Hair Transplants Up, Some Baldness Drugs May Be Dangerous

Hair Transplants Up, Some Baldness Drugs May Be Dangerous

More and more men are going under the knife in pursuit of a full head of hair, new data shows.

The report, released today by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), found that 13,000 American men had hair replacement surgery in 2010, up by 2 percent from the previous year. Hair transplants -- which typically involve moving a skin graft from a part of the scalp with lots of hair to one that's thinning -- are now the fifth most common cosmetic plastic surgical procedure in men.

Seem extreme? Well for the time being at least, there's less controversy swirling around hair replacement surgery than there is around another baldness treatment: Finasteride, the prescription pill sold under the brand names Propecia and Prosecar. (The National Institute of Health reports that it acts primarily by slowing hair loss, rather than by generating new growth.)

A recent study looking at a relatively small number of men (71) who claimed to have had sexual side effects after taking the drug, found that 92 percent of them said they experienced erectile dysfunction, while others reported things like a loss of sex drive. (According to the Los Angeles Times, an earlier study done by Merck, which manufactures finasteride, found that only 8 percent of people using the drug reported sexual side effects.)

The key, CBS News stresses, is that the study's participants reported the effects lasted long after they stopped taking the pills. The interviewees continued to experience sexual side effects for an average of three years.

That is a critical element of several class action lawsuits that have been filed both in the U.S. and Canada on behalf of male patients alleging they weren't adequately warned about the possible side effects of finasteride, both sexual and in terms of mental health. The American Bar Association Journal reports that Merck plans to vigorously defend the lawsuit.

But it's not all bad news. Esquire reports that last month, researchers working at the Unviersity of Pennsylvania's School of Medicine found that balding might be related to an issue with stem-cells. More specifically, researchers found that patches of bald scalp had the same number of stem cells as patches that had more hair.

"We were surprised to find the number of stem cells was the same in the bald part of the scalp compared with other places, but did find a difference in the abundance of a specific type of cell, thought to be the progenitor cell," Goerge Costarelis, M.D. and chair of the Department of Dermatology said. "This implies that there is a problem in the activation of stem cells converting to progenitor cells in a bald scalp."

Which means that down the road, scientists could perhaps find a way to reactivate those stem cells, curbing balding.

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