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Thinning Hair

Thinning hair can be one of the worst things a person goes through but you don’t have to – and shouldn’t – deal with it on your own. Take heart, when your hair starts to thin, it can be the most depressing and lonely experience you have ever gone through. You can easily be forgiven for thinking it’s an unusual condition. However, over 1 in 4 persons experience thinning hair (also known as androgenetic alopecia). Although this may be a small comfort, it’s still a relief to know there are many people out there who are feeling just like you.

The genes

You may be surprised to learn that one of the most common causes of thinning hair in women – and men – is actually hereditary hair loss, or androgenetic alopecia. In fact, 95% of all hair thinning can be put down to hereditary hair loss. Few people have heard about this condition and even fewer realize that this may be the cause of their hair loss.

The word ‘alopecia’ is used to describe types of significant hair loss. Androgenetic alopecia describes hair loss that is caused by ‘androgens’, which are hormones present in everybody, man or woman. Both women’s and men’s bodies contain testosterone (male hormone) and estrogen (female hormone) but in very different amounts. Although this type of condition is actually linked to male hormones, it doesn’t mean that women who experience this type of hair thinning have higher levels of testosterone, it is more to do with how sensitive their bodies are to it.

People who have hereditary hair loss have hair follicles which are, unfortunately, genetically programmed to turn from the longer, colored terminal hairs to shorter, vellus-like hairs. Their growing (anagen) phase also becomes shorter and shorter, while a greater percentage of hairs enter the telogen (resting) phase.

How genes play a role in thinning hair

Vitamins aren't the only factor in hair growth. Levels of testosterone derivative - dihydrotestosterone - found within follicle cells also play a role. Follicles have two kinds of protein molecules on their cell membranes. One group of proteins receives testosterone, while the other group repels it. In this way the follicle can balance the amount of hair growth direction that it receives from the body.

How many of each type of protein receptors a person has seems to be genetically predetermined. Hence, male pattern baldness is a trait passed from generation to generation. Men and women with more testosterone-receptive proteins have an overload of dihydrotestosterone (DHT) in their hair producing cells - and are more likely to develop hormone-linked hair loss as they go through life.

In men, these receptor cells seem to be located in certain areas of the scalp, yet are not found in others. This is why most men begin to get thinning hair first on the top of the scalp, then the front, then the sides. In women, receptor proteins are found in follicles throughout the scalp, which explains why hair loss in women is diffuse instead of affecting only certain areas.

Women’s vs men’s hair thinning

With women’s hereditary hair loss, hair can shed from all over the head but the front hair line and hair on the temples can often remain intact, even in advanced cases. This pattern of thinning is called the Ludwig pattern of hair loss (also known as female pattern balding) and differs from men’s hair loss.

Men who experience androgenetic alopecia normally have hair which starts thinning from the temples, above the forehead and crown (male pattern balding) and lose a lot more hair than women. Very occasionally, women can experience male pattern baldness and men can experience female pattern baldness, but these incidences are very rare.

Women’s hair loss can start from 20 years of age, or more commonly with the onset of the menopause. This is much later than men, who can start losing hair from puberty. It effects women of any race and can be inherited from either the mother’s or father’s side – or even both. The condition can also skip generations, so even if your mum or dad have got a thick head of hair, androgenetic alopecia could still be in your genes.

Causes of thinning hair

In general terms, some of the most common reasons for hair thinning are:

  • Genetics.
  • Illness.
  • Poor Diet.
  • Stress.
  • Medications.
  • Post-partum Alopecia.

Hair thinning can actually be caused by many factors including genetics, diseases, poor nutrition, stress and even medications, but by far the most common cause of hair loss in men and women is hereditary male and female pattern baldness or 'androgenic alopecia.'  This accounts for 99% of all prematurely thinning or balding scalps.

According to conservative estimates, hair loss affects over 60 million Americans, two thirds of which are men.  So, if you seem to be getting a little 'thin on top,' you are not alone! Approximately 50% of all men over the age of fifty are experiencing this type of hair loss.  Thankfully, medical science has made some dramatic breakthroughs that can help you maintain the hair you've got left and possibly restore some of your lost locks.

Then there is the DHT factor. Dihydrotestosterone, abbreviating DHT, is a biologically active metabolite of the hormone testosterone, formed primarily in the prostate gland, testes, hair follicles, and adrenal glands.

