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The Bald Truth

Baldness is a scary word—it implies a complete and total loss of hair follicles on the scalp resulting in an inability to re-grow hair. However, “baldness” is something of a catch-all term which can apply to a spectrum of hair loss issues many of which are treatable and can be reversed with medical and other interventions.

Baldness Genetics

The most common and widely known form of hair loss is male pattern baldness, which also has a feminine counterpart: female pattern baldness. The technical term for this condition which is genetic, is androgenic alopecia. This is hair loss that is caused by a predisposition to over produce a hormone “dihydrotestosterone” which in turn shrinks and minimizes the size of hair follicles, resulting in thinner, more fragile hair.

Male pattern baldness is said to account for hair loss in up to 95 percent of men with thinning hair. Male pattern baldness treatment is comprised of the use of DHT inhibitors which interfere with the conversion of testosterone to its more powerful and destructive DHT form.

Two pharmaceutical treatments for the condition currently exist in the drugs Minoxidil (Rogaine) and Finasteride (Propecia). These drugs were first developed for other medical uses and were discovered to actively aid in hair retention and re-growth as side effects to their original therapeutic uses. These drugs were first (and are still prescribed) in oral pill form, and have since become available in topical forms as well. Only men can safely use Minoxidil and Finasteride as oral “baldness pills”, female pattern baldness treatment is restricted to topical uses of both medications. Taken as oral medications both drugs are considered health risks for women due to the potential for severe effects on the female hormone balance so necessary to health; topical solutions and shampoos do not pose the same risk to women.

Because both types of pattern baldness are genetic, there is effectively no such thing as baldness cure for the condition. Both Minoxidil and Finasteride suppress the production of DHT, which leads to larger and healthier hair follicles, thicker hair shafts and a longer period of the active phase of hair growth. Both must be taken on an indefinite basis to counteract the effects of DHT, stopping the use of these drugs or topical treatments can result on loss of hair that would normally have been shed during the period of active use of the drugs.

Other causes of Baldness

In addition to these genetic disorders there are other causes of baldness. These can include side effects or symptoms of medical conditions. One of the leading causes of baldness or thinning, brittle hair is thyroid dysfunction. Both an underactive and over active thyroid can result in hair loss, the former through shrinkage of hair follicles due to under- production of the natural sebaceous oils of the scalp, the latter due to the overproduction of sebum which can clog and choke off healthy follicle functioning. Once dysfunction has been diagnosed, normal levels of thyroid hormone production can be encouraged by medications. While this may not exactly be a cure for baldness, a return to healthy hair growth is usually experienced by the sufferer.

Other medical causes can include nutritional deficiencies, severe or prolonged illness, traumatic injury and medical treatments (both chemotherapy and radiation can cause hair loss in cancer patients). Stress, both acute and chronic can also lead to hair loss. In the case of illness, injury and stress, the body reacts to the “threat” by going into a form of “shock to the system” which can throw a higher percentage of hair follicles into what is called a telogenic or dormant phase of growth. Sometimes up to 30 or 40% of the approximately 100,000 hair follicle on the average human head can become telogenic due to this phenomenon. Normal telogenic hair loss (which is a natural and ongoing process) is generally in the neighborhood of 10% or less.

These medical causes of baldness tend to be temporary in nature, with normal regrowth occurring with recovery from illness or injury and alleviation of stress. Chemotherapy and radiation, once treatment is completed, will likewise not have a permanent hair loss effect. In the case of nutritional deficiencies, once dietary issues have been resolved, hair should return to normal patterns of growth.

No Such Thing as a Quick Fix

The brass ring in the pursuit of a resolution to the problem of hair loss is inarguably “fast baldness treatment”. But the reality is that no treatment currently available works overnight to cure the condition. Even Minoxidil and Finasteride take weeks and more likely months to show results, and neither will regenerate hair on a completely “bald” head. There are any number of baldness products that entice with promises of quick results, but essentially all such claims must be regarded with suspicion. Healthy hair only grows at the rate of approximately a half inch a month, and very little can be done to speed up the process beyond what our bodies are programmed to do.

Are There Ways to Stop Baldness?

While there are no cures for genetically based pattern baldness, early recognition and intervention can slow the progress of hair loss down. If your family has a history of hair loss, the best time to think about dealing with baldness issues is early on in the game. Consultation with medical practitioners, both primary care doctors and specialists such as dermatologists can identify the genetic predisposition and suggest ways to treat the problem before it becomes noticeable.

Observing good nutrition will go a long way in preventing baldness causing nutritional deficiencies; and actively managing stress through exercise, meditation, hobbies and other stress-busting activities will prevent that form of hair loss. Any time thinning hair is noticed, the first step for anyone should be a visit to their doctor for a comprehensive check up to rule out medical conditions.

There are also common sense baldness treatment tips to consider, a few of which include:

• Avoid the use of harsh chemicals on your hair and scalp (perms, dyes, bleaches)

• Avoid the use of professional grade hair dryers, especially blow dryers which can operate at wattages that can scorch and dry out hair and damage follicles

• Use mild shampoos that do not strip all oils from scalp and follicles—healthy hair growth requires a certain amount of natural oil to be produced.

• Avoid hairstyles that include tight weaves, cornrows, braids and ponytails—these stress the hair shafts at the roots and can cause damage, thinning and breakage.

• Consider the use of the FDA approved drug and topical treatments if your primary care doctor clears you for their use. Even in those who do not have pattern baldness, these drugs may be effective.

• Eat a well balanced diet. Strive for foods that contain B complex vitamins, antioxidants such as Vitamins A,C, and E., recognize the need for adequate amounts of protein (both vegetable and animal based) in your diet and also know that some dietary fat is required for healthy hair and skin.

• Consider the use of volumizing shampoos and other hair products that maximize the strength and appearance of the hair you have.

• Above all, be patient and realistic in your expectations about baldness treatments—give any regimen time to work and don’t expect any product or pill, no matter what is claimed to work miracles.