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Sadly, Eating Curry Probably Won’t Keep You From Going Bald

A new survey sponsored by wigmakers equates correlation with causation

Japanese-style katsu curry (Yuya Tamai via Flickr)
smithsonian.com

So-called "male-pattern baldness" is a common condition that affects both men and women, but that hasn’t stopped people embarrassed by their hair loss from seeking all sorts of solutions. Over the centuries, all kinds of myths have arisen for its cause, from thinking too much to exercising too much. Now, a new survey has joined the fray, claiming that one cure to baldness might be found in a deliciously common dish: curry.

For more than 4,500 years, people all over the world have feasted on all kinds of curry. Thousands of years of cross-cultural contact and trade have transformed the once-humble stew of ginger, garlic and tumeric into a delicious melange with almost infinite variations. While curry is a relatively recent transplant to the kitchens of Japan, having been introduced to the island nation sometime in the late 19th century, it quickly became a cornerstone of Japanese cuisine, Alex Swerdloff reports for Munchies. In addition to being delicious, a recent survey sponsored by Japan’s largest wigmaker claims that the ubiquitous dish is behind the country’s relatively low rates of baldness.

Sponsored by the wigmaker Aderans, the survey ranks 21 countries around the world by the percentage of their population with hair loss. The survey places many Eastern countries at the top, but Japan came in at 14 on the list.

As Scott Wilson writes for RocketNews24, the nutritionist who conducted the survey, Yoshiko Nakagawa, believes that the spices often found in curry, like turmeric, saffron, nutmeg, and capsaicin are the cause behind these seemingly low rates of hair loss as they help increase blood circulation and keep those follicles fit. However, as University of Wisconsin-Madison food scientist Bradley Bolling tells Smithsonian.com, in cases like this it’s important to mind the difference between correlation and causation.

“It can be quite easy to find relationships which may sound plausible, but in the end maybe they’re not supported by a cause-and-effect sort of relationship,” Bolling says. “There was a tongue-in-cheek article correlating chocolate consumption to Nobel Prize laureates a while back. You can find many types of associations in many types of data sets.”

While the survey’s results may be suspect, these spices have long been ingredients used in traditional Eastern medicines and scientific studies have found that turmeric and capsaicin may have anti-inflammatory properties. However, Bolling says that while it is plausible that chemicals like curcumin, which gives turmeric its yellow color and may help reduce inflammation, could theoretically help reduce hair loss, it is unlikely that result would come just from eating curry.

“The levels that you could get in the skin from just eating curry once in awhile, or even if you ate it every day, would still be fairly low,” Bolling says. “You probably could take a logical route to get there, but practically it seems like it’s a long shot.”

So while curry may be delicious, don’t expect it to help you grow a full head of hair.

About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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