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June 20, 2018  |  Login
Hair Loss
by James F. Balch, M.D. and Mark Stengler, N.D.
Genetic Baldness . . . or Medication

If you experience thinning or receding hair, chances are that you're seeing the first signs of genetic pattern baldness. Before you come to a conclusion, however, you should run a check of any medications you might be taking. Many pharmaceutical medications cause hair loss, such as the following:

  • Cholesterol-lowering drugs: clofibrate (Atromid-S) and gemfibrozil (Lopid)
  • Parkinson medications: levodopa (Dopar, Larodopa)
  • Ulcer drugs: cimetidine (Tagamet), ranitidine (Zantac), and famotidine (Pepcid)
  • Anticoagulents: Coumarin and heparin
  • Agents for gout: allopurinol (Loporin, Zyloprim)
  • Antiarthritics: penicillamine, auranofin (Ridaura), indomethacin (i\ Indocin), naproxen (Naprosyn), sulindac (Clinoril), and methotrexate (Folex)
  • Drugs derived from vitamin A: isotretinoin (Accutane) and etretinate ­ (Tegison)
  • Anticonvulsants for epilepsy: trimethadione (Tridione)
  • Antidepressants: tricyclics, amphetamines
  • Beta-blocker drugs for high blood pressure: atenolol (Tenormin), metoprolol (Lopressor), nadolol (Corgard), propranolol (Inderal), and timolol (Blocadren)
  • Antithyroid agents: carbimazole, iodine, thiocyanate, thiouracil
  • Others: Blood thinners, male hormones (anabolic steroids), and chemotherapeutic agents



As part of the body's renewal process, most of us lose 50 to 100 hairs every day. The average rate of growth is approximately 1⁄2 inch per month. Interestingly, hair grows fastest in the summer, as heat and friction speed up growth. Conversely, it grows slower in the cold and the winter months. More rapid hair loss begins in both sexes by age fifty and tends to accelerate once people reach their fifties. A human adult body has an average of 5 million hairs, with 100,000 to 150,000 of those located on the scalp.

Since most of us also grow new strands to replace the ones that have been shed, there's usually no reason to worry about a few stray hairs that come out with a good brushing or that swirl down the drain after a shower. Hair loss poses a potential problem only if it leads to noticeable thinning or balding, and even then, it is often a normal part of life.

Genetics and hormones determine the most common reasons for hair loss. Male pattern baldness is characterized by a receding hairline and loss of hair, especially on the crown of the head. By age forty, two-thirds of Caucasian men are noticeably bald.

Female pattern baldness is characterized by a general thinning of the hair all over the head and a moderate loss of hair on the crown or the hairline. It also occurs between the ages of thirty and forty and often becomes more apparent during and after menopause. About 50 percent of children with a balding parent of either sex will inherit the dominant baldness gene.

Besides age and genetics, the main culprit in balding appears to be an overabundance or overactivity of the male hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT) within the hair follicle. DHT is a derivative of testosterone and is driven by an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase, which is produced in the prostate, the adrenal glands, and the scalp. The activity of this enzyme tends to increase as people, especially men, age. It also causes the hair follicle to degrade, and it shortens the growth phase. Some follicles die, but most shrink and produce weaker hairs that become thinner, many to the point where they fall out from daily activities. Another important hormone is progesterone. Menopausal women commonly find improvement with the use of natural progesterone for excessive hair loss.

Other physiological factors might cause hair loss. Recently, a group of Japanese researchers reported a correlation between excessive sebum in the scalp and hair loss. Excessive sebum, often accompanying thinning hair, is attributed to an enlargement of the sebaceous gland The researchers believe that excessive sebum causes a high level of 5-alpha reductase and pore clogging, thus malnutrition of the hair root. Animal fat in the diet is believed to increase sebum production. Medical researchers in Asia also believe that hair loss is caused mainly by an insufficient blood supply to the scalp.

The effects of stress can be a cause of hair loss and thinning in both men and women. Generally, this type of hair loss or thinning is reversible once the levels of stress have calmed down or the person has dealt with the stress sufficiently.

In addition, various autoimmune and other systemic diseases can lead to hair loss. more

Next: What are the Symptoms of Hair Loss

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