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What is Alopecia?

The most common form of hair loss, Androgenetic Alopecia, or pattern baldness, is experienced by 50- 75% of Caucasian men. The number of Chinese males affected is half of the Caucasian counterparts while African Americans have a lower incidence of the condition as well. With women, androgenetic alopecia occurs between 20-38% of the general female population. It is safe to say that pattern baldness is experienced by the norm of the population, so you are not the only one suffering from this condition.

Androgenic alopecia develops when the hair follicle (the place under the skin where hair grows from) reduces in size, as well as a time reduction in the active growth phase. this translates into a simple fact: more and more of the hair follicles will spend time in the resting state where hair is shed once the state is completed. Fortunately, androgenic alopecia does not develop in all hair follicles at the same time. This is why different parts of the scalp seem to be losing more hair than the other parts.

What causes androgenic alopecia? As boys grow up, their hair follicles are exposed to androgen (any hormone that controls the appearance and development of masculine characteristics) that their body has synthesized. Once hair follicles are exposed to androgen, they become "androgen sensitive" and androgenetic alopecia can develop later in time. Stopping the hair follicles from interacting with androgens seems to prohibit any chance of androgenetic alopecia development.

To explain in more detail there are two types of androgen that need to be considered: testosterone and DHT (dihydrotestosterone). An enzyme called 5-alpha-reductase converts testosterone to DHT. Once DHT is formed, it has the ability to bind to any androgen receptor in hair follicles. This binding reduces follicle activity, shrinks the hair follicle which slows the cycle of hair growth, reduces the diameter of the hair shaft, and over time hair growth ceases.

For females, the mechanism of the condition is similar to that of males. The source of androgen is the combined activity of the ovaries and the adrenal glands. Hair loss in women can many times be directly related to pregnancy or menopause and their effects.

Do some people seem to have more extensive hair loss than others? Recent research suggests that the answer has something to do with the differences in the concentration of 5-alpha-reductase in skin and hair follicles of people who have androgenetic alopecia. It is possible that some people just produce more of this enzyme, which in turn converts more testosterone to DHT, which will result in greater hair loss. Also, some people just develop greater sensitivity of androgen receptors in their hair follicles. This means that a certain concentration in others with less sensitive androgen receptors in the follicles.

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