By the age of 35, roughly two-thirds of American men have begun to experience a noticeable loss of hair. After age 50, the percentage of U.S. males with thinning hair climbs to 85 percent.
Based on these sobering statistics from the American Hair Loss Association, your odds of escaping hair loss altogether would seem mighty slim indeed. Nevertheless, a hearty band of fortunate men seem to go throughout their lives with healthy heads of hair, seemingly impervious to the march of time. What is the culprit behind this wholesale loss of hair among American males, and what, if anything, can be done to slow or reverse this process?
Blame Androgenetic Alopecia
Androgenetic alopecia, known more commonly as male pattern baldness, is responsible for 95 percent of hair loss among men. And it turns out that this common disorder is no respecter of gender, because despite its nickname, androgenetic alopecia accounts for much of the hair loss among women as well.
Nobody welcomes or truly embraces hair loss, although some men may put on a brave face and claim that they prefer how they look with no hair. The options available to men who are experiencing hair loss are extensive and include everything from oral medications to hair transplantation and expensive hair pieces.
Propecia Slows Hair Loss
Among the most popular — and effective — treatments for hair loss is Propecia, the brand name for a medication known generically as finasteride. Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1997, Propecia is an oral medication that the AHLA describes as “the first drug in history to effectively treat male pattern baldness in the vast majority of men who use it.” Later on in this article, we’ll explore how this drug works and whether it might provide a solution for you if you are looking for a way to combat your own hair loss.
As its scientific name implies, androgenetic alopecia is related to your genes and male sex hormones. According to the National Library of Medicine’s Genetics Home Reference, the hair loss it causes among men generally follows a well-defined pattern.
Typical Hair Loss Pattern
Hair loss usually first appears above both temples. The hairline recedes over time to form a distinctive “M” shape. At the same time, hair at the crown of the head may begin to thin, eventually leading to partial or complete baldness. Although androgenetic alopecia is a primary cause of women’s hair loss too, the pattern of loss differs for females. Their hair tends to thin all over the head, and the hairline does not recede, according to Genetics Home Reference.
Because of its genetic component, men suffering from male pattern baldness should also be aware that androgenetic alopecia has also been associated with a number of other medical conditions and disorders. These include coronary heart disease, benign enlargement of the prostate gland, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and prostate cancer.
DHT Shrinks Hair Follicles
In its explanation of the role that heredity plays in androgenetic alopecia, AHLA explains that what men with male pattern baldness actually inherit is a genetic sensitivity to dihydrotestosterone, or DHT. Required for sexual development, DHT is a male sex hormone known as an androgen.
Hair growth commences in follicles, tiny organs that are located beneath the skin. Every strand of hair grows for a period ranging from two to six years, before beginning a resting period of several months. At the conclusion of the resting period, each of these strands of hair falls out, and the cycle starts anew as another strand of hair begins to grow in the follicle.
Increased levels of androgens, specifically DHT, tend to shorten the hair growth cycle and over time lead to the growth of thinner and shorter strands of hair. Hair follicles that are particularly sensitive to DHT grow smaller and smaller until they can no longer support the growth of what AHLA calls “cosmetically acceptable hair.”
Role of 5-Alpha Reductase
With the help of an enzyme known as 5-alpha reductase type II, testosterone is converted into DHT in the adrenal and prostate glands, testes, and hair follicles. An understanding of the enzyme’s role in DHT production is essential to an understanding of the way in which finasteride — the active ingredient in Propecia — helps to fight hair loss.
Taken daily in pill form, finasteride helps to block the formation of DHT in the scalp, which in turn halts the pattern of hair follicle miniaturization that leads to hair loss. It does so by blocking the effects of the 5-alpha reductase enzyme that facilitates the conversion of testosterone into DHT in the scalp.
How Propecia Works
Lowering levels of DHT in the scalp appears to slow or even halt the miniaturization of hair follicles, according to Merck, which manufactures and markets Propecia. The company cites clinical studies that show that 48 percent of the men taking the drug experienced hair regrowth, while 42 percent reported that hair loss had been halted altogether.
Although androgenetic alopecia causes hair loss in both men and women, Propecia is designed to be taken by men only. In fact, the drug’s warning label cautions that women who are or may be pregnant should never handle broken or crushed Propecia tablets because the active ingredient in the drug could cause abnormalities in the sex organs of a male baby.
Some Side Effects
Like most prescription medications, Propecia has some side effects that may make the drug unsuitable for some patients. Although relatively rare, sexual side effects have been experienced by some men taking the drug. Such side effects include less desire for sex, difficulty in getting and keeping an erection, and a decrease in semen output.
Other side effects of Propecia can include breast enlargement and/or tenderness, depression, dizziness, chills, cold sweats, confusion, and an unusual weight gain or loss. Also observed in a small number of patients have been allergic reactions, manifested by rash, hives, itching, and/or swelling of the face, lips, throat, and tongue.
How Propecia Is Sold
Propecia is available in film-coated tablets that each contain 1 milligram of finasteride, the recommended daily dosage of the medication. Also available is generic finasteride.
If you’re looking for a reliable online source for Propecia or generic finasteride, eDrugstore.com is an excellent choice. Part of the Select Medical group of online drugstores, eDrugstore is based in Tempe, Arizona. All of the drugs it sells are FDA approved, and all are sourced from licensed U.S. pharmacies. If you have a prescription from your doctor, you can fax or scan and email it along with your online order. If you don’t a prescription, eDrugstore can set up an online consultation with one of the contract physicians on its team.
Don Amerman is a freelance author who writes extensively about a wide array of nutrition and health-related topics.
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