The bald truth

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Help for hair loss may be found in apples, palm trees, and diet changes

IT'S EVERYWHERE you look, especially under all those baseball caps. Male pattern baldness, or androgenic alopecia, impacts at least 50 percent of men by age 50.

Currently, only two medications are approved to treat male pattern hair loss. Topical minoxidil (Rogaine) is available over-the-counter in either 2 percent or 5 percent strength; it works to revitalize hair follicles by counteracting the natural thinning that occurs over time. The prescription drug finasteride (Propecia) inhibits the formation of DHT, a testosterone-derived hormone thought to cause baldness. Either drug has to be used indefinitely to maintain benefits, and both come with possible side effects. Finasteride is intended only for men — even the handling of broken tablets by women has been linked to birth defects — and it may lower blood levels of prostate specific antigen used to screen for prostate cancer.
holistic helpers

The most promising natural alternative is saw palmetto, which also blocks the formation of DHT and has been used to reduce enlargement of the prostate. A small double-blind study by the manufacturer HairGenesis showed "improved" results in balding men taking 200 milligrams of saw palmetto extract combined with 50 mg of beta-sitosterol, a phytosterol.

Anecdotal results are mixed. "I've had patients using saw palmetto for other reasons, and I don't see a strong correlation to what's going on with their hair," says Eric Yarnell, N.D., assistant professor of botanical medicine at Bastyr University near Seattle. However, one of Yarnell's patients insists he stopped his hair loss with a cream made from tinctures of saw palmetto and nettle root. The usual dosage for saw palmetto is 160 mg capsules twice a day; look for brands standardized to contain 80 to 90 percent fatty acids. Saw palmetto may or may not affect PSA tests, so talk to your doctor before supplementing. Another natural treatment with hair-raising potential is procyanidin B-2, a phytochemical found in apples. According to a Japanese study in Phytomedicine, men using a topical 1 percent solution extracted from apples had a significant increase in hairs compared to a placebo group.
thick tricks

As a cosmetic response to thinning hair, thickening shampoos work through chemical bonding and water absorption, says Ted Daly, M.D., a dermatologist in Garden City, N.Y., who has formulated his own shampoo (gardencityderm.com). Among other types of grooming products, Couvre is a lotion that uses color to reduce the contrast between your hair and scalp, while Toppik blends protein fibers with your hair to give it a fuller look. Also, cleansing away product residue with tea tree shampoo can make hair look healthier and fuller.

Unfortunately, marketing hype is rampant when it comes to hair loss. "There's a lot of misinformation on the Internet," Yarnell says. For example, watch for products that include minoxidil as an ingredient but sell for heftier prices. "It's just minoxidil slickly packaged," Daly cautions.

In the end, the inevitable answer to male pattern hair loss is the one most men don't want to hear: "It's part of life," says James Duke, Ph.D., author of The Green Pharmacy.

He's right, of course. Now, where is that baseball cap?
HEALTHY SCALP, HEALTHY HAIR

A different approach involves eliminating dandruff, or seborrheic dermatitis, which causes inflammation of the scalp and can accelerate male pattern hair loss, says dermatologist Ted Daly, M.D. Shampoos like Nizoral and Head & Shoulders may help control the condition; a report in Dermatology found that men using prescription-strength Nizoral (containing 2 percent ketoconazole, an antifungal medication) had similar improvements in hair density to men using a 2 percent minoxidil lotion.

For an herbal inflammation fighter, mix 10 parts olive or coconut oil with one part rosemary essential oil and massage 1 teaspoon into the scalp nightly, says Raymond Teets, M.D., an integrative family medicine physician at the Continuum Center for Health & Healing at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. He also recommends an anti-inflammatory diet: Avoid fatty foods and simple sugars, and emphasize a wide variety of vegetables and lean protein sources like soy and fish.

Zinc, calcium, and biotin (aka vitamin B8) are important for maintaining adequate hair growth and may be beneficial for alopecia areata, an autoimmune condition typically characterized by patchy hair loss, Daly notes. But do they help in male pattern baldness? "I would say the evidence is scarce," he says. For general hair health, however, he suggests taking 15 milligrams of zinc, 1,200 mg of calcium, and 2,500 micrograms of biotin daily. Other nutrients needed for healthy hair and scalp include vitamins A, B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine), and C. Naturopaths sometimes suggest applying vitamin E cream to the scalp.

PHOTO (COLOR): TO MAINTAIN YOUR MANE, reduce inflammation and boost nutrition.

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By Tom Weede

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