When DHT becomes more active, it reacts with sebum and cholesterol found on and within the scalp. This DHT / sebum / cholesterol mix is shed into hair follicles, where it slowly narrows the tiny opening, causing the follicle itself to become shorter and shallower within the scalp. The lifespan of hair growing from this smaller follicle is shortened, making the hair fall out sooner than it normally would. What was once a long terminal hair is soon replaced by a miniaturized version of the original hair. Over the years, miniaturization continues with each new hair, until the cells within affected follicles finally cease to produce hair and close up altogether.

Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism can lead to a diffuse loss of scalp hair, eyebrows and other body hair, brittle hair and nails, dry skin, lethargy, slowness of speech, and a gain of weight. Sometimes hypothyroidism is associated with toxemia and excessive weight gain during pregnancy (40-50 pounds), heart problems, sensitivity to the cold and a high cholesterol level in the blood.

How endocrine glands affect hair thinning

Hormones are liquid secretions of the endocrine glands which very much influence our actions and feelings. The glands are small bodies situated all around the body. The Thyroid Gland, Parathyroid Glands, Adrenals, etc, are all endocrine glands. They produce hormones into the blood circulation that circulates throughout the body and play a major role in regulating how we function. An over or under-production of a particular hormone will give rise to an imbalance within the body. Often the signs and symptoms of an imbalance are obvious- such as lack of body growth, excessive fatigue, and great thirst. However, a slight imbalance might only be reflected in the hair-its growth, loss of texture, loss,- and, if caught in this early stage, might save a lot of problems later on.

Additional facts about thinning hair

  • Thinning Hair precedes most cases of permanent hair loss by several years.
  • Thinning Hair can be aggravated by ingredients used in many shampoos and other hair growth products.
  • Thinning Hair may give the appearance of hair loss when in fact the follicles are just in a stage of miniaturization.

Restoration options for thinning hair

In addition, truly effective and safe medical treatments like the once-a-day pill, Finasteride 1mg for men, or twice-a-day Minoxidil 2% or 5% spray, are also suitable options that can be used alone, or in conjunction with surgery.

Finasteride is available by prescription only. It was introduced into the market with great excitement in December of 1997 as the first oral treatment for male pattern hair loss.  For now, Finasteride is for men only and is not indicated for women.

Through four years of rigorous scientific studies, it has been shown to re-grow natural hair in 2 out of 3 men, and actually stop hair loss in 5 out of 6 men.  On a technical level, Finasteride works by decreasing the formation of DHT from testosterone by blocking a certain enzyme in the body.  By decreasing the amount of DHT, affected follicles that were producing thin wispy hair, tend to 'bounce back' producing a thicker caliber, more pigmented, longer hair.  It should be noted that it could take 6-12 months before results are noticed with the Finasteride treatment.

Minoxidil 2% solution for application to the scalp has been available for over 10 years and is now available without a prescription in the US.  It can be used by both men and women who are experiencing hair loss.  Originally used for the treatment of high blood pressure, physicians noted that one of its side effects was promoting hair growth.  It works best to stop or slow further hair loss and more effectively on the crown than at the frontal hairline.  

Like Finasteride 1mg, Minoxidil must be used continuously and applied twice daily to sustain results. Both may be used alone or concurrently but, if discontinued, the natural balding process resumes.  Discontinuation of Minoxidil typically results in a rapid shedding of hair (usually within a fairly short period of time). 

Finasteride or Minoxidil can be successfully used by themselves or together (with added benefit) because of their different mechanisms of action.   As part of a total treatment plan to restore and maintain scalp hair, medication can be used either alone or in conjunction with a surgical procedure.

Hair transplants

Taking advantage of the relatively permanent hair on the sides and back of the head, hair transplant surgeons redistribute hair-producing follicles to thinning or balding areas of the scalp.   Current techniques in surgical hair restoration involve the removal of a strip of permanent, hair-bearing skin from the donor area, which is then typically dissected into micrografts (containing 1-3 hairs) and minigrafts (3-8 hairs each).  The donor area is sutured closed and the tiny grafts are then meticulously “planted” into the recipient area.   Critical to the aesthetic outcome of the procedure, the tiny incisions determine the angle, orientation and position of each individual graft.

Well, in a nutshell, that's it.  Yes, there are any numbers of other products, remedies, therapies and whatnot's that we have not mentioned, and for good reason.  They don't work, no matter what you may have heard.  These remedies range from old wives tales, to such miracle cures as CM (chicken manure) and old forgotten ancient cures like rat entrails and urine.  We refer to these things as 'Hair Voodoo'.  Do yourself and your bank account a favor and go with hair science, not hair voodoo.


 

 
   
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