by Sudha Bhat on  August 21, 2014 at 11:34 AM Health Watch
New Lease of Life for Alopecia Patients
Nothing lasts forever, not even your hair! Your hair length, style and color actually frames your face and ultimately your personality. It is normal to lose some strands of hair every day, due to the end of life cycle of a hair strand. However, the cause for concern arises when you see an abnormal or persistent loss of hair, which could be quite distressing and causes lot of emotional stress to anybody experiencing it.

The medical term for persistent and abnormal hair loss is 'Alopecia areata'. It is an autoimmune disease. In normal humans, the immune system protects the body against infection and disease. However, if you have an autoimmune disease, your body's immune system attacks some parts of your own body. In alopecia areata, your body's immune system attacks your own hair follicles. Patients generally lose patches of hair on the scalp, but may also lose facial and body hair. Even though the exact cause cannot be pinpointed, scientists believe that it could mainly be genetic. Currently, there are no known treatments to completely restore hair in these patients, who could possibly suffer from mental and emotional stress.

Researchers are now investigating a new class of drug for treating alopecia, known as JAK inhibitors, which is actually approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat a rare type of bone marrow cancer called myelofibrosis.

Researchers from Columbia University Medical Center identified the immune cells that destroy hair follicles in people with alopecia areata. They then conducted studies with the drug ruxolitinib (brand name: Jakafi) in such patients and found that the drug actually eliminated these immune cells. Some of the study results were published online on August 17, 2014 in the journal Nature Medicine.

The scientists initially tested the drug in mice and then in a small group of people who suffered from moderate to severe alopecia areata (more than 30 percent hair loss). They found that three patients had total hair regrowth just within 5 months of starting the treatment.

The lead author Dr. Raphael Clynes said in a Columbia news release "We've only begun testing the drug in patients, but if the drug continues to be successful and safe, it will have a dramatic positive impact on the lives of people with this disease. We still need to do more testing to establish that ruxolitinib should be used in alopecia areata, but this is exciting news for patients and their physicians"

He also stated that "This disease has been completely understudied -- until now only two small clinical trials evaluating targeted therapies in alopecia areata have been performed, largely because of the lack of mechanistic insight into it."

However, the entire team of scientists were of the firm opinion that further tests were needed before the drug could be safely be used as a treatment for alopecia.

Dr Luis Garza, a dermatologist practicing in Johns Hopkins Hospital, who was not one of the study authors, said the results were quite encouraging and that he would consider prescribing ruxolitinib to patients who could not be treated with other standard methods of treatment and understood the side effects.

Dr George Cotsarelis, a dermatologist at the University of Pennsylvania, however said it makes sense that drugs suppressing immune system activity would work for a disorder caused by an overly active immune reaction, but further tests should be done to conclusively prove this.

He also said that if ruxolitinib could be applied topically, that would be an amazing breakthrough. He felt that the twice daily pills which were used in the study could potentially cause liver and blood problems, infections and other ailments. Although the patients have experienced few side effects, the study that was conducted was done in small number of patients and was not a randomized trial comparing ruxolitinib to other treatments.

Tips to Prevent Hair Loss

Provide good nutrition for your hair or they'll eventually fall. Omega 3 fatty acids are known to provide nourishment to hair follicles, promote hair growth and make them more elastic so that they do not break easily. Some of the foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids are salmon, flaxseed, soybean, walnuts etc.

You hair is primarily made up of protein. So include protein-rich food in your daily diet like meat, dairy or protein shakes. Protein deficiency could lead to hair loss.

Massage your scalp on a regular basis. It increases blood flow to your scalp and strengthens the hair roots. You could choose from a variety of hair oils such as coconut oil, almond oil, olive oil, lavender oil etc.

Do not wash your hair more than required as excess washing of hair could also take away the natural oils and damage the hair. 

Use a wide-tooth comb to remove knots from your hair. This will help reduce the risk of hair breakage and hair fall while combing.

Minimize the use of hair dryers and curlers since constant heating and drying could weaken the hair protein, and make it more brittle and fragile.

Include foods that are high in the mineral zinc in your diet such as wheat germ, spinach, pumpkin, sunflower seeds etc. Zinc builds proteins and boosts tissue growth and repair. It also regulates hormones such as testosterone, high levels of which can lead to hair loss.

Alternative therapies include acupuncture, aroma therapy, evening primrose oil, vitamin supplements and Chinese herbs. However a word of caution - alternative therapies have not been studied in clinical trials; they therefore may or may not help hair grow back.

Last but not the least, stress is part of everyday life, but can take a toll on your hair's health, so try to combat it with yoga and meditation.

Source: Medindia

Most Popular on Medindia