Category Archives: Complex Health

Short-lived wedding happiness for couples with young couples

A new study confirms that cannabinoids, which are a class of active chemicals in cannabis, can successfully kill leukemia cells. They also find that the combination of chemicals and the order in which they are given is important. The findings will, no doubt, open the door to more effective treatments.

Cannabinoids, also known as phytocannabinoids, act as cannabinoid receptors in the brain. The most well known of these chemicals, and one of the most psychoactive, is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

To date, there have been more than 100 cannabinoids identified, all with different properties and chemical profiles.

And, over recent years, the potential anti-cancer effects of cannabinoids have come into focus.

Laboratory and animal studies have demonstrated that certain cannabinoids inhibit tumor growthby promoting cell death, reducing cell growth, and blocking the development of blood vessels that supply the tumor.

For instance, cannabinoid delta-9-THC can damage or kill liver cancer cells. Similarly, cannabidiol is effective against estrogen receptor positive and estrogen receptor negative breast cancer cells, without damaging healthy tissue.

Cannabinoids and leukemia

A number of cannabinoids have also been shown to successfully fight leukemia cells. Leukemia is a cancer of bone marrow and other blood-forming organs.

Earlier research found that some of these chemicals, when used in combination, become even more potent killers of cancerous cells.

A new study, published recently in the International Journal of Oncology, explored these combinations in more depth. They also looked at the potential use of cannabinoids in conjunction with the existing chemotherapy drugs cytarabine and vincristine.

The researchers were led by Dr. Wai Liu at St George’s, University of London in the United Kingdom. Studying cancer cells in the laboratory, the team tested various combinations of cannabinoids and chemotherapy drugs to find the most effective groupings. They also tried to understand whether or not the order that the chemicals were given in would make a difference to success rates.

They found that cannabidiol and THC, when used alone, killed leukemia cells. However, when used in conjunction, their potency was significantly improved; the whole is more than the sum of the parts.

They also showed that an initial dose of chemotherapy followed by cannabinoids improved overall outcomes against the leukemia cells. Combining chemotherapy with cannabinoids provided better results than giving chemotherapy alone, or the combination of cannabidiol and THC. However, this increased potency was only seen if the cannabinoids were given after the chemotherapy, and not the other way around.

Marital bliss short-lived for spouses with younger partners

There are many factors that can put strain on a marriage – money worries, work stress, the demands of a new baby, to name a few. A new study finds that a large age gap between partners may also take its toll.

Researchers found that while both men and women initially report greater marital satisfaction with a significantly younger spouse, this satisfaction may soon dwindle.

Study authors Wang-Sheng Lee, of the Department of Economics at Deakin University in Australia, and Terra McKinnish, of the Department of Economics at the University of Colorado in Denver, recently published their results in the Journal of Population Economics.

As per a 2013 report from the United States Census Bureau, around 10 percent of heterosexual couples and 21 percent of same-sex couples in the U.S. have a partner who is at least 10 years older.

Talking to Medical News Today, Lee said that there has been little research conducted on how large age gaps between married couples influence marital satisfaction.

He said, “When we found a longitudinal data set that allowed us to examine the evolution of marital satisfaction over time for both men and women in the same marriage, we thought it would be very interesting to do the analysis to see what we find.”

Younger vs. older spouses

The team’s findings came from an analysis of 19,914 individuals from more than 7,600 households in Australia, all of whom completed the Household, Income and Labor Dynamics in Australia survey.

The researchers analyzed 13 years of data from married couples, assessing how age gaps between spouses affected their marital satisfaction over time.

In the early years of marriage, the data revealed that men with younger spouses reported greater marital satisfaction, while marital satisfaction was lower for men with older spouses.

“We were not very surprised to find men being more satisfied with younger wives, given the popular ‘half your age plus seven’ rule that often comes up in male conversation,” Lee told MNT.

