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An Ounce of Prevention: Are you going bald?

Published:Tuesday | April 28, 2015 | 4:00 AM

YOU MAY not be aware of it, but on average, you are constantly losing hair at an estimated rate of 100 hairs daily from the approximately 100,000 strands in your scalp.

At any time, about 90 per cent of the hair on your head is actively growing, in a growth phase that lasts as long as six years. The other 10 per cent have gone into a resting phase lasting a few months that ends when those hairs are shed. The lost hair is then replaced by new hair growing from the same follicle, thus restarting the growing cycle.

On average, hair grows about half an inch per month, but with age, that rate slows. Factors that interfere with this natural process of hair loss and replacement will produce balding.

Male hair loss

Hair loss is common in the ageing male. By age 30, a quarter of men begin to go bald, and by 60, about two-thirds are either bald or close to that state. Genetics, hormonal changes, nutritional deficiency, side effects of medication, illness or stress, may play a role in causing hair loss in men.

Genetics and hormones

More than 95 per cent of male hair loss is caused by male pattern baldness (androgenic alopecia). Usually, male pattern baldness creates a receding hairline and thinning of the hair around the crown that eventually creates a bald spot. Men with this disorder often end up with a ring of hair around the sides and the back of their heads.

Male pattern baldness is considered a genetic condition that can be passed down from either the mother or father. In male pattern baldness, genetics cause sensitivity in the hair follicles to a hormone called dihydrotestosterone or DHT.

DHT is produced in increasing quantities as men age by the breakdown of the major male hormone testosterone. DHT causes the hair follicles to grow smaller with a shorter life span, eventually falling out altogether or leaving behind just fuzz.

Illness, stress and drugs

The resting stage of the hair growth cycle is known as telogen. A shock to the system can cause hair follicles to be pushed prematurely into the resting state and cause a sudden type of hair loss called telogen effluvium. In this condition, hairs are shed in large numbers, usually about 60 days after the initial shock or stress. Although this rapid hair loss can be disturbing, it normally resolves itself with the hair eventually growing back.

Hair loss from telogen effluvium can be caused by:

Serious infections with high fever, major surgery, chronic illness, thyroid disease, some drugs, such as anticoagulants, anti-gout medicines or the notorious chemotherapy cancer drugs.

Nutritional imbalance

A protein-deficient diet, various vitamin deficiencies, low iron levels or rarely excess vitamin A may contribute to hair loss.

Autoimmune disease

This rare form of hair loss called alopecia areata is thought to be an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system itself attacks the hair follicles. It manifests with small smooth round patches of exposed scalp that may progress to total loss of scalp and body hair. Sometimes the hair grows back and falls out again.

Treatment of hair loss

It is important to identify if possible the specific cause for the hair loss so that treatment can be individually tailored. If there is a nutritional deficiency, it should be corrected and specific illnesses should be treated appropriately.

The popular conventional treatment for male pattern baldness involves the topical application of the drug minoxidil (Rogaine). This is a medicine that by improving blood flow allows more oxygen and nutrients to the follicles. Research suggests that it increases hair density and thickness. It may also be useful for other types of hair loss, but must be used regularly for a prolonged period (up to 12 months). Unfortunately, hair loss often recurs after the cessation of treatment.

Avodart, proscar and propecia are prescription drugs used to treat prostate enlargement because they inhibit the conversion of testosterone to DHT. For that reason, they have also been used to treat male pattern baldness.

The other popular conventional treatment is surgery. This usually involves the transplantation of your healthy hair follicles from donor sites on the scalp to the bald areas. This can be a very effective but costly option.

Alternative treatments

A healthy balanced diet, adequate exercise and effective stress management are key ingredients in a holistic approach to this problem. Supplementing with a high-quality vitamin/mineral tablet, the omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins B6, biotin, C and E, selenium, green tea, pycnogenol and arginine is recommended.

Recent Japanese research has shown that vitamin D when applied to the scalp stimulates stem cells to increase the appearance of new hair follicles. I recommend applying vitamin D drops to the balding areas daily along with oral supplementing with vitamin D.

The herbs Saw Palmetto, Pygeum Africanum and Stinging Nettle inhibit the conversion of testosterone to DHT and have been used topically and orally for male pattern baldness. Circumin from curry and capsaicin from chili pepper increase blood flow and can also be useful.

What you use on your hair and scalp is important in combating hair loss. I recommend using a shampoo and conditioner based on natural ingredients like aloe vera, green tea extract, yucca, jojoba seed extract, and free of chemicals like parabens. In addition, hair regrowth can be stimulated by applying a herbal ointment containing papaya, dandelion, patchouli extract, African Shea butter and Palm Kernel oil. This preparation called jeba hair fertiliser and has often produced impressive hair regrowth in both men and women.

- You may email Dr Vendryes at tonyvendryes@gmail.com or listen to 'An Ounce of Prevention' on POWER106FM on Fridays at 8:15 p.m. Details of his latest book 'An Ounce of Prevention - Mainly for Men' is available on his website www.tonyvendryes.com.