How To Evaluate Hair Loss Treatments

By some estimates, hair loss affects roughly half of women and more than half of men at some point in life.  Not only is it in your best health interest to keep an eye out for hair loss, but also treatment for hair loss seems to be more effective if you begin early.  The earlier you detect and treat hair loss, the happier you may be with treatment results.

  1. Rogaine and growth stimulants.  Rogaine is available over-the-counter for both men and women.  With the active ingredient minoxidil (available in 2% and 5%), Rogaine is applied directly to the scalp.  The treatment must continue indefinitely in order to create and sustain hair regrowth; Rogaine and growth stimulants in general do not stop hair loss in the way that other treatments do, focusing instead on encouraging growth.  Mild skin irritation can sometimes occur as a side effect, and even rarer are fluctuations in heart rate.
  2. Propecia and DHT inhibitors.  Propecia is an oral medication meant only for use by men at this time.  As a DHT inhibitor, it disrupts the behavior of a key testosterone that unites with 5-alpha reductase to form dihydro-testosterone (DHT).  DHT in elevated levels will bind more with androgen receptors and lead to hair loss.  These DHT inhibitors, by preventing the overabundance of DHT, can bring hair loss to a halt and encourage regrowth.

    One disadvantage of Propecia is that it usually takes roughly six months in order to experience a positive effect.  Like Rogaine, the effect of Propecia will wear off if you discontinue use.  Many men grow impatient with the treatment and discontinue before seeing the results.  Treatment can be quite effective, but may be less effective in combating receding hair line than baldness toward the top of the head.  Pregnant women should never handle Propecia.

    There is some evidence to suggest that an herbal alternative is available in the form of saw palmetto.  Like Propecia, saw palmetto appears to prevent 5-alpha reductase from combining with testosterone to form DHT, though effective dosage has not yet been determined.   

  3. Antiandrogens.  Treatment using antiandrogens aims to disrupt the binding of DHT with androgen receptors.  Many antiandrogens are available elsewhere in the world but haven't been approved by the FDA.  Spironolactone is an antiandrogen most commonly prescribed for treatment of female hair loss.  Talk to your doctor about the antiandrogen options available to you.
  4. Other medicinal treatments.  Some anti-inflammatory drugs are used to provide additional punch in combating hair loss.  Cortisone injections and topical treatments are sometimes prescribed to counter inflammation that can exacerbate hair loss.  These measures are typically taken in conjunction with other treatment.

    In cases where the body's immune system attacks follicles that are overburdened by DHT, antioxidant SODs (superoxide dismutase) can possibly help to prevent hair loss by getting rid of some of the superoxide released during the autoimmune response.

  5. Surgery.  Advancements in surgical hair replacement are very promising indeed.  Hair transplantation procedures that involve relocating and grafting small portions of active scalp have become more sophisticated.  At the same time, newer methods that involve the relocations of single follicles - one at a time - are less invasive and yield excellent results.  The key is to find a reputable surgeon and be willing to pay significantly more for this kind of hair loss treatment than for the other aforementioned options.
  6. On the horizon: hair cloning.  We've all heard a ton about cloning in the past several years, but in the not-too-distant future (several years from now) we will have the option of cloning hairs.  This treatment method would initially manifest itself as a surgical procedure where a follicle's stem cells are used to create clone hairs that are then implanted in the patients scalp.

The future of hair loss treatment is ever-brightening and much brighter now than it was in the past.  Your best treatment plan might involve a combined attack of hair loss in its different stages.  Talk to your doctor, who can help to determine the nature of your hair loss and prescribe the appropriate treatment.


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