However, the researchers say that they were surprised to find that women also reported greater marital satisfaction with younger spouses in the early years of marriage, compared with women whose spouses were older.

Lee said, “This is contrary to what previous studies using data on preferences from speed dating studies have found. However, with more gender equality and ‘toyboy’ relationships on the increase since the 1980s, this was also not completely unexpected. It is just that women have been strategic and not been more explicit in stating their preferences.”

Scientists may have found a way to stop cancer from metastasizing

Metastasis is the main cause of death in cancer, and current treatments against it are ineffective. But new research may have found a way to slow down, and perhaps even halt, the spread of cancer cells.

Metastasis is the process by which cancer spreads throughout the body. During this process, cancer cells may either invade nearby healthy tissue, penetrate the walls of lymph nodes, or enter the surrounding blood vessels.

But new research may have found a way to control metastasis by inhibiting the migration of cancer cells. Stopping the cells from migrating is key in stopping metastasis.

What enables cancer cells to migrate is a set of protrusions that help them to move. The team of researchers – led by Mostafa El-Sayed, Julius Brown Chair and Regents Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Georgia Tech’s School in Atlanta, GA – managed to successfully cut off these protrusions using a special technique.

The findings were published in the journal PNAS.

Breaking cancer cells’ ‘legs’

The long, thin protrusions that help cancer cells to move are called filopodia. They are an extension of a set of “broad, sheet-like” fibers called lamellipodia, which can be found around the edges of the cell.

The suffix “-podia” (or “-podium,” singular) comes from the Greek language and means “something footlike.”

Essentially, lamellipodia and filopodia are tiny “legs” that help healthy cells to move within the tissue. But in cancerous cells, lamellipodia and filopodia are produced in excess.

The researchers used so-called nanorods, made of gold nanoparticles, to obstruct these tiny legs.

With the help of nanotechnology, scientists are able to reduce the size of certain materials to a nanoscale – with “nano” meaning the billionth part of a meter – at which point these materials start to show new chemical and physical properties.

Prof. El-Sayed and colleagues introduced the nanorods locally. The nanorods were covered with a coating of molecules, called RGD peptides, that made them attach to a specific kind of protein called integrin.

A cytoskeleton is the support structure of a cell, responsible for giving it a shape. It also has additional functions, with one of them being to form the filopodia protrusions.

Natural cannabinoid found to play key role in anxiety

Stress-related mood and anxiety disorders affect millions of people in the United States. A new study examines the neurobiology behind these illnesses and finds that controlling a molecule that activates cannabinoid receptors can reduce the symptoms of anxiety.

More than 40 million U.S. adults (or 18 percent of the entire population) live with anxietydisorders, including clinical depression, panic disorders, phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Generalized anxiety disorder affects almost 7 million of these adults, and another 7.7 million are estimated to be affected by PTSD.

Anxiety is usually caused by a variety of factors, which can include genes, family history, personal circumstances, and life events, as well as chemical imbalances in the brain.

A new study – published in the journal Nature Communications – investigates these mental disorders from a neurobiological perspective. Specifically, by using a mouse model, researchers from the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, TN, examined the brain’s adaptability to stress and found a naturally occurring chemical that may play a key role in the development of PTSD and depression.

The corresponding author of the study is Dr. Sachin Patel, director of the Division of Addiction Psychiatry and James G. Blakemore Professor of Psychiatry at Vanderbilt University.

Studying the link between endocannabinoids and anxiety

Starting off from the premise that stress is a major exacerbating factor in the development of depression and PTSD, Patel and colleagues set out to investigate the neurochemicals involved in stress resilience – namely, the brain’s ability to adapt to the negative effects of stress.

Endocannabinoids are part of the so-called endogenous cannabinoid (or endocannabinoid) system, which consists of endocannabinoids and their receptors. The system is present throughout the human body, and it helps to regulate crucial aspects of our health, such as our immune and nervous systems.

