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What is Androgenic Alopecia?

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  • Written By: K. K. Lowen
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 24 August 2016
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Androgenic alopecia is a form of hair loss commonly affecting both men and women. Sometimes referred to as male pattern baldness when it occurs in men, the condition causes hair loss in a distinct pattern beginning at the temples. For males, the pattern begins with a receding hairline and baldness on the crown of the head, whereas women often experience the thinning of hair all over the head. Known as female pattern baldness, the diffuse thinning of hair and absence of a receding hairline may affect males as well.

Male hair loss associated with androgenic alopecia sometimes causes complete baldness, but the hair on the back and sides of the head often remains. Women with the condition rarely lose all of their hair, and the hair loss is more gradual. The presence of the enzyme cytochrome may be a potential reason for the differences found in males and females with androgenic alopecia. Cytochrome metabolizes androgens to estrogens, which helps women maintain lower androgen levels.

A high level of dihydrotestosterone (DHT) in the scalp is typical for people with androgenic alopecia. DHT is a type of androgen, a male hormone. Hair loss occurs in men because the DHT attaches to androgen receptors on hair follicles, preventing a normal growth cycle. Male hair follicles also have a genetic sensitivity to DHT. The genetic predisposition causes the hair follicles to shrink when in contact with the hormone, shortening the follicles’ life spans.

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The causes for androgenic alopecia may include both heredity and environmental factors, but a number of circumstances may trigger or increase the rate of hair loss for women. Hormonal changes during pregnancy and menopause may stimulate the actions of the androgens that cause hair loss. Ovarian cysts or taking high androgen index birth control pills also may prompt the initial loss of hair.

Chemical treatments for men with androgenic alopecia include finasteride and minoxidil. Finasteride inhibits the enzyme that changes testosterone into DHT, effectively lowering the level of DHT in the scalp. Minoxidil slows hair loss and may help stimulate a small amount of hair growth, but the drug does not affect the hormones that cause hair loss. For those who do not want to use chemicals on their hair, many herbal treatments are available as well.

Hair loss treatments for women sometimes differ from those used by men. Chemical treatments are available for women, but natural supplements and dietary changes may also help to slow the progression of female pattern baldness. Eating adequate amounts of protein along with protein-metabolizing nutrients may help considerably. Supplements containing vitamin B6, magnesium, and biotin may be beneficial because they assist the body in the process of breaking down proteins.

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