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Divorce, Heavy Drinking, Smoking Linked to Hair Loss

Studies in Twins Highlight New Risk Factors for Hair Loss

Men and Hair Loss

In men, genetics appeared to account for most balding. It was the single biggest predictor of hair loss along the front of the head.

But it wasn’t the only determining factor. Habits like smoking, heavy drinking, outdoor exercise -- a measure of sun exposure, and being sedentary also increased the risk that a male twin would lose more hair than his brother.

Wearing hats for sun protection and having a higher body mass index (BMI), a measure of size that takes into account both height and weight, appeared to protect men against hair loss.

In men, low testosterone can lead to weight gain, but it may also help men keep their hair. Higher testosterone levels were associated with hair loss.

The studies are scheduled to be presented at the 2011 annual meeting of the American Society of Plastic Surgery in Denver, Colo.

Stress, Lifestyle, and Hair

“I would say it’s an interesting observation that needs further review,” says Wilma Bergfeld, MD, a dermatologist at Cleveland Clinic, in Ohio. The findings have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, where they would be subject to greater scientific scrutiny.

She says it’s not surprising that lifestyle plays a role in hair loss.

“Three cells lines have the fastest turnover cell in your body: Your bone marrow, your GI tract, and your hair follicles. Anything that upsets them will have an adverse effect,” Bergfeld says.

Other experts who reviewed the studies for WebMD say they reaffirm what doctors have long observed.

“We do see stress hair loss more in women than we do in men,” Day says.

“When you look at the underlying issues, divorce, marriage, childbirth, and surgery are up there as the main physiologic stressors that will cause a stress pattern of hair loss,” says Day, and the loss typically starts about three months after the traumatic event.

As for lifestyle factors, she says smoking and heavy alcohol drinking are known to be toxic to the skin.

And often, several will occur together to create a perfect storm of tress trouble.

“If you have a stress and you have smoking and drinking on top of it, and drinking enhances smoking effects,” she says. “They’re not all separate.”

These findings will be presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

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