Endocannabinoids are lipids that act as a kind of a neurotransmitter. Mainly, they activate the CB1 and CB2 brain receptors. CB1 can be found in several brain areas, including the neocortex, the hippocampus, the amygdala, the cerebellum, and the hypothalamus. These brain areas are known to be involved in emotional and behavioral reactions, homeostasis, learning, memory, and decision-making.

Patel has previously researched the role of endocannabinoid brain receptors and singled out the CB1 receptor as playing a key role in anxiety. Patel and his team located CB1 receptors in the brain’s amygdala and found that if this receptor is blocked or the gene that encodes it is deleted, anxiety increases.

Additionally, in a separate study, Patel and colleagues demonstrated that the endocannabinoid 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) also has a critical role in regulating emotional behavior. Using a mouse model, they showed that mice that had a lower quantity of 2-AG were more likely to behave in a way that suggests anxiety and depression, whereas an increased level of the chemical had the opposite effect.

Why does hair turn gray?

As you look in the mirror in the morning, you see that inevitable fate has struck: your first gray hair! Whether you are in your 20s or your 50s, gray hair catches up with all of us eventually.

During hair growth, melanocytes make pigment and pass it to hair progenitor cells at the base of the hair follicle. These cells, in turn, transform into the various components of the growing hair.

When our hair grows, pigments are continuously being incorporated, which results in our unique hair color. The cells responsible for this process are the pigment-producing melanocytes at the base of the hair follicle.

In normal hair growth, the follicle produces hair at a rate of around 1 centimeter per month for several years.

But all the cells in our body become increasingly damaged during our lifetime, and these melanocytes are eventually lost. When all the melanocytes are lost in a particular hair follicle, the next hair that grows will be gray or white.

The biology of hair growth is rather complex, with a multitude of specialized cells involved in hair follicle structure and function. Scientists continue to unravel the process of human hair growth and pigmentation.

What controls pigmentation?

Humans have two different types of pigment. Eumelanin is responsible for black and brown colors, while pheomelanin is responsible for orange and yellow.

Genes determine the mixture of pigments that each individual produces, which is why hair color is often similar within families.

The exact mechanisms that control pigmentation are not yet clear. However, recent research points to a finely tuned interplay between several cells in the hair follicle.

Hair progenitor cells are reported to release a protein called stem cell factor, which is a requirement for the production of pigment by melanocytes. In mouse studies, the researchers showed that if this protein is absent, hair color is lost.

Once the hair stops growing, the hair follicle undergoes dramatic structural changes and enters a rest period. During this process, melanocytes naturally die.

However, melanocyte stem cells in the hair follicle normally produce a new set of melanocytes at the start of the next hair growth cycle.

Once the new hair starts to grow, these melanocytes once again ensure that pigmentation is available. But when the melanocytes are damaged or absent, the hair that is produced lacks color and can look gray or white.

Hair growth after damage

Research has shown that human hair follicles that produce gray or white hair have higher levels of cellular damage caused by free radicals. In these follicles, melanocytes and melanocyte stem cells are absent.

In mice, when the DNA of melanocyte stem cells in the hair follicle were damaged, it resulted in permanent cell damage. These stem cells were then unable to reproduce.

Without the pool of stem cells, the next round of hair growth proceeds without melanocytes, resulting in gray hair.

Although it has not yet been possible to fully establish cause and effect during hair graying in humans, the accumulation of damage in melanocyte stem cells over time most likely leads to a loss of this cell population. Each hair follicle will eventually be unable to produce colored hair.

So, while it is inevitable that we will all lose our hair pigment one day, why do some of us go gray in our 20s, while some of us hold on to our colorful locks until our 50s? Research from 2016 showed that individuals with a certain variant of the gene interferon regulatory factor 4 are prone to earlier graying.

As with many of our other traits, we can thank our parents for passing their propensity for graying along to us.

