The Recent Finasteride Disaster: An Ethical Dilemma Within Hair Wellness
A commentary from the CEO of HairSmart on the latest news regarding Finasteride recall:
When a 49 year old man in Israel took his own life and listed the drug Finasteride (sold under the brand name Propecia by the manufacturer Merck) as the main reason for it, the horror and curiosity of the public peaked.
The world was awestruck with this news; could a drug that is used to treat hair loss in men be tied to symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation? By this point, it is widely known that Finasteride may have negative effects on sexual functioning, but no body could have imagined the risk on mental health and safety.
And this was a bigger issue than anyone could have anticipated. According to the health data company IQVIA, annual prescriptions of finasteride have increased to over 2.4 million in the USA alone by 2020.
Many men have since come forward to share their stories, some of whom likened their demeanor to resemble “emotionless zombies”. And their reports surrounding the side-effects grew to include sleeplessness, memory impairment, panic attacks, depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation.
The situation surrounding the Finasteride drug grew so dire that a health advocacy organization called the Post-Finasteride Syndrome Foundation was formed to encourage the reporting of side effects.
But what does this mean for the hair wellness community, and for those suffering from hair loss?
The Ethical Dilemma in the Hair Care Community
The cited news article highlighted an extremely critical aspect of pharmaceutical drugs for hair loss: many of the men who reported side effects from Finasteride, also reported how easily it was prescribed to them. According to one user, the side effects were never mentioned, so he was completely in the dark.
Anyone experiencing hair loss is already going through enough emotional turmoil. Having to deal with side effects from the drug just adds to the stress and discomfort that they would be going through, which in itself is counterproductive.
While Finasteride may be an adequate treatment solution for some, it is still extremely crucial for physicians to be transparent about the side effects and the history of the drug. The moral implications suggest that patients should be accurately informed, so that they can make an informed decision on whether or not they decide to go through with the treatment. And even if they do, they would be emotionally and mentally prepared.
In fact, the support may need to be taken a step further when administering Finasteride. With research linking the drug to depression, and the anecdotal accounts to back the association, the Post-Finasteride support may have to include psychiatric evaluations and even counseling. This also suggests that the risk/benefit ratio should be carefully assessed by physicians when prescribing Finasteride, especially for those who plan to use it as a first-line defense against hair loss.
But how will these ethical implications affect patients? Do they have other options?
The recent global health-conscious movement advocates an alternative solution: natural herbal remedies.
Natural Remedies as An Alternative Solution
Based on the latest research, Finasteride does not have to be the first and only treatment option for hair loss.
In fact, the most recent focus on health, wellness, and ancient holistic systems encouraged clinical studies to be carried out on natural herbal ingredients and their effects on hair loss. This was done primarily to avoid the harmful and potentially life-threatening side effects of the pharmaceutical drug mentioned.
Finasteride works by inhibiting the enzyme which converts testosterone to DHT- the compound responsible for shrinking hair follicles and inducing hair loss. Consequently, those in the scientific and wellness communities sought out natural herbs that worked in the same way: by blocking DHT. Below is a list of natural herbs that have been clinically and scientifically proven to stop hair loss and promote further regrowth.
Saw Palmetto is a palm plant native to the United States. The berries are used to treat a host of physical ailments naturally and holistically, and one of these ailments include hair loss. Recently, clinical studies have begun supporting the anecdotal claims that saw palmetto can be used to prevent hair loss and promote hair growth. In fact, this study and a more recent study have compared the herb extract to Finasteride, and have found that the herb acts similar to the drug in inhibiting the DHT-converting enzyme, which thereby prevents DHT-induced hair loss. A systematic review carried out in 2020 also highlights the plant’s potential to act as a natural, side effect free supplement for hair growth, underlining its positive effects.
Pumpkin Seed Extract
Similar to Saw Palmetto, the extract of pumpkin seeds have been clinically shown to inhibit the same DHT-converting enzyme (also known as 5-alpha reductase) in male patients, increasing their mean hair count by 40% in just 24 weeks. Another study highlighted that certain nutritional compounds (such as phytosterols) have the same DHT-blocking effects. Since pumpkin seed extract is rich in these nutritional compounds, this further supports the claim that the extract can be a natural treatment for hair loss.
Stinging Nettle Root
Another interesting herb is stinging nettle root, which studies have highlighted may have similar effects in inhibiting 5-alpha reductase, thus reducing DHT production. Moreover, research has highlighted the significant anti-inflammatory effects of the herb. Since hair loss can also be caused by inflammation, stinging nettle root may have more than one protective property for hair.
Green Tea Extract
Not only is this extract known for its antioxidant and anticancer benefits, but also for its stimulation of hair growth. Remarkably, one study showcased the ability of green tea extract to also inhibit the DHT converting enzyme, thus having significant effects on stopping hair loss and promoting its growth. This may be owed to its high polyphenol content, which is great for hair and overall health.
Pygeum Bark Extract
This bark is extracted from the African cherry tree, and is also known for its hair-growth promoting benefits. Clinical research has shown that, when combined with other botanical herbs, the extract reacts similarly to the ingredients mentioned above in stopping hair loss through the inhibition of 5-alpha reductase.
The Future of Ethical Healthcare
The latest research on natural DHT blockers poses a solution-or at least another option-for healthcare professionals and physicians. Once the situation of the patient experiencing hair loss is carefully assessed, it may be necessary to provide all possible options rather than prescribing a pharmaceutical drug immediately- especially when this may spare them the harmful side effects.