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    Photo Credit: Nicolas Smith

The Truth About Baldness

By Eric Mink

Fashions come and go. A good pair of faded Levis from 10 years ago is now supplanted by high-end $300 jeans from True Religion. The crazy collars and earthy yellows, browns and reds of the late 1970s gave way to the grungy, baggy plaids of the 1990s. Hairstyles change, too. They seem to wax and wane between the fluffy, flowing hair of the late 1980s to tightly cropped hair, then back again to the skater styles of today. Balding, thinning hair, unfortunately, never seems to be "in". Whenever hair loss strikes a man, regardless of the generation, his reaction seems to be the same: overt melancholy as opposed to the embracing of a new style.

The American Academy of Dermatology estimates that two out of three men will develop some form of balding during their lifetime. Men deal with this loss through a variety of coping mechanisms: psychological angst, outrage, acceptance or by fighting back and trying every possible product for hair rejuvenation. But, before you go out and but the latest pill or cream, let's establish a foundation of what causes hair loss, what you can do on a daily basis to ameliorate this, and what hair procedures work.

According to the Mayo Clinic, 95 percent of hair loss is caused by a hereditary condition called androgenic alopecia. The other 5 percent is attributed loosely to reactions with medications, serious illness and trauma to hair from rollers, cornrows and such. For the hereditary condition, several genes, inherited by both parents, are involved. Hair loss can occur over a span of years and involves the transformation of testosterone into DHT. DHT causes dysfunction in the hair follicles and eventually follicular death.

Most of the common myths about hair loss are simply untrue. Masturbation, wearing hats, sun exposure, prodigious use of hair products and declining testosterone cannot cause hair loss. However, high levels of stress, poor diet, certain medications and/or the use of anabolic steroids cause systemic trauma to the body and may contribute to hair loss.

Nutritional supplements claiming to be hair remedies are not approved by the FDA and have variable efficacies. However, since the follicle needs to be nourished from the inside out, nutrition plays an important role in hair health. A balanced diet with a wide range of fruits, veggies, grains, lean meats and water containing vitamins B-6 and B-12, folic acid, zinc and essential fatty acids can play a vital role in follicular health.

The FDA has approved Minoxidil (Rogaine), Finasteride (Propecia), corticosteroids and Drithocreme for hair loss. Results vary according to severity and individual response. Dr. Ken Washenik, NYU School of Medicine, advocates the ā€¯Finasteride once a day pill to lower your DHT levels and the growth factor effect of Minoxidil for a nice combinationā€¯. Hair transplants and scalp reduction surgeries are more invasive treatment options and may be indicated for men with more extreme hair loss. A new method called "follicular unit grafting" is making strides by dividing harvested units into four-hair units for implantation.

Hair loss may seem like agony, but there are several treatment options. If you were dealt unkind hair genes, start with healthy lifestyle choices, a sound diet, lower your stress levels and consult your doctor for additional treatment options. And remember, in the long run, a nice smile, a positive attitude and a healthy body are much more important traits than the quality of your hair.

Eric Mink is a former professional football player and the founder of a sports performance clinic specializing in physical training, joint rehab, and nutrition for athletes. As a freelance writer, Mink has written analytical reports on the pharmaceuticals and nutritional supplement industries, as well as a range of articles in the areas of sports-specific training and rehab, nutrition, and training theory and practice.