Health benefits of sex

Type “sexual health” into a search engine, and it is likely that you will be bombarded with pages of articles covering anything and everything, from sexual norms and advice on relationships, birth control, and pregnancy, to information about STDs and how to avoid them. What is less often discussed, however, is the abundant physical and psychological health benefits of sex. We have put together a list of the top health benefits of sex, as backed up by science.

In exploring just how sex affects the mind and body, the list of potential benefits appears to be endless.

Aside from reproduction, pleasure, and intimacy, sex seems to have a positive impact on many life areas, including work, physical and cognitive performance, marriage, and happiness into our senior years. Sex may also have a positive effect on certain organs and conditions, as well as a preventive effect on some diseases.

For example, a recent study published in the Journal of Management found that maintaining a healthy sex life at home might boost job satisfaction and engagement at work.

Sex may also play a fundamental role in preserving a happy marriage, according to researchpublished in Psychological Science. Partners are suggested to experience a sexual “afterglow” that lasts for up to 48 hours following sexual intercourse. This afterglow is associated with higher levels of long-term relationship satisfaction.

Sex is also considered a significant form of exercise. Sex burns around 85 calories, or 3.6 calories per minute, according to a study published in PLOS One.

These few examples are a drop in the ocean of the numerous health benefits of sexual activity and masturbation that are presented in studies from around the globe. Medical News Today provide the low-down on the top evidence-based health benefits of sex.

1) Improves immunity

Participating in sex one to two times per week appears to be the optimum frequency to boost the immune system, according to research published in Psychological Reports.

Scientists can test how tough our immune systems are by measuring levels of an antibody called immunoglobulin A (IgA) in saliva and mucosal linings.

Study authors Carl Charnetski, from Wilkes University in Pennsylvania, and his colleague Frank Brennan found that people who had sex once or twice per week had a 30 percent increase in IgA. However, the same results were not seen in individuals who had sex more or less frequently.

Clifford Lowell, an immunologist at the University of California-San Francisco, says that people who are sexually active are exposed to more infectious agents than individuals who are not sexually active. The immune system responds to these infectious agents by producing more IgA, which may protect against colds and flu.

For those of you who have sex more or less frequently than the optimal amount, fear not. According to another study by Charnetski, petting a dog can also significantly raise IgA.

2) Good for the heart

Physical activities that exercise the heart are good for your health, and this includes sex. Being sexually aroused increases heart rate, with the number of beats per minute peaking during orgasm.
Men who have regular sex are 45 percent less likely to develop heart disease.

Men, in particular, have been shown to benefit from the effect of sex on the heart. A studypublished in the American Journal of Cardiology, involving men in their 50s, suggested that men who have sex at least twice per week have a 45 percent reduced risk of heart disease, compared with men who have sex less frequently.

The American Heart Association say that heart disease should not affect your sex life. Heart attacks or chest pain caused by heart disease rarely happen during sex and, for the most part, it is safe to have sex if your heart disease has stabilized.

The heart’s response to sex is comparable with mild to moderate effort encountered in daily activities, according to research published in the European Heart Journal. If you can take part in activities that have a similar impact on the heart – such as walking up two flights of stairs – without chest pain, then you can usually assume that it is safe to have sex.

More research is currently needed to draw connections between specific cardiovascular conditions and sex, particularly for women and older adults.

3) Lowers blood pressure

Research conducted by Michigan State University and published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior found that sex in later years might reduce the risk of high blood pressure – at least for women.

Women in the study aged between 57 and 85 years who found sex pleasurable or satisfying were less likely to have hypertension. However, male study participants who had sex once per week or more were twice as likely to experience heart problems than men who were sexually inactive.

In another study published in Behavioral Medicine, researchers found that the act of hugging can help a person to maintain a healthy blood pressure.

According to the American Heart Association, high blood pressure increases the risk of heart attack and stroke and can also affect your sex life. High blood pressure has an impact on blood flow throughout the body and can prevent enough blood flowing to the pelvis.

