To Be Or Not To Be… Bald?

Baldness is a scourge to society and has several causes that make anyone susceptible to it. Nevertheless, with advancing research, scientists may be close to discovering an infallible cure.

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By Yume Igarashi

You’re in the shower, rinsing your hair and singing to your heart’s delight when you look down to find clumps of hair have fallen out. You shake it off, only to find that even more strands have abandoned your scalp as you comb your hair. Worry begins to set in. The next morning, that worry escalates to fear as you see your pillowcase covered with even more loose strands.

Baldness is among one of the worst annoyances in our society as mankind has long been pestered by alopecia areata, or male/female pattern progressive hair loss. In the U.S., approximately 35 million men and 21 million women suffer from hair loss, equating to hair loss in over one in every five Americans. However, hair loss shows minimal signs of slowing, with few existing cures and many ways to aggravate the problem, which becomes distressing to victims of this nuisance.

Shedding hair does not immediately indicate alopecia areata, as males and females with healthy hair may shed up to 80 and 100 strands a day, respectively. Though it is frightening when you find a few loose strands, don’t freak out just yet. However, once you lose more than 100 strands a day and your hair begins to feel thin, it may indicate an underlying issue for abnormal hair loss.

Anyone is susceptible to hair loss as it can result from medical conditions, genetics, hormonal imbalances, or aging. However, hair loss is primarily caused by stress, which is correlated with three specific types of hair loss: telogen effluvium, alopecia areata (AA), and trichotillomania. Telogen effluvium results from a body change, such as weight loss, that causes hairs to be in the telogen, or resting, phase. The hair then sheds and becomes thin. However, this hair loss is reversible and may grow back normally within six months. AA is an autoimmune disorder that is triggered by stress and causes several isolated patches on the scalp. Trichotillomania, also referred to as “hair-pulling disorder,” involves compulsive hair pulling. The commonality among hair losses caused by stress is that they are temporary: since the hair follicles are not permanently damaged, hair can regrow. To encourage hair regrowth, healthy practices, such as managing your stress, eating a balanced diet that supplies vitamins essential to hair growth (Vitamins C, B, and E), and remaining hydrated can help your hair return to its normal growth rate.

While there has yet to be a certified remedy to replant hair on a bald head, there are many treatments to mitigate hair loss. The FDA approved two treatments for male pattern baldness: Minoxidil and Finasteride. Minoxidil is an over-the-counter (OTC) treatment and is applied to slow thinning hair and hair loss. It is a vasodilator, meaning it widens blood vessels to improve blood flow to the regions in which it is applied. However, it requires constant usage, as halting the treatment will resume and exacerbate hair loss. Finasteride is a prescription medication and is claimed by the American Hair Loss Association to have stopped hair loss from progressing in 86 percent of treated men and increased hair growth in 65 percent. However, since it works by increasing testosterone levels in the body, it has several side effects, including impotence, weakness, headaches, and swelling. There are other treatments, such as hair transplants, laser treatment, and, for those who fancy the aesthetic of hair, microblading. While those treatments are time-consuming and expensive, there are also cheaper alternatives or home remedies, such as drinking green tea, taking biotin supplements, and using different types of oils, such as peppermint, rosemary, coconut, castor, or olive oil. However, these remedies lack proven effectiveness.

Recently, there have been two breakthroughs in the treatment of hair loss. The first was the discovery of Avicennia marina, an extract derived from mangrove trees that contains Avicequinon-C, a chemical that halts hair loss and promotes growth by inhibiting the release of androgens that cause hair loss. The substance was tested on 50 participants who suffer from alopecia areata, and results indicated that it successfully stopped hair loss and promoted hair regrowth. However, this extract must be tested more frequently before it can be approved as a drug. The second breakthrough was achieved by scientists at Riken, a research institute based in Japan. They discovered that stem cells—cells that have yet to differentiate—could be used to develop hair follicles. These hair follicles are unique because they can regrow hair when it falls out, ensuring that every fallen strand is replaced by a new one. They grew the cells in a NFFSE medium, a type of growth medium that includes collagen, and found that this yielded the highest stem cell amplification rate, or regenerative success. In the study, they found that 80 percent of follicles were able to regenerate in a cyclical fashion, suggesting that hair regeneration is an imminent reality. Though this method must also pass clinical trials before it can be approved, its results so far have been more than promising.

Mankind may soon be able to overcome one of its greatest inconveniences. Though it is one thing to choose a clean-shaven head or shed a few hairs a day, it is an entirely different story to be a victim of excessive hair loss. Thankfully, this affliction may soon see a permanent end as new remedies become commercially available, replacing current methods that have questionable efficacy or serious side effects. While hair loss is generally not a concern until later in one’s life, it never hurts to take preventative measures early. So, perhaps take up some healthy practices, such as regular hair washing or eating a healthy diet, and stop stressing about that exam or project you may have. Give yourself and your hair a break.