Hair loss is a devastating event for men and women alike. While there are drugs on the market being used for hair loss, these drugs are not without the dangers of long-term side effects. Even with these potential hair loss aides, the positive outcomes may not always be substantial enough to warrant the downsides of the medication.
Male pattern baldness occurs in about 8 out of 10 men and causes hair follicles to diminish and produce sub-optimal hair growth until finally the hair follicles can't even generate enough long, healthy hair to break the skin's surface... thus producing a bald spot. The social impact of this extends beyond that of just looks. Frequently, men and women report damaging effects to their job performance, mood, relationships, and overall outlook on life and job. And because of this far-reaching impact on life, researchers continuously look for clues as to how to prevent this from happening.
A recent study published in Science Translational Medicine in March 2012 brought up the idea that a protein called prostaglandin D2 synthase (PTGDS) is elevated in areas of baldness, along with an elevation of its product, called prostaglandin D2, as compared to non-bald areas of the scalp. They then found that mice with an elevated prostaglandin D2 level demonstrated alopecia or hair loss.
These researchers brought up this interesting concept, that this prostaglandin D2 elevation may in fact be a novel target for the battle against hair loss regarding the development of hair loss treatments.
What is interesting about this study is that in earlier studies, a different prostaglandin was found to increase hair growth. Prostaglandin F2-alpha was found in prior studies to increase hair growth, and now we know that prostaglandin D2 is responsible for regulating overgrowth and thus plays a role in inhibition of hair follicular growth.
As a clinician who sees the basic science findings translate into clinical care, it is always exciting to learn more about cellular functioning on a molecular level, because it helps me explain information to my patients about how our body is full of checks and balances.
In my clinic, there are a large percentage of autoimmune patients who are looking to decrease inflammation and cellular dysregulation in a more natural way than just with immunosuppressant medications. In the first clinic visit, I always discuss with them the idea that our body is made in a way such that where there is an "on" switch, there is also an "off" switch. And the way we live and eat must help to balance these "switches" so our body can function optimally and in a less inflammatory way, so their disease symptoms can be mitigated.
Studies such as this re-emphasize this concept, that natural cellular regulatory balance occurs, and that when there is an over-expression of one signal above and beyond that of another, a potential pathological outcome occurs -- such as male pattern baldness. When prostaglandin D2 is over-expressed, there is baldness. When prostaglandin F2-alpha is elevated, there is increased hair growth. While this information will be utilized for hair loss therapy, I would like this information to be yet another reminder to all of us that balance in life gives us the best chance for a healthier body.
Many of my autoimmune patients are inflamed, and prostaglandins play a significant role in the inflammatory process in our body. Whether you have an autoimmune disease or not, the simple act of aging involves a low level of inflammation, and therefore I always recommend to my patients to take an anti-inflammatory approach to life and diet.
As we learn more and more about aging and various disease processes, we learn that there is at least a low level of inflammation ongoing in most disease states, including that of Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, and cancers, just to name a few. So a plant-based diet with plenty of water along with a lifestyle that incorporates plenty of rest, relaxation, and physical activity is essential to slowing the inevitable inflammatory process of aging.
And living a lifestyle where we intentionally incorporate our own "checks and balances" so that our body can maintain its own healthy, innate cellular "checks and balances" is imperative to us living a healthy, long life.
So while the March 2012 article in Science Translational Medicine is about prostaglandin D2's role in hair loss, the fact that there is a prostaglandin F2-alpha that increases hair growth, and now we know that D2 decreases hair growth, this is yet another example that demonstrates how for every function in our body, there is an "on" and an "off" switch.
Now, all we have to do is live in a way that helps our body use these signals appropriately, such that our body can naturally do what it was made to do: balance, repair, and heal. If we can create an anti-inflamed healthy environment in our body through a healthy diet and lifestyle, our body has all the signals it needs to balance, repair, and heal. We just have to help our cells by providing the optimal healthy environment, and our prostaglandins and proteins will know what to do.
Garza, L, et al. Prostaglandin D2 Inhibits Hair Growth and Is Elevated in Bald Scalp of Men with Androgenetic Alopecia. Sci Transl Med 21 March 2012: Vol. 4, Issue 126, p. 126ra34
Sci. Transl. Med. DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3003122
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