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Genetic Hair Loss: Treatments and Testing

Throughout our history – societally speaking – the common changes that occur in individuals as we age have been subject to very critical opinion. Our media-obsessed and advertising-saturated culture focuses on perceived physical ideals of youth, slimness and esthetic perfection. These are standards that no one can live up to – not even the models presented to embody these ideals. And in all of this one particular issue comes to the forefront for most people: hair loss.
 
Hair loss is an issue that affects most men and women. According to studies, 35 percent of men will experience noticeable hair loss some hair loss by the age of 35, and 60 percent of women will have noticeable hair loss by the age of 65. The common cause of this is a condition called androgenic alopecia. It is predominantly a genetic trait and can be exacerbated by other physical, health and environmental factors.
 
Such hair loss is not universally seen. Androgenic Alopecia is most common among Caucasian men. Next in line for the condition are those of Asian extract, followed by African Americans. Persons of Native American descent (as well as Eskimos) have the lowest rate of occurrence for androgenic alopecia. And while women aren’t quite as commonly affected by this condition, some 13 percent of pre-menopausal women have shown evidence of the condition, and as many as 75 percent of women over 65 show signs of it.
 
Treatments
 
Until very recently (historically speaking) the only options for dealing with the hair loss caused by androgenic alopecia were acceptance or concealment. Men and women who suffered such hair loss were forced to either come to terms with going bald, or find some way to hide the loss of hair. This led to some unfortunate looks for some people. Bad comb-overs and fake-looking toupees topped the list of the greatest offenses.
 
Then around 30 years ago, a drug that was being used to treat high blood pressure was found to cause new growth of hair in men with androgenic alopecia. It eventually began being used for this secondary ability as a primary treatment. It was applied topically and gave good success to many individuals. A few decades later, a drug being used for the treatment of enlarged prostate in men, was seen to have a similar result in regrowing hair in men with androgenic alopecia. In 1997, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the drug for the treatment of androgenic alopecia. This drug, called finasteride, gained popularity because it was an oral medication and had greater ease of use therefore.
 
The greatest problem with these treatments is the fact that they are long-term and must be continued indefinitely to maintain the results you achieve. If the medications are discontinued, the benefits gained will go away within six to twelve months. And in the case of finasteride, there has been no evidence that it has any benefit to women regarding hair loss. In fact, women are discouraged from handling finasteride, particularly if they are or plan to become pregnant as the drug can be absorbed through the skin and can cause defects in male fetuses.
 
A secondary issue is that the use of finasteride has different levels of effectiveness for different male individuals. And some men may undertake the expense of long-term treatment and maintenance only to find they get no benefit from the drug.
 
Testing
 
In spite of these ominous warnings, finasteride has seen increased popularity as a hair loss treatment. Advances in genetic testing have enabled scientists to devise a test to determine the likelihood of androgenic alopecia in individuals (both men and women). And further studies have led to the development of genetic testing to determine how well finasteride will work for an individual.
 
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