In an independent study, Relevant Research, Inc. determined that 40% of men experience noticeable hair loss by the age of 35. By age 60, 65% of men will suffer from balding or thinning hair. For some men, the problem begins at an even younger age, as early as their 20s.
The Mayo Clinic reports that the genetic condition commonly called male (or female) pattern baldness is the most common cause of hair loss. Men in particular are genetically predisposed to lose their hair as they age, thanks to a sensitivity to certain sex hormones, including testosterone. These hormones are collectively called androgens.
Over time, these hormones cause hair follicles to shrink, resulting in thinner and thinner hair. Eventually, the follicles stop growing hair altogether.
What is Male Pattern Baldness
Known in the medical world as androgenic alopecia, male pattern baldness affects a majority of adult men at some point in their lives. The most common symptom of male pattern baldness is a receding hairline, especially at the temples and on the top of the head. This is commonly called a “bald spot”, but is known as vertex balding in scientific circles. For women who suffer from female pattern baldness, the condition manifests as patches of thinning hair scattered around the top of the scalp.
Regardless of gender, the cause of these patches of thin hair or bald spots are caused by the miniaturization of hair follicles. Over time, androgens cause hair follicles to literally get smaller and less able to produce hair.
The mechanism by which this occurs is complicated. An enzyme known as 5 Alpha Reductase occurs naturally in our bodies, and converts testosterone into the hormone dihydrotestosterone, or DHT. High levels of DHT are the direct cause of hair follicle shrinkage and premature shedding of hair. DHT attaches to our hair follicles and causes them to begin producing smaller, finer hairs, and ultimately stop producing hair entirely.
The Foundation of Hair Restoration has identified three major factors in androgenic alopecia (male or female pattern baldness).
- Genetic Predisposition – Androgenic alopecia is a genetic condition, and is passed down from parent to child. The gene can express whether it is acquired from the mother, father, or both.
- DHT – Dihydrotestosterone is the direct cause of male or female pattern baldness. High levels of the hormone are a strong indicator that baldness will occur.
- Age – As both men and women age, they become more susceptible to the shrinking of hair follicles, causing baldness.
What Causes Male or Female Pattern Baldness
A number of other factors can contribute to the likelihood of baldness. Everything from lifestyle to nutrition, as well as certain diseases, can be the “final straw” that causes male or female pattern baldness symptoms to present.
- Androgenic Alopecia – This is the genetic condition that is the cause of 95% of male pattern baldness, as well as female pattern baldness to a lesser extent.
- Nutrition – Complete baldness is actually comparatively rare. Thin hair and bald spots are far more common, but poor nutrition can intensify the condition into near-total hair loss. Caloric deficiency (not eating enough), as well as deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals have the strongest correlation to baldness. Nutrients important to hair include biotin, amino acids, zinc and iron. Finally, eating excessive amounts of animal fats on a regular basis can accelerate hair loss.
- Stress – Stress is bad for our health in many ways, including bringing on hair loss. Studies have shown that stress restricts the supply of blood to our capillaries, preventing oxygen and other nutrients from reaching hair follicles. This damages the follicles over time, preventing hair growth.
- Medications – Certain medications, especially ones that affect hormone levels, can cause hair loss as a side effect. The most common drugs that have this type of effect are contraceptive pills, anabolic steroids, some hormone replacement treatments, and acne medication. Some drugs used for blood pressure, cholesterol, heart disease, and diabetes can also contribute to baldness.
Treatment of Androgenic Alopecia
There are two medications currently approved by the FDA for use in treating androgenic alopecia by stopping or reversing the shrinkage of hair follicles.
- Finasteride (commonly sold as Propecia) – Finasteride is a prescription drug taken in pill form for the treatment of male pattern baldness. By reducing the levels of DHT in the body, it can be effective in stopping hair follicles from shrinking. Finasteride is approved for men only, and is not indicated for use by women. The drug does list multiple unpleasant side effects such as loss of libido, hypogonadism, erectile dysfunction, sexual dysfunction, and gynecomastia.
- Minoxidil – This topical treatment has been sold over the counter since the 1990s, and is safe for use by both men and women. Minoxidil increases the flow of blood to hair follicles, making it effective in halting the early symptoms of androgenic alopecia.
- Minoxidil fortified with finasteride – This combination of the two drugs is typically used as a long-term maintenance regimen to keep baldness from occurring or returning after stopping treatment with oral finasteride. Due to the side effects associated with the oral finasteride, it is generally not advisable to take it longer than strictly necessary. By mixing finasteride with minoxidil as a topical treatment, most of the side effects are mitigated.
Treatment of General Symptoms of Hair Loss
There are also other drugs and medications intended to prevent or reverse loss of hair from other causes. These medications are prescription drugs, applied topically. Consult with a medical professional to determine which treatment is best for your situation, and to obtain a prescription.
- Ketoconazole – Developed as an anti-fungal medication, ketoconazole is also effective in reversing the effects of androgenic alopecia. The drug counters the effects of dihydrotestosterone, the hormone that directly causes male and female pattern baldness. This hormone binds to hair follicles, shrinking them and causing them to grow thinner hair, or no hair at all.
- Spironolactone – Specifically developed for female pattern baldness, spironolactone is taken in tablet form and works to lower testosterone produced in the adrenal glands and ovaries. The drug also reduces water retention, and can be applied as a topical scalp solution, although to lesser effect. This is a good alternative to finasteride, to avoid its side effects.
- Azelaic Acid – Naturally found in whole grains, azelaic acid has antibiotic properties and can destroy harmful skin bacteria. It also targets 5 Alpha Reductase, the hormone that converts testosterone into DHT. As DHT is the primary cause of androgenic alopecia, this is another great alternative to finasteride.
There are so many treatments and management regimens for baldness that is can be next to impossible for the layman to select the right one. Most of the medications listed here are prescription, and consulting with a medical professional is always the best first step in managing male or female pattern baldness. The problem of keeping hair on one’s head has been on people’s minds for many, many years. Fortunately, modern medicine is finally starting to catch up to the issue. Countering male or female pattern baldness is well within reach for most people these days. Visit your medical professional to learn about the options for your case.
April 8th, 2016
Posted In: Health & Wellness
alopecia, bald, balding, DHT, dihydrotestosterone, finasteride, hair loss, ketoconazole, male pattern baldness, minoxidil, receding hair, spironolactone, thinning hair