Old Drug Offers New Hope for Hair Loss

There is something about a woman’s head of hair that often is tied up with her femininity, sense of self, and of course her appearance of youth and vigor.  So when silver strands crop up in greater numbers or once-luscious locks begin to thin, many women are ready to take action to reverse these visible signs of aging. An old, and inexpensive off-use medicine may offer a lifeline for men and women who are starting to notice hair loss. 

As reported by the New York Times, minoxidil – the well-known hair loss treatment marketed under the trade name Rogaine has been used by numerous men and women to topically treat hair loss for decades.  But women don’t always stick with the treatment because the lotion or foam can leave a residue in the hair, and be difficult to get directly onto the scalp where it will be most effective.   Some people find minoxidil just doesn’t work when applied to the hair roots, however, dermatologists have found that a low dose of the drug taken orally can have positive results. 

Minoxidil was initially discovered for its hair-growing effect by accident; the drug was initially used to treat high blood pressure and patients noticed the pill was causing increased hair growth all over their bodies.  This discovery led to the formulation of topical minoxidil for hair loss.   More recently, Dr. Rodney Sinclair, a professor of dermatology at the University of Melbourne in Australia has treated more than 10,000 patients with a very low oral dose of minoxidil.  A growing number of dermatologists are prescribing the low-dose drug to patients with male and female pattern hair loss, common in older age. 

The off-label drug use will not grow back hair on a completely bald head, but offers help for people who are just starting to notice a thinning in their 40s or 50s.  Side effects? Some patients have seen a few more hairs growing on their faces or chins and some doctors (including Sinclair) have added a very low dose of spironolactone, a blood pressure drug that blocks androgens to help prevent unwanted hair growth. 

Talk with your doctor about hair loss first to rule out other underlying health concerns.  Sudden hair loss may be a temporary result of intense stress from an emotional experience, surgery, or significant weight loss.   Nutritional deficiencies, medication side effects, or toxic exposure can also lead to sudden hair loss.