In men, high blood pressure can lead to erectile dysfunction and in women, high blood pressure can lower libido and reduce interest in sex. It is considered safe to have sex if you have high blood pressure. However, if you are concerned or are having problems in the bedroom, seek advice from your doctor.

4) Relieves pain

A headache may often be used as a reason to avoid sex. However, before you reach for the painkillers, neurologists have found that sexual activity can relieve head pain associated with a migraine or cluster headache in some people.

[woman in bed with migraine]
Sex has been shown to ease the pain associated with migraines and cluster headaches.

The research was conducted by the University of Munster in Germany and published in Cephalalgia. In individuals with a migraine, 60 percent of people reported an improvement in pain after sexual activity, while 37 percent of people with a cluster headache reported an improvement.

The University of Munster researchers explain that sex triggering the release of endorphins is the mechanism behind the pain relief. Endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers and are released through the central nervous system, which can reduce or eliminate pain the experienced with a headache.

In other research published in Pain, women were found to experience reduced pain sensitivity and had an increased pain tolerance threshold when experiencing pleasure through vaginal self-stimulation.

5) Reduces the risk of prostate cancer

Men who frequently ejaculate could be protected against prostate cancer, the most common cancer among men in the United States.

Research led by Michael Leitzmann, from the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, MD, and published in JAMA, discovered that men who ejaculated 21 times per month or more were a third less likely to develop prostate cancer than men who ejaculated between four and seven times per month.

Leitzmann and team have a number of theories as to why increased ejaculation may help to prevent prostate cancer.

The first theory is that frequent ejaculation may allow the prostate gland to clear out carcinogens, and materials that may orchestrate the development of carcinogens. Another theory suggests that regular drainage of prostate fluid stops crystalloid microcalcifications – which are associated with prostate cancer – from developing in the prostate duct.

Men who have more than 12 ejaculations per month may also benefit, although the researchers note that at this point, the research would not warrant recommending men to change their sexual behavior.

6) Improves sleep

Do you have trouble getting to sleep at night? Sexual activity could be just what the doctor ordered.

Insufficient sleep is a public health problem, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Around 50 to 70 millionadults in the U.S. have a sleep disorder.

Sex could be the answer to help you achieve the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night.

During sex and orgasm, a cocktail of chemicals are released in the brain, which includes oxytocin, dopamine, and a rush of endorphins. Oxytocin, also known as the “cuddle hormone,” facilitates closeness and bonding, and it surges during sex and orgasm in both men and women.

After orgasm, it is thought that the effect of oxytocin, combined with the release of the hormone prolactin (which is linked to the feeling of satiety and relaxation), makes you feel sleepy.

In women, a rise in estrogen levels during sex has been shown to enhance their REM cycle, according to a study published in the Journal of Women’s Health.

In men, the prefrontal cortex – the area of the brain associated with alertness, consciousness, and mental activity – “switches off” after orgasm. According to a study published in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, this process is connected with the release of oxytocin and serotonin, both of which have sleep-inducing effects.

Vitamin D guidelines can be changed

A new study finds that, contrary to popular belief, vitamin D-2 and D-3 do not have equal nutritional value. With vitamin D deficiency on the rise, the authors call for a rethink of official guidelines.

Vitamin D is a vital nutrient, helping the gut to absorb calcium while keeping calcium and phosphate at the right concentrations to support healthy bone growth and maintenance. Without adequate levels in the body, bones can become brittle and misshapen.

Low vitamin D levels have also been linked with a range of other conditions, including cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Vitamin D is not naturally present in many foods. Instead, the bulk of our requirement is synthesized in the skin after exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun.

Despite the importance of vitamin D, many people in the United States do not have sufficient levels in their bodies. For example, one study found that overall, more than 40 percent of the U.S. population were vitamin D deficient. So much so, that some authors have referred to vitamin D deficiency as a pandemic.

