Causes of Hair Loss According to Medical Research

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John Fischer, Staff Writer

John L. Fischer is an experienced writer and communications specialist. His work has appeared in newspapers, magazines and on numerous websites. He has written on subjects ranging everywhere from adult health to sports medicine to tips on developing and training young athletes. He is a former beat writer for cross-channel marketing publication, "Multichannel Merchant," and a former communications specialist for global technology consultant, Gartner, Inc. Mr. Fischer is a graduate of the University of Richmond (Richmond, VA) and also holds a Master's from Mercy College (Dobbs Ferry, NY) in writing and literature.


October 26 2007

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While experts are often hesitant to confine reasons for hair loss to any concise set of rules or theories, in general, hair loss research points to a few common explanations.

The Most Common Causes of Hair Loss

The causes of hair loss in men, women, and even in children, often include:

  • Heredity (hair loss in men) – Many scientists believe that baldness in males (androgenic alopecia) can stem from the multiple hair loss genes that you can inherit from either side of your family. The more people in your family who have lost their hair, the more likely it is that you will, too. Early studies had shown that hair loss might be inherited from your mother's family, but most experts believe the situation to be more complicated than that, and that genetic hair loss may not follow any specific pattern.
  • Autoimmune diseases (hair loss in men, women, and children) – Autoimmune problems can be hereditary, but not exclusively. Just as two out of every three adult males eventually experience hair loss due to male pattern baldness, so too do millions of men and women experience hair loss from alopecia areata – an autoimmune problem that may be caused by genetic factors (autoimmune problems related to hair loss, on average, affect more women than men). Unlike androgenic alopecia, which usually causes men to lose hair on the crown – or top of the head – as well as in the front of the scalp, alopecia areata, instead, produces a "patchy" type of hair loss – not only on the scalp, but also on other parts of the body.
  • Other hair loss causes (hair loss in men, women and children) – Telogen effluvium (or TE) is another prominent hair loss cause, but hair loss research has revealed little about it. It is however, generally characterized as an abnormal loss of hair, and may often cause a condition called alopecia totalis, where virtually all hair on the scalp is lost or alopecia universalis, where all the hair on the scalp and body is lost. The potential upside of TE is that it does not seem to be a permanent condition. Generally believed to be brought on by stress or an inadequate diet — for example, one that lacks zinc, most commonly found in red meat and poultry — many experts feel that although TE can be traumatic because it can strike so quickly, unlike many autoimmune disorders, it is not a chronic condition.

Are There Any Hair Loss Treatments that Are Proven to Work?

Despite huge advances in recent years, scientists, doctors, and hair loss experts maintain that effective hair loss treatments may be few and far between. And while theories on hair loss treatment may range everywhere from including certain foods, liquids and minerals in your diet to using over-the-counter medications like Rogaine®, most experts believe that the best way to stop hair loss — or more accurately, create the appearance of less hair loss — is to consider hair transplant surgery. Experts believe that hair located on the back and the sides of the human scalp is meant to grow throughout a person's life. Hence, most experts believe that hair transplanted into balding areas, once they take root, will grow and remain on the scalp permanently.

There may be no better evidence to support the ever-changing mysteries surrounding hair loss treatment than the discovery of minoxidil. Originally designed as a medication to lower blood pressure, scientists and physicians soon discovered that patients who used the medication also grew hair. In 1988, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Rogaine for men, and approved it for use by women in 1992. Even though Rogaine (the brand name of minoxidil) never became the "miracle" cure people hoped for, it is still quite popular.

An oral drug, Propecia® (finasteride), is also approved by the FDA to help slow hair loss and regrow hair in men. However, it should not be used by women, and the pills should not even be handled by women who may become pregnant because of the risk of a birth defect.