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Alopecia: why does hair fall out and what strategies does science offer to reverse the process? | Baldness as a psychosocial stigma

In a world marked by aesthetics, by the care and maintenance of appearances, one of the most frequent concerns of men and women is hair loss. Alopecia, which is characterized by a decrease in hair mass and hair loss, is a disorder that affects between 40 and 50% of the world’s population. It is that hair, as is the case with organs and tissues, ages and loses thickness and strength over time.

Alopecia is a problem identified throughout the history of mankind. The human being, for centuries, is at the origin of cures or treatments in order to stop hair loss. Although it responds to different causes, the most common is androgenic: it is linked to the activation of an enzyme (5 alpha reductase) which transforms testosterone and activates the intracellular signals linked to hair loss. Then there are other types of alopecia like areata that it has an immunological component and can affect children; and, on the other hand, the phenomenon which has to do with the so-called telogen effluvium: when the hair falls following the taking of medication (anticoagulants, hypertensives, anticonvulsants) or the stress generated after having faced a complex situation.

“Hair has a cycle: an anagen phase of full growth, which lasts three to four years; and, on the other hand, a catagen phase that lasts for weeks, where part of the hair begins to separate and prepares to fall out. Then it finally falls into the telogen phase which lasts for months,” he explains. Claudia Anesini, Conicet Principal Investigator at the Institute of Drug Chemistry and Metabolism. While 85% of the hair is in the anagen phase, 1% in the catagen phase and the remaining 14% in the telogen phase. In the phenomenon known as telogen effluvium, the anagen phase switches to the telogen phase and the hair falls out. The drugs related to chemotherapyInhibitors of cell proliferation, they act directly on the anagen phase and weaken the hair when it is in full swing.

plants that heal

Plants have accompanied the development of civilizations from the beginning: human beings, historically, have cured their conditions from some in which medicinal purposes have been discovered. So finding solutions from the soil itself is not new to communities or to science, which began isolating compounds as early as the 18th and 19th centuries. Currently, there is a return to the use of raw extracts, with the aim of using all the benefits that nature offers in the wild.

Ten years ago, a Conicet team teamed up with an SME (the Garré Guevera laboratory) to market a formula, which as a base the jarilla, to stop hair loss and strengthen hair. “The advantages of Ecohair are that it is a natural product, made from Larrea Divaricata, popularly known as jarilla. It is a plant that we did not choose by chance, but that we have been studying for many years,” says Anesini, who since 1992 has dedicated himself to studying the phytochemical composition and pharmacology of medicinal plants.

In fact, Anesini carried out his doctoral thesis with research based on the plant, with the aim of monitoring, on this occasion, antitumor and anti-inflammatory effects. “After learning about the characteristics of the plant, it occurred to us to see what happens to the hair. In a preclinical phase, we verified that it was effective in inducing hair growth. At the same time, we have also seen the decline decrease“, specifies. Then he continues: “Later, We support this clinically in patients with androgenic alopecia and areata. We have found that in 85% of people who try it, growth is stimulated. At the same time, an important fact is that we have managed, thanks to the formula, to avoid the production of undesirable effects, such as irritability”. The results, ten years ago, were published in Pharmacology and physiology of the skinofficial organ of the Swiss Society of Dermopharmacy.

“The good thing about all this is that from a research born in the laboratory, it was finally possible to obtain a product that is currently used by many people.” The work, which will later obtain the Conicet patent and will be baptized Ecohair, constitutes a virtuous example of public-private articulation.

There is a formula which is applied as a shampoo and another which is applied as a lotion and which is reserved for the most complicated cases because it penetrates the scalp better. Currently, the lotion is used for post-chemotherapy hair recovery with excellent results. In parallel, the team coordinated by Anesini uses the benefits of jarilla, which acts as a skin healer and is particularly useful for patients with psoriasis who seek to reduce redness and inflammation.

A stigma for many

“Alopecia is a social problem, there are people who are very affected and there is nothing effective and lasting. The examples that have been put on the market work as inhibitors but also generate many undesirable effects,” remarks Anesini. By inhibiting testosterone, in men they are also able to produce sexual problems, like erectile dysfunction. Similarly, there are compounds which, for the same purpose, act as vasodilators, thereby causing deleterious cardiac outcomes.

While some people accept hair loss as an associated inevitability in life, others face it with anxiety and lack of confidence. A study conducted by researchers from University of Nottingham refers to the psychosocial impact of people who experience hair loss. 1,400 people took part in the work and the findings were that those who suffer from hair loss feel “they have lost their identity and may even feel like someone different”. They also said “that The psychological impact of hair loss can be very severe, particularly in women, and can involve, in addition to loss of identity, social phobia, low self-esteem, anxiety and of depression.”. And, worth noting: “The people concerned feel that the doctors do not take them seriously, leaving them anxious and emotionally isolated.

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