Men's Health Friday December 9, 2011

Understanding the causes of and treatments for male pattern hair loss

It’s easy to get male pattern hair loss (androgenic alopecia) confused with other types of hair loss, but actually the most common type of hair loss that affect men has a very distinct features that differentiates it and defines how it’s treated.

Male pattern hair loss isn’t likely to be caused by things such as chemicals, strain on the scalp caused by hair accessories, stress or other underlying medical conditions, but simply because the body produces too much dehydrotestosterone (DHT) because you are genetically predisposed to do so.

Hormonal causes of male pattern baldness

It’s most recognisable by the fact that hair starts to thin and eventually fall out in a very distinct pattern, either starting at the crown and/or the temples, eventually joining up. If you are worried about your hair loss, speak to your doctor to eliminate any underlying conditions that could be responsible for your hair loss, even if it’s following the above pattern.

Dehydrotestosterone is produced when testosterone is converted by specific enzymes, and once it’s created it starts affecting hair follicles, causing them to become inactive. If hair follicles are inactive or die, they are unable to produce hair according to the hair’s normal lifecycle. Ironically, where hair loss may occur on the scalp as a result of DHT, other hair on the body may be stimulated by the androgen, such as armpit hair. DHT isn’t the only male hormone that can cause hair loss, testosterone on its own does as well, although its effects are significantly weaker.

The role of testosterone

There is a common misconception that men with too much testosterone tend to lose their hair, but scientists believe that it’s rather a genetic tendency within hair follicles to have more receptors that are sensitive to the effects of these androgens (male hormones).

Seeking treatment

Although male pattern hair loss is a perfectly normal condition that affects almost half of men, it’s still something that many men would rather avoid or simply delay. Ideally, if you want to take steps, it should be done sooner or later, because no product, no matter how it’s marketed can stimulate hair growth to the point where it’s back to a point before hair loss started.

What’s out there, separating the wheat from the chaff?

In these cases many of the treatments available may seem extremely attractive, but it’s important to bear in mind that very few have probably actually been tested and proven to provide results. The only prescription medication available for hair loss is Propecia or finasteride, which works to stop hair loss by preventing DHT from being produced in the first place. It’s been proven to work, but it’s important to be realistic with your expectations as it’s more of a long term solution.

Minoxidil is an over-the-counter treatment that can be rubbed on the scalp rather than being taken orally. It works by stimulating circulation of nutrients to the hair follicles, so that they stay active, similar to finasteride. It’s a long term treatment that only helps with hair retention for as long as you use it. Both finasteride and minoxidil are NHS recommended treatments for male pattern hair loss.

Completely different treatments, but with the same way of preventing hair loss, are hair loss treatments such as the HairPro or HairMax, however there isn’t much conclusive proof available that they actually work.

Other than these treatments, there are many different types of medications and over-the-counter products that claim to work, but one should be careful investing money in these if there is no clinical information available.

The future of hair loss treatment

There has been a lot of research recently involving the stem cells and hair loss, the most promising recently reported was the work of DR Cheng-Ming from the University of Southern California. The key of the research is to focus on stem cells within the areas around hair follicles rather than the hair follicles themselves. The idea is that these areas around the follicles be stimulated to produce more cells that are capable of growing hair.

There has been reports that the Latisse, which has traditionally been used to help stimulate eyelashes to grow can be used for hair on other parts of the body, including the scalp, however it’s currently still undergoing clinical trials. It' believed that this treatment may possibly help people with other types of alopecia, as it's safe for both men and women to use.

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