Balding in Men and Women
Both men and women alike struggle with hair loss, and finding the cure is akin to the holy grail of dermatology. Despite countless studies and a seemingly endless array of prescription drugs and over-the-counter products that aim to treat hair loss, exciting new research points to defective stem cells as the root cause of baldness.
A recent study by dermatologist and University of Pennsylvania researcher George Cotsarelis, M.D. has found that those who experience balding have less of a certain type of stem cell that instructs hairs how to grow. As a result, men who experience balding produce hairs so small in balding areas that they are invisible to the naked eye.
The current belief is that baldness is caused by the destruction of hair follicles, mainly by the hormone testosterone. Dr. Cotsarelis found that balding men actually have the same number of stem cells as men with full heads of hair, but the lack of a certain type of mature stem cell causes hair follicles to shrink instead. This is good news in terms of treatments for baldness, since the hope of reactivating the stem cells may be able to prompt hair regrowth.
It’s long been believed that there’s a connection between genetics and hair loss—and this belief still stands. Researchers have identified two genetic markers for hair loss—and one in seven men have both of them. One gene is responsible for testosterone binding to the hair follicle and is inherited from the mother, while the other gene is inherited from both the mother and the father. This explains the similarities between balding patterns of fathers and sons. Together, these two genes significantly increase the risk of baldness, and testing may one day be able to reveal one’s predisposition to hair loss. Armed with this information, researchers can set their sights on developing creams or pills that can actually prevent hair loss in the first place.
Current treatments for hair loss focus on the effect that testosterone has on hair follicles. Drugs like Propecia decrease the amount of testosterone that reaches the hair follicle, which has been shown to at least slow down the rate of hair loss. But testosterone is not the cause of balding in women, which is why this new stem cell discovery seems to make sense.
Now the big question is how to reactivate these stem cells in an effort to regrow hair. Ultimately, the magic bullet would be a cream applied to the scalp to help stem cells grow normal hair. But don’t think you can run out and buy a cream that claims to awaken stem cells today… This “cure” for baldness is still years away, but knowledge is power and we’re on our way.
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