Our hair is in a constant cycle of growth. Whether it be unwanted strands on a bedroom pillow or a rather disgusting concoction blocking the plug-hole, our hair follicles grow, rest, fall out and grow again. For some of us this cycle continues harmoniously for decades, allowing us to harvest it however we please resulting in a glorious display of lifestyles and the ability to run our hands through it seductively on a shampoo advert. Unfortunately, at the tender age of 24 I find myself falling into a rather different category. Through doing my own research however, it seems there are a number of different options when it comes to tackling the issue of hair loss.
Understanding Hair Loss
Researching as to why we lose our hair seems to point to a hormonal culprit known as Dihydrotestosterone, or DHT for short. DHT is an androgen hormone, synthesised by an enzyme (5-aplha reductase), from the more familiar hormone testosterone in the prostate, testes, adrenal glands and more importantly for us, the hair follicles. When DHT is present, specifically in the dermal papilla (root) of the follicle, it starts to undermine the absorption of vital nutrients needed for the hair to retain a healthy growth phase. As a consequence the resting phase of the follicle is increased and the growth phase is shortened, resulting in shorter, finer and thinner strands of hair being produced until the follicle eventually becomes dormant. This effect of DHT on the follicle is known as miniaturisation.
Understanding that DHT is the main cause in common types of baldness has created a pathway for various treatments whose sole purpose is to reduce its production. Ironically the root of the problem is actually at the root of the problem.
Known commercially as Propecia, finasteride is a prescribed drug for Male Pattern Baldness. It acts by binding to the enzyme 5-alpha reductase. This decreases the amount of DHT produced and therefore not only reduces the rate of hair loss but also encourages the growth of both weak and dormant hair follicles. Treatment for at least 3-6 months is needed before any signs of increased hair growth are visible. However; reported side effects of finasteride include impotence, erectile dysfunction, ejaculation disorders and depression to name a few.
Dustasteride like Finasteride works by similarly binding to the same enzyme to reduce DHT. Commercially available as Avodart it has similar advantages and disadvantages of finasteride, as it affects the hormone levels in the body.
Although the mechanisms of how Minoxidil (commercially known as Rogaine or Regaine) are unknown, it has been shown to reduce the rate of hair loss, particularly in young men. It works as a vasodilator which widens the blood vessels allowing more oxygen and nutrients to be absorbed by the hair follicles. This then allows the existing hairs, in the telogen (falling out) phase, to shed resulting in healthier hair follicles, in the anagen phase, to grow. As Monoxidil does not affect levels of DHT the withdrawal of treatment means that the natural levels of DHT will then resume, destroying any follicles that have been prolonged. Minoxidil is also guilty of reported side effects such as irritation, itchiness, dizziness, fainting and irregular heartbeats to name a few, as well as, embarrassingly, hair loss.
In addition to the many prescriptions it also seems there is another option. In 2003 the Harvard Journal of Nutrition published that by adding foods, such as soy and black tea, to your diet dramatically reduces levels of DHT by inhibiting its formation. Another study published by the US National Center for Biotechnology Information, showed that a natural plant known as polygonum multiflorum (Chinese Knotweed), was also effective in lowering production of DHT by blocking the same 5-alpha reductase enzymes as both finasteride and dutasteride. Their conclusion was that polygonum multiflorum extract induces the anagen phase in resting follicles. Herbal formulas commercially available containing polygonum multiflorum include the Fusion Health Hair Tonic.
In conclusion to the dilemma of hair loss, it appears there are a number of options for the follically impaired. The proven results of substances such as monoxidil and finasteride are impressive yet the side effects are rather daunting. At the same time I’d rather stick to cow’s milk when it comes to my morning flat white. Then again I can’t seem to find any adverse side effects from the products containing polygonum multiflorum and I’m also quite partial to the occasional cup of tea.
Sam Keyworth is a freelance writer. His interests include health and fitness, sports, travel and cooking.