Are you Losing Your Hair?

For many men, it is just an irreversible fact of life: they are losing their hair, or it's already gone. What causes this, and is it genuinely irreversible?

Let's look at a normal, healthy head of hair. Each individual strand grows about 1 centimeter a month, and lives for 2 to 3 years before falling out. 90 percent of your hair is growing at any given time, and the remaining 10 percent is dormant. After somewhere between 3 and 4 months, the dormant strands fall out, to be replaced by new hairs.

If you lose more than that amount, and/or it fails to grow back, you will eventually be bald. The condition affects men, women, and children, but generally hits men the hardest.

Many men experience androgenetic alopecia, which is just a way of saying “common baldness,” or “male-pattern baldness,” the most common form of hair loss. In almost all circumstances, men who suffer with this have inherited the trait. It usually takes the form of a receding hairline that spreads eventually to baldness atop the head. Less common is female-pattern baldness,  which is a general thinning of the hair over the scalp.

There are certainly other ways you can lose your hair. The stress of a major surgery and postpartum hormonal activity can cause temporary hair loss. Some common medicinal treatments for gout, high blood pressure, birth control, and depression cause hair loss as a side effect that clears up when the medication is discontinued. A hormonal imbalance, an over/under-active thyroid gland, and certain infections can also contribute to a follicular deficiency, but proper treatment of the underlying cause usually results in a reversal of the condition.

But if you are an unhappy victim of male-pattern baldness, is there anything you can do about? I'm not talking about wigs, plugs, rugs or some other stagecraft; is there any legitimate medical treatment?

Not quite yet, but science is working on it, and may be closer than you think. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine are making great strides in the use of stem cells to regenerate the missing or dying hair follicles. They published a study describing a method for converting adult cells into epithelial stem cells. The epithelium is the term for tissues covering the surface of the body. This was the first time anyone has achieved this in either humans or mice.

A hair shaft contains two types of cells, however: epithelial, and dermal papillae. As Xiaowei “George” Xu, MD, PhD, associate professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and Dermatology at the Perelman School, noted: “When a person loses hair, they lose both types of cells. We have solved one major problem, the epithelial component of the hair follicle. We need to figure out a way to also make new dermal papillae cells, and no one has figured that part out yet.”

But they're working on it, Kojak...