Jake Deutsch, M.D., is a veteran ER doctor and a contributor to The Daily Details. Send your health questions to Ask@Details.com. We'll publish the answers here every week.
If your doctor said you had a high probability of developing a disfiguring medical condition, chances are you'd pay attention, right? Well, listen up, because this doctor is here to tell you that you have a 70 percent chance of losing one of your most identifying features: your hair.
That's right—you're more likely to develop male-pattern baldness than skin cancer. What's more, 25 percent of men will show the first signs of being folically challenged by the tender age of 30. But you don't have to fight the bald-headed battle alone. Here are the facts for facing hair-loss prevention head-on.
Vitamin D (a.k.a sunshine) has some serious potential for those whose bald spot is a sore spot.
Hair grows in cycles, with short phases of dormancy, but if your follicles "go to sleep" and never wake up, the hair doesn't grow back. When the scalp's vitamin D receptors are stimulated, the dormant follicles wake up and generate new growth. Researchers are on the brink of developing drugs to target these receptors and revive dead follicles.
That doesn't mean you should start chugging cartons of vitamin D-enriched milk, though. Excessive vitamin D consumption, especially in elemental forms, can be toxic to the kidneys. Sit tight while the lab nerds wrap up their work.
Blame it on too much testosterone, but dermatologists have found a correlation between low hair growth and high levels of prostaglandins D2 (PGD2), an enzymatic molecule associated with testosterone-fueled male-pattern baldness. If too much PGD2 means hair can't grow, then blocking PGD2 means it can, right? There are already PGD2-inhibiting drugs on the market to treat asthma, so it's only a matter of time before the same science is applied elsewhere.
Scientists have been able to grow hair on hairless rats by using stem cells, the building blocks of the human body. By combining stem cells with active parts of the hair-follicle cell, a bioengineered hair-producing gold mine was born. While this is still in a highly experimental phase and has not yet been approved for human-hair growth, the potential to implant cells in the scalp will most likely be more effective than current hair-transplant surgery. Bad hair plugs, be gone!
Hang on to what you've got.
Currently the best medical treatment for men's hair loss is to help guys hold on to the hair they have. Minoxidil (a.k.a Rogaine) is a topical treatment derived from a blood-pressure medication, and Finesteride (a.k.a. Propecia) was originally a prostate drug. Both have been proven to slow the balding process.
So since the odds are already stacked against you, why not take action now? It's only a matter of time until some of these other advances end up in our medicine cabinet, but until then over-the-counter treatments are the best bet.
With 35 million men suffering from male-pattern baldness, one thing is for sure: Whoever finds the cure first will be very rich—and have very good hair.
—Dr. Jake Deutsch is an New York City-based ER doctor. Follow him @DrJakeDeutsch.