Furthermore, in one study published in 2009, only 3 percent of black people in their sample of thousands of U.S. individuals had the recommended vitamin D levels, representing a decrease of 9 percent over the previous 20 years.

For this reason, it is becoming increasingly important to understand how the vitamin works and to ensure that the right type of supplements are reaching individuals most at risk.

Not all vitamin D types are equal

There are two types of vitamin D, which are known as D-2 and D-3. The former is derived from plant sources, particularly fungi, while the latter comes from animal sources.

The two types of vitamin D are very similar, differing only in the structure of their side-chains, and it is generally accepted that both perform similarly well as a supplement. In fact, on the National Institutes of Health website, they write, “The two forms have traditionally been regarded as equivalent.”

Researchers from the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom recently set out to test whether or not this widely held belief is correct. They wanted to understand which of the two nutrients raises levels of vitamin D in the body most effectively.

The researchers measured vitamin D levels in 335 South Asian and white European women over two winter periods. They chose winter because, due to a reduction in sunlight exposure, vitamin D levels tend to be lower at this time.

The women were split into five groups: those consuming vitamin D-2 in a biscuit; those consuming vitamin D-3 in a biscuit; those consuming vitamin D-2 in a juice drink; those consuming vitamin D-3 in a juice drink; and those receiving a placebo.

The study found that vitamin D-3 was twice as effective at raising vitamin D levels in the body as vitamin D-2.

Participants who received the D-3 in a biscuit raised their levels of vitamin D by 74 percent, while those receiving the vitamin in juice saw a 75 percent increase. Those receiving D-2 had a 33 and 34 percent increase, respectively. The placebo group experienced a drop of 25 percent across the same period.

A boy or a girl? Baby’s sex may influence mother’s immunity

Does the baby’s sex influence the mother’s immune system? A new study investigates the link between fetal sex and the mother’s immune response to illness.
[woman has an ultrasound]
New research suggests that being pregnant with a girl may affect how the mother’s body responds to illness.

A team of researchers from Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center set out to examine whether or not there is a connection between the sex of the baby and the mother’s immunity.

The team was led by Amanda Mitchell, a postdoctoral researcher in the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at Wexner.

The research was triggered by both anecdotal evidence and scientific studies (referenced by the authors) that suggest that the sex of the fetus influences several physiological responses in the mother. Glycemic control, blood pressure, and cortisol levels have all been shown to differ according to the sex of the fetus.

In the new study, Mitchell and team examined 80 women in the early, middle, and late stages of their pregnancies. Of these future mothers, 46 were pregnant with males and 34 with females. Researchers exposed their immune cells to bacteria to see whether they responded differently depending on the sex of the fetus.

Female fetus raises pro-inflammatory cytokine levels

More specifically, Mitchell and her colleagues examined the levels of cytokines in pregnant women. Cytokines are signaling molecules that regulate immunity and inflammation.

They are sometimes called emergency molecules because they are released by the body to fight off sickness, as they help cells to communicate with each other when there is inflammation in the body. Cytokines are part of the body’s natural immune response, but they can cause disease when released persistently. This is similar to how inflammation is a crucial component of the immune response, but too much of it can cause achiness and fatigue.

The study analyzed cytokine levels both in the blood and in the bacteria-exposed laboratory sample.

The findings suggest that women pregnant with girls may experience more severe symptoms of certain illnesses.

“While women did not exhibit differences in blood cytokine levels based on fetal sex, we did find that the immune cells of women carrying female fetuses produced more pro-inflammatory cytokines when exposed to bacteria. This means that women carrying female fetuses exhibited a heightened inflammatory response when their immune system was challenged, compared to women carrying male fetuses.”

The increased inflammation noticed in this study could explain why women pregnant with female fetuses tend to have more severe symptoms of pre-existing medical conditions. Examples given by the researchers include asthma and allergies, which are both conditions appearing to be exacerbated when carrying a female fetus compared with a male one.

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.