Opinion » Antidote

A Pate Worse than Death


I notice from your picture that you seem to have some hair loss, so maybe you're the wrong person to ask. But I've been losing my hair since I was 25-years-old and I want to know the straight story on baldness remedies. Is there anything natural that has been proven to work?


It's nice of you to point out my diminishing hairline, but it's actually a new non-surgical forehead augmentation. This pioneering cosmetic procedure is the latest West Coast trend and I hear they're about to sign a celebrity spokesperson. I'm told negotiations are on-going with retired Starfleet Captain William Shatner. Unfortunately, the deal breaker seems to be removing his pet tribble, named Denial, from the top of his head for the photo shoot.

Folklore regarding hair loss and regrowth is often given as free advice from well-meaning, but uninformed family and co-workers. Probably the most common myth is that wearing a hat will speed the loss of your hair. The fact many balding men wear hats as camouflage serves mainly to confuse the issue. Shaving your head won't make your hair grow back thick and curly, and scalp massage and pore cleansers do nothing except feel blissfully intoxicating on a freshly shorn head. As 50 percent of men and 25 percent of women will find out, typical hair loss is genetic and cannot be avoided except by changing your parents. And, if wishing for different parents didn't work when you were a teen-ager, it's not going to happen now.

The short story on hair loss is that the male hormone testosterone, present also in females, is converted into a second hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Although important in many ways, DHT causes hair follicles located on the crown and front of the genetically predisposed head to shrink or weaken, or to stop growing hair altogether. While historical cures for baldness may be interesting, they were also sticky, smelly and completely worthless.

A surprising number of ancient remedies involve animal urine, saliva and rendered fat. No need to list them; your imagination will suffice. Notable, however, is the dubious story of Cleopatra attempting to restore the hair of Julius Caesar using a paste of ground horse teeth, burnt mice and deer bone marrow. Judging by paintings and busts, she seems to have had some success, but I'm guessing the smell may have inspired the addition of anchovies to our Caesar salads.

Currently, the FDA has approved only two treatments. Minoxidil (sold as Rogaine) began life as a blood pressure medication, and finasteride (sold as Propecia) was developed as a prostate drug. These medications work in different ways to reduce the dark side of the DHT hormone, and in men they can be used together (women cannot take Propecia). Effectiveness varies among individuals as do the side effects and any results may not be evident for a year. Another minor inconvenience is that if you stop the drugs, all your new hair falls out.

Hair transplantation is riskier but more certain. Starting at $10,000 you can have thousands of hairs change their address from the back of your head (where they are mostly immune to DHT) to the front. Sometimes painful and with risk of scarring, this solution has come a long way from the early doll hair look of years past. While you may not achieve a completely natural full head of hair, in the hands of a professional, at least you won't look like a Christmas tree farm.

The baldness cure crowd has piled onto the alternative medicine bandwagon with products containing extracts, botanicals, vitamins and minerals. Some also contain minoxidil in a much more expensive package. Even the dead psychic Edgar Cayce markets a hair cream made of Pennsylvania crude oil mixed with petroleum jelly (which comes complete, I hope, with a standing order for new pillowcases). Aromatherapy and essential oil cures are easily found on the Internet, but none have been proven to grow a single hair.

The paradox is that trying to hide hair loss always draws attention to it (picture the Donald Trump comb-over haystack). Until Big Pharma comes up with the next wonder drug, looks like the best choices are to either learn to love what's left or shave it off. I suppose you could also wait to see if forehead augmentation becomes fashionable. And, if the marketing doesn't work out with Captain Kirk, I'll bet Captain Picard would be a natural.

Dr. Ed Rabin is a chiropractor practicing at Life Chiropractic Center in Boise. Send your hairs to split and health-related questions to theantidote@edrabin.com (on the Web at www.edrabin.com).