Baldness And The Risk Of Prostate Cancer

Monday, 7 June 2010

Throughout time, whenever people start talking about baldness, they almost always focus on the threat to self-esteem. Most cultures have decided that men who lose their hair early are somehow worthy of mockery. Inevitably, this has put pressure on men to avoid or hide the problem. In reality, the poor quality of many wigs and toupées signalled the wearer’s embarrassment and aggravated the social difficulties. In turn, this opened up a market to the unscrupulous to sell magic remedies. We still celebrate this time in our history by retaining the idea of “snake oil” and “elixirs” from the Traveling Medicine Shows. But the results in a recent study published in Cancer Epidemiology may be a sign that men who lose their hair early are the lucky ones. Instead of despair as their hair recedes, they should be celebrating the news their risk of prostate cancer is halving.

The study involved some two thousand men in their forties, half of whom had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. In reviewing their medical histories, the researchers noted that men whose hair began thinning in their twenties were the least likely to develop a growth in the prostate (whether cancerous or benign). In publishing these results, a clear distinction must be made between the natural thinning and loss of hair that affects all men as they age, and male pattern baldness which characteristically affects younger men. The reduction in the risk of cancer benefits those who lose their hair prematurely. The researchers speculate this is a consequence of the changing level of testosterone in those who go bald. The higher the level of hormone, the more the body produces dihydrotestosterone (DHT). With more DHT in the bloodstream, the hair follicles shrink. This thins the hair and slows the rate at which hair is replaced as it is shed. But, higher levels of testosterone seem to lower the risk of a growth.

There are two points of interest in this story. The first is the presence of contrary research evidence showing a higher risk of cancer among the prematurely bald. Unfortunately, male pattern baldness and prostate cancer have the same triggering cause and both develop as men age. There needs to be further research to distinguish the cause and effect of both conditions. Put simply, asking men to remember when they began losing their hair is not very reliable scientific evidence. Secondly, propecia, the drug now shown as effective in treating male pattern baldness because it prevents the conversion of testosterone to DHT, was originally developed as a treatment for benign growths in the prostate. It is somewhat ironic to see modern research treading the same path that led to the FDA expanding the use of propecia from prostate growths to a treatment for male pattern baldness. So where does this leave us? As it stands, this latest research is on its own and contradicted by earlier work. It has a doubtful scientific method and a relatively small number of participants. Before we can celebrate early balding, we need a better designed research program with a significantly larger number of men involved. Only if these new findings are confirmed can men with male pattern baldness feel better about their hair loss. Until then, all they have to rely on is the ever reliable propecia — so long as you start early enough, it slows hair loss and can prompt some regrowth.

By: desmond jeremiah

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Hair Loss Is Not Simple Genetics

Friday, 4 June 2010

One of the most commonly suggested causes of hair loss in both men and women is a genetic defect. The fact it may be inherited means it is not your fault when your hair thins and falls out and, perhaps more importantly, the condition is not necessarily something that can be cured. Of course, there is some evidence that hair loss does run in families, but there is more evidence that our lifestyles and medical decisions can be even more important factors in deciding who loses hair and how quickly. We will ignore the cultural effect of changing hairstyles where too much traction in pulling the hair back into a ponytail or comparable style may accelerate hair loss, the effect of a general anesthetic for surgery (curiously, many who undergo gastric bypass surgery often lose the most hair), increased levels of anxiety and stress, and both chemo- and radiotherapy for cancer. The most consistent cause surrounds the level of different hormones in the body.

In women, for example, the level of estrogen drops during and after pregnancy, and during the menopause. This has been directly linked to both the thinning of hair and its loss from the scalp. Some women also lose hair as a reaction to particular oral contraceptives. For obvious reasons, the level of hormones naturally occurring in the male body tends to be more stable. But, in both genders, thyroid problems can affect the production of hormones and produce early baldness in men. Similarly, for a number of reasons, the levels of the hormones may be affected artificially. The most consistent causes stem from the use of steroids which are commonly used for a variety of strictly medical, e.g. to control asthma, and other purposes, e.g. as supplements to promote growth and for strength while weight training. As an adverse side effect, many weight loss products affect the thyroid and hair suffers. Finally, it is not just athletes who discover some diet and other supplements affect the level of testosterone in their bodies. Many who take “natural” dietary and nutritional supplements find out the hard way that some “natural” chemicals affect hair growth and retention.

This should give you pause for thought. Because there are many possible causes of hair loss, you should not guess what is affecting you and self-medicate. The research evidence shows the majority of people are completely unaware that their own lifestyles or the drugs prescribed to them by physicians may be responsible. Always get a formal diagnosis from your regular healthcare professional. If he or she confirms your hair loss is an adverse side effect of drugs or supplements you are using, the remedies will be clear. But, if male pattern baldness is confirmed, propecia is the tried and tested response (albeit not for Olympic athletes like Zach Lund who were banned from competition if they took this drug). Because this drug was developed some time ago, you will now find both the branded and generic propecia (also called finasteride) freely available from most of the online pharmacies. This will save you some serious money while enabling you to both slow hair loss and often encourage some regrowth. However, two small facts should be borne in mind. Propecia works best when it is taken early in the cycle of hair loss. Secondly, hair loss restarts once you stop taking the drug.

By: desmond jeremiah

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