneficial both as a stand-alone therapy or combined with allopathic medicine.

The team studied the effectiveness of hypnotherapy with 21 patients who had suffered from the condition for a minimum of three months, and who had extensive hair loss of 30 percent or more. Nine of these patients had either alopecia totalis or alopecia universalis. In the majority of cases the patients were receiving other forms of medical treatment in addition to hypnosis, but all had failed to respond to conventional treatment with steroids. All patients received between three to eight sessions hypnotherapy at intervals of two to three weeks, following which 12 had experienced hair growth of at least 75 percent of their scalp. Of these twelve nine, including four with alopecia universalis, achieved total hair growth. Furthermore, all 21 patients experienced a significantly reduced score for anxiety and depression. However, the results are not entirely conclusive, as follow-up over a five year period found that five of these patients who had achieved hair growth experienced a relapse, with four of these reverting to their pre-treatment state.

Precisely how hypnosis might stimulate hair growth remains to be established. However past research has demonstrated that hypnotic suggestion to improve blood flow to the scalp was linked to an actual increase both in blood flow and skin temperature to the scalp, and this would seem to be borne out by the fact that suggestions given during this research project included imagining the healing effects of the sun on the scalp. The University researchers in Brussels further hypothesised that hypnosis may also lead to changes in the immune system. Notwithstanding this, they stressed that as most patients were also receiving other medical treatments it would not be possible to determine to what extent hypnosis contributed to the improvements experienced.

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