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Can You Cure Baldness By Curbing Stress?

Plenty of evidence suggests that reducing chronic stress can improve health, but preliminary data in mice suggest that controlling chronic stress can help those inclined to baldness keep their hair. Dr. Lixin Wang of the University of California, Los Angeles, and colleagues observed the possible effects of blocking corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) receptors (one of many components of the body’s response to stress) in mice that were designed to over-expressed CRF, which happened to cause them to lose their hair as they aged (age being relative for a lab mouse).

courtesy of flickr user ilovememphis (creative commons)

According to a press release from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Health Sciences, the researchers were actually studying stress and gastrointestinal function, and they noticed hair regrowth as a side effect. “The fact that chronically stressed CRF-OE mice become alopecic in adulthood is reminiscent of human hair loss associated with stress,” the researchers noted.

They reported the findings (with great photos of the mice) this week in the online journal PLoS One. The researchers treated the stressed-out mice (some of which had already developed alopecia in response to chronic stress) with astressin-B, a long-acting peptide and nonselective CRF receptors antagonist. The mice were injected with 5 mcg of astressin-B daily for 5 days.

The mice with hair loss showed skin pigmentation (a sign of the onset of hair growth) within a week of the last injection, and showed no additional hair loss for the next two months. After four months, the mice still had 70% of their hair. In addition, younger stressed-out mice that hadn’t yet started to lose their hair did not lose any.

The researchers also tested astressin2-B. Mice treated with this selective CRF receptor antagonist showed some skin pigmentation after the injection, but still experienced hair loss.  Better than minoxidil? Once the researchers noticed the hair growth effect, they treated other stressed-out mice with minoxidil for 10 days for comparison. Hair growth scores increased, but these mice showed visibly less improvement than those given astressin-B.

Although the findings are preliminary, they suggest a new avenue of research for treating alopecia in humans, especially for individuals coping with acute traumatic events or chronic stresses such as chemotherapy, the researchers said. If nothing else, the findings suggest that the stressed-out mice could be a research model for additional studies of stress-related hair loss, the researchers noted.

New hope for hair loss? Stay tuned.

—Heidi Splete (on Twitter @hsplete)


Filed under Dermatology, Family Medicine, IMNG, Internal Medicine, Primary care, Psychiatry, The Mole