A Pill a Day to Keep Baldness Away?
Concerns about hair loss are in the forefront of all issues related to appearance among the general public. It has been estimated that the number of people worldwide who have sought treatment for hair loss have more than doubled in just the last few years. Spending related to hair loss in the United States alone has been estimated at 6 billion dollars per year, and the business of hair loss treatment is expected to continue to grow, especially as the Baby Boomer generation continues to age.
There are a variety of solutions to the hair loss—surgical techniques (transplants, scalp stretching), hair growth products in the form of topical applications of both pharmaceutical and herbal formulas (extracts, oils, shampoos and various other hair care products) as well as a wide range of so called hair growth pills.
Hair growth pills that work most generally contain one of the two FDA approved pharmaceuticals, Finasteride or Minoxidil. Both medications were developed for medical conditions unrelated to hair loss, (Minoxidil for the treatment of high blood pressure; Finasteride for enlarged prostate), both were found to seemingly encourage hair growth as side effects to use. Both medications work on a common cause of baldness—the conversion of the androgen (male hormone) testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT) which has the effect of causing hair follicles to shrink and degrade. This is the leading cause of what has come to be termed “male pattern baldness” which is a genetic condition for which there is no present cure, and which also has a distaff counterpart, “female pattern baldness”. By interfering with the production of DHT, both Finasteride and Minoxidil work by essentially allowing for healthy and normal follicle activity and retention of hair that would otherwise be shed while the drugs are being routinely taken.
Because pattern baldness is a genetic condition, neither drug is a “cure” for the problem and for the hair growth to be maintained, both medications must be taken on an ongoing basis, Stopping either can result in eventual loss of all hair that would normally have been shed during the period of active use of the drugs. As with any pharmaceutical, both Minoxidil and Finasteride also have side effects. The former can actually cause hair loss, which may or may not result in new growth, as well as growth of hair in other less desirable areas of the body; the latter is famous for causing erectile dysfunction, impotence, ejaculation problems and enlargement of male breast tissue. Minoxidil and Finasteride are also hair growth pills for men only—women should not take these drugs due to serious consequences to overall health resulting from disruption of a woman’s natural hormonal balance. Topical applications of both are considered safe for female use however.
There are many other hair growth pills that do not contain these drugs, but rely on the use of vitamins, herbs and minerals which have been shown to have a positive effect on hair loss. This class of hair growth pill will often not prove of benefit to sufferers of genetic pattern baldness unless there is accompanying dietary deficiencies that further complicate the problem. Non-pharmaceutical hair growth pills concentrate instead on providing an optimum environment for healthy hair growth by addressing underlying nutritional deficiencies.
There are a number of vitamins with a good reputation for encouraging hair growth—foremost among these are the members of the B complex group. Vitamins B5, B6, B12 and biotin have a proven anecdotal track record of promoting hair regrowth. Biotin in particular is often taken alone; it has the effect of restoring a healthy metabolism to hair follicles, as well as helping to regulate the production of sebum, essential hair oil from the scalp’s sebaceous glands. Too much or too little sebum has been associated with the inability of hair to grow.
Other vitamins that are often used in hair growth vitamin formulas include Vitamin A, an antioxidant that protects cells from “free radical damage” and also encourages healthy sebum production. Vitamin C is another antioxidant and the most important component of healthy collagen production by the body. Vitamin E is yet another antioxidant vitamin that promotes healthy skin and hair.
Minerals play an important part in hair growth as well, and many of the non medical, natural hair growth pills contain the minerals considered essential to healthy hair production. Iodine is vital for healthy thyroid function, the thyroid hormone thyroxin determines the length of time that hair remains in its dormant stage, and healthy levels of the hormone encourage the hair follicle to become active and promote the growth of new hair. Zinc is another essential mineral in healthy hair growth, zinc deficiency in the diet has been tied directly to hair loss. Selenium helps to recycle Vitamin E and also promotes healthy thyroid function.
Some of the herbs that are often found in effective hair growth pills include:
• Saw palmetto: a natural DHT inhibitor
• Horsetail: a rich source of silica which is essential for healthy bone, nail and hair growth
• Borage seed: usually in the form of oil, this is an important source of omega 6 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation of the scalp and regulates sebum production
• Flax seed oil: contains an omega-3 fatty acid that also reduces inflammation and helps in sebum production
There are a number of natural formulations that specifically target niche populations within the large hair loss market. These include formulas that are designed specifically to be hair growth pills for black women, hair loss pills for post-menopausal women, formulas for the younger crowd, as well as for those suffering from male and female pattern baldness. In large part these formulas contain most or all of the same ingredients as the more general products, although some add some protein and enzyme components to their formularies. Some of these substances include:
• MSM (methylsulfonylmethane): widely recognized as inert chemically, MSN has is a rich source of sulphur that is naturally present in some plants. There is no FDA minimum daily requirement established for sulphur, nor any scientific studies examining sulphur deficiencies. Anecdotal evidence claims that it promotes faster hair growth when used in pill form.
• L-Cysteine: an amino acid that is claimed increases hair shaft diameter and density of hair; it also plays a role in protein and fatty acid synthesis, energy production and boots healthy immune system function.
• L-Methionine: is another amino acid. The body does not naturally manufacture this amino acid and relies upon dietary sources for proper bodily levels. L-methionine contains sulfur and has been noted to encourage healthy nail and hair growth, including improving the thickness of fine hair.
It must be noted that these ingredients have come under some fire from the FDA and other nutritional experts. While MSN may be harmless, the FDA has come out in opposition of its marketing as being of therapeutic value. Amino acids such as L-Cysteine and L-Methionine and other proteins are often actively discouraged as nutritional supplements due to the effects of excess protein in the diet leading to reduced kidney function in later years. Formulas containing these substances should be considered, as is the case with any course of dietary supplements under consideration, only after consultation with your primary care doctor.
Any formula that promises pills that will foster faster hair growth should also be looked at with some suspicion. Healthy hair grows at the rate of approximately a half inch a month on average, meaning that for some people hair growth can occur at slower or faster rates. There are no overnight miracles when it comes to hair growth, patience and persistence in any course of treatment should always be the order of the day.