Known by its brand name Propecia, many doctors recommend Finasteride to treat male pattern baldness as a first line of defense against hair loss.
Though now most widely known for its ability to fight hair loss, finasteride patients originally used it for a very different purpose.
In 1974, Julianne Imperato-McGinley of Cornell Medical College reported on study of hermaphroditic children in the Caribbean. She explained that these children shared a common genetic mutation. Their syndrome caused a deficiency of the male hormone dihydrostetoserone (DHT). The study found that small, underdeveloped prostates most significantly indicated the syndrome.
Merck eventually came across these findings and found the correlation between decreased levels of DHT and smaller prostates very interesting. Could Merck come up with a drug to help patients suffering from benign prostatic hyperplasia (enlarged prostate)?
Yes they could! In 1992, the FDA approved a 5mg dose of finasteride to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia. But Merck wasn’t done yet. In 1997, they received FDA approval for a second indication (1mg dose) of finasteride to treat male pattern baldness.
How Finasteride Works
A cloud of mystery surrounds the problem of hair loss, as the exact cause eludes researchers. However, most experts agree that some people have hair follicles with a genetic sensitivity to dihydrostetosterone. DHT causes hair follicles to shrink, shortening the lifespan of the hair. Eventually, the hair follicle grows incapable of producing normal, healthy hair.
Finasteride inhibits the enzyme that converts testosterone to DHT. The lower levels of DHT allow hair follicles to continue producing normal, healthy hair.
For the majority of men studied (two out of three), finasteride proved effective at stopping hair loss and instigating hair re-growth. While some men saw new hairs emerge at the hairline, most of the re-growth came in at the crown.
Drawbacks of Finasteride
Like everything, bad must come with the good.
- Patients must take finasteride daily and indefinitely. Once a patient stops taking the drug, hair loss will resume within six to 12 months.
- Users of finasteride may not donate blood while taking it. Donations can resume one month after patients terminate treatment.
- This drug masks steroid abuse. Therefore, most sports organizations ban the substance.
- Finasteride can cause birth defects. Since the skin absorbs it, pregnant women, women who hope to become pregnant, or women who currently breastfeed their children should not handle broken or crushed tablets.
- Studies link negative sexual side effects to finasteride use. Patients also report emotional disturbances. Additionally, patients who have used finasteride are at a higher risk for prostate and male breast cancer.
About the Author: Guest Contributor, Dr. Mary Tejada, manages a group of doctors who specialize in performing Tampa hair transplants. While they specialize in surgical hair restoration, the specialists in Dr. Tejada’s clinic also assist patients with non-surgical (medical) hair restoration.
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