08:37 05 August 2009
Few things in life distress a man like losing his hair.
Research from the University of Wales found that the prospect of baldness causes men as much anguish as a serious skin condition, such as psoriasis.
"Baldness causes men far more suffering than I had ever imagined," says Elizabeth Steel, founder of Hairline International, a support network.
"It does not hurt physically, but it does cause so much suffering
across the board: people lose confidence, marriages break down, careers
are ruined, and it can lead to suicide attempts."
Treatments claim to halt baldness, but do they actually work? We look at the evidence.
Vitamins and minerals
Hair health requires good nutrition, with enough iron, vitamin C, B vitamins and essential fatty acids. "These nutrients can help to reduce hair loss and promote healthy growth," says trichologist Andrew Bernie.
Supplements of zinc and silica can also help, as can the amino acid lysine, which helps promote good circulation. Iron deficiency causes a drop in serum ferritin levels, which can slow down the rate of hair growth, and research has shown that redressing this imbalance with iron supplements can help.
"Red meat is an important source of iron, a nutrient that is vital for hair growth," says Bernie. "Anyone who cuts it from their diet could be at risk of deficiency."
A team of scientists at Colorado State University discovered that equol, a little-known molecule created in the intestine when soy is digested, is a natural and powerful blocker of dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a potent male hormone that shrinks hair follicles, and is involved in male pattern baldness.
Eating more soy could therefore reduce baldness.
Herbs and homeopathy
Chinese herbal medicine uses formulae that act as blood tonics to promote healthy hair growth. In Japan, extract of black pepper is often used as a tonic for baldness. For women, meanwhile, the homoeopathic remedy lycopodium is used to reduce hair loss after pregnancy, and sepia can be used for hair loss linked to menopause.
Although they are widely used by people experiencing hair loss, there is little solid evidence of their effectiveness.
Acupuncture and massage
Because they improve circulation in the scalp, both acupuncture and massage are popular approaches to preventing hair loss, although there is little evidence to prove they work.
Daily use of a plum blossom hammer (a small hammer with five or seven tiny needle points) on the scalp can promote local circulation and stimulate hair growth, according to some acupuncture therapists. Massaging jojoba oil into the scalp daily is also believed to improve scalp circulation, and remove dead cells, which may slow hair growth.
Minoxidil is a liquid that is rubbed into the scalp twice daily in the hope of regrowing the hair and preventing further loss. Hair resulting from minoxidil use may be thinner and shorter, but clinical trials suggest there can be enough growth for some people to hide their bald spots and for it to blend with existing hair.
However, according to Marilyn Sherlock of the Institute of Trichologists, men who start using it must stick with the treatment. "The disadvantage is that it is effectively cosmetic, because, once you stop, the hair falls out anyway."
Propecia is available only on private prescription for the treatment of male pattern baldness. In clinical trials, five out of six men (83%) did not lose any more hair while taking the drug - furthermore, some men reported improved scalp hair growth.
As with Regaine, the benefits stop if usage is halted, and both treatments take three to six months to kick in; they cost £30-50 a month. The manufacturers recommend giving up if you've had no results after a year.
Hair transplants and scalp reduction surgery are commonly undertaken to treat male pattern baldness.
For hair transplants, a cosmetic surgeon takes tiny plugs of skin - each containing one to several hairs - from the back or side of the scalp, and implants them into bald areas.
Scalp reduction means decreasing the area of bald skin on the head. Skin on the scalp and top part of the head can become flexible and stretched enough for some of it to be surgically removed. Once the hairless scalp is removed, the space it occupied is closed with hair-covered skin.
In another scalp reduction procedure, which is called a "flap", cosmetic surgeons fold hair-bearing skin over an area of bald skin.
Source: Daily Telegraph
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