Q:Is there a cure for alopecia (hair loss)? At the age of 24 my son had a small patch of hair missing from the back of his head. The GP could offer nothing in the way of a cure and we watched helplessly while he continued to lose his hair. I have re

A:As many as two thirds of men and two fifths of women can expect some degree of hair loss by the time they reach their mid 40s to 50s. Hair growth is characterized by alternating periods of growth and rest. There are different types and different causes. Anagen effluvium results from the body’s exposure to certain internally administered drugs (such cytotoxic drugs used in cancer treatment and chemotherapy).

Hair usually falls out early in its growth phase. Telogen effluvium is a natural loss of mature hair prompted by new hair growing in the follicle below.

Alopecia disseminata (or alopecia diffusa) is hair loss from the scalp and elsewhere caused by a nutritional deficiency (especially lack of zinc or iron), a dysfunction of the thyroid gland, a polluting intoxicant or chronic and generalized illness.

Nobody really understands the cause of hair loss. One theory, yet to be proved, is that when there are well defined round or oval bald patches alopecia areata it is an autoimmune reaction (Townsend Letter for Docs & Patients, January 1996; 68-74).

Some practitioners offer ultraviolet treatment (PUVA) but research does not support the use of this, since it is not very effective and exposure to UVA radiation carries potential long term side effects (Br J Derm, 1995; 133: 914-8).

Minoxidil (sold under the name Rogaine in the US; Regain in the UK) is made by Upjohn, and has around a 26-30 per cent success rate. The problem with it is two fold. First of all it was not originally intended for use as hair loss treatment. Instead its primary use is as an anti hypertensive (Loniten). According the the Physicians’ Desk Reference it has many side effects including significant water and salt retention leading to edema. Its use has been associated with gastrointestinal upsets, breast tenderness, skin rashes and increased heart rate. It is contraindicated in pregnant and lactating women.

You should not use minoxidil if you have hypertension. Use of the topical solution has been associated with rashes and allergic reactions. Women using minoxidil are five times more likely to experience unpleasant side effects in other parts of their bodies including respiratory difficulties, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and muscle aches and pains. Also, once you start using minoxidil you must keep using it. Once the treatment is discontinued, the regrown hair will fall out again.

Two more natural preparations have shown promise in helping restore hair loss. Thymu Skin (New Action Products, 147 Ontario Street, Buffalo, New York, 14207, USA; phone: 001 716 873 3738; fax: 001 716 873 6621) is made primarily from biologically active calf thymus extract combined with various botanicals such as aloe vera, nettle, birch, vitamins and fatty acids plus other immune system boosters. Its advantage is that while you are regrowing your hair you are also boosting your immune system. Its success rate for men is around 60 per cent. For women it’s a bit higher.

Thymu Skin has been tested in Germany in three placebo controlled, double blind studies and was effective in all kinds of hair loss except alopecia disseminate. For this condition the underlying cause of the hair loss must also be treated for maximum effect (Deutche Dermat, 1991; 39: 945-6; Effahrungsheilkunde, 1993; 3: 144-9; German Dermat, 1993: 3-8).

Another herbal preparation which has shown promise is HairPrime (Universal Biologics, 3920 Cypress Drive, Suite D, Petaluma California, 94954, USA; phone: 001 707 765 3080; FAX: 001 707 765 8355; web:http:// www. A recent study (J Derm Treat, 1996; 7: 159-62) showed that after 40 weeks of treatment with this solution total mean hair count increased by 77 per cent in the treatment group, compared to 3 per cent in the placebo group. Overall 90 per cent of the patients showed increased hair growth compared with 33 of the placebo group. Another study showed similarly encouraging results (Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients, November 1996); 68-72).

Some of the success of these natural preparations may be the nutritional supplements which are part of the regime. So, you might want to get your son checked out for various mineral deficiencies. Low levels of vitamin B, zinc and iron can all cause hair loss.

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