Monthly Archives: May 2017

Baldness: How close are we to a cure?

Baldness is an accepted part of the aging process for some, and a source of distress for others. Hair loss affects millions of men and women, yet despite decades of research, a cure is still not available. Just how close are we to finding a magic bullet for baldness? Medical News Today take a look at the evidence.

Androgenetic alopecia – which is more commonly known as male pattern baldness and female pattern baldness – is the most common type of hair loss, affecting around 30 million women and 50 million men across the United States.

In men, hair loss begins above both temples and recedes over time to form an “M” shape. Hair also tends to thin at the crown and may progress to partial or complete baldness. In women, the hairline does not recede and rarely results in total baldness, but the hair does usually become thinner all over the head.

Male pattern baldness is hereditary and may be linked to male sex hormones. Male hair loss can start as early as during adolescence. It affects two thirds of men by age 35, and around 85 percent of men by the age of 50.

The causes of female pattern baldness are unclear. However, hair loss happens most frequently in women after menopause, which indicates that the condition may be associated with decreasing female hormones.

With androgenetic alopecia affecting so many people, a permanent cure would not only lessen anxiety for a significant percentage of the population, but it would also prove financially advantageous to the pharmaceutical company responsible for the discovery.

Stages of hair growth, miniaturization

Hair is made up of the hair follicle (a pocket in the skin that anchors each hair) and the shaft (the visible fiber above the scalp). In the hair bulb, located at the base of the follicle, cells divide and grow to produce the hair shaft, which is made from a protein called keratin. Papilla that surround the bulb contain tiny blood vessels that nourish the hair follicles and deliver hormones to regulate the growth and structure of the hair.

Hair follicles, much like all cells, have cycles. A natural part of the cycle involves shedding around 50 to 100 hairs per day.

Each follicle produces hair for 2 to 6 years and then takes a break for several months. While the hair follicle is in its rest phase, the hair falls out. There are around 100,000 follicles on the scalp, but because each follicle rests at a different time and others produce hairs, hair loss is usually unnoticeable. More noticeable hair loss occurs when there is a disruption to the growth and shedding cycle, or if the hair follicle is obliterated and replaced with scar tissue.

Scientists now understand that pattern baldness occurs through a phenomenon known as miniaturization. Some hair follicles appear to be genetically oversensitive to the actions of dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which is a hormone that is converted from testosterone with the help of an enzyme held in the follicle’s oil glands.

DHT binds to receptors in the hair follicles and shrinks them, making them progressively smaller. Over time, the follicles produce thinner hairs, and they grow for a shorter time than normal. Eventually, the follicle no longer produces hair, leaving the area bald.

Causes of baldness, gray hair identified

A study of a rare genetic disease may have yielded a cure for hair graying and baldness, after researchers unintentionally discovered the mechanisms that give rise to the conditions.

Study co-author Dr. Lu Le, of the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas, and colleagues set out to investigate a disorder called neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1), a genetic condition whereby tumors grow on nerves.

The aim of the study was to discover the mechanisms behind tumor growth in NF1. Instead, the researchers identified the processes responsible for hair loss and graying, a discovery that could lead to new treatments for the conditions.

The researchers recently reported their findings in the journal Genes and Development.

According to the American Hair Loss Association, by the age of 35, around two thirds of men in the United States will experience some degree of hair loss, and of all those with the condition in the U.S., 40 percent are women.

When it comes to hair graying, a 2012 study found that around 6 to 23 percent of adults across the globe can expect to have at least 50 percent gray hair coverage at the age of 50 years.

While hair loss and graying are considered by many as a normal part of aging, for some, the conditions can be highly distressing. Dr. Le and colleagues believe that their discovery could pave the way to new treatments for hair graying and baldness.

How does poor sleep affect our ability to learn? Study investigates

Most of us know that a good night’s sleep is key for happiness and productivity, and that conversely, a night of poor sleep can have negative effects on our performance during the day. But a new study manages to find precisely the brain area responsible for learning new skills and shows how it can be affected by poor sleep quality.

A team of researchers from the University of Zurich (UZH) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, both in Switzerland, set out to examine the effect of a disturbed deep sleep phase on the brain’s ability to learn new things.

More specifically, the new study – published in the journal Nature Communications – looks at the brain’s ability to change and adapt in response to the stimuli that it receives from the environment, or neuroplasticity, in the motor cortex and how it is affected by deep sleep.

The motor cortex is the brain area responsible for developing and controlling motor skills, and the deep sleep phase – also called slow-wave sleep – is key for memory formation and processing, as well as for helping the brain to restore itself after a day of activity.

Vegetables improve psychological health in just 2 weeks

Fruits and vegetables are a pivotal part of a healthful diet, but their benefits are not limited to physical health. New research finds that increasing fruit and vegetable consumption may improve psychological well-being in as little as 2 weeks.

Study leader Dr. Tamlin Conner, of the Department of Psychology at the University of Otago in New Zealand, and colleagues found that young adults who were given extra fruits and vegetables each day for 14 days ate more of the produce and experienced a boost in motivation and vitality.

The researchers recently reported their findings in the journal PLOS One.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, adults should aim to consume around two cups of fruits and around two to three cups of vegetables daily.

One cup of fruits is the equivalent to half a grapefruit or a large orange, and one cup of vegetables is proportionate to one large red pepper or a large, baked sweet potato.

As part of a healthful diet, fruits and vegetables can help reduce the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer.

In recent years, studies have suggested that fruit and vegetable intake may also improve mental health. For their study, Dr. Conner and team set out to investigate this association further.