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Baldness and an enlarged prostate go together, Spanish researchers say

May 31, 2010 |  3:16 pm

Male-pattern baldness and an enlarged prostate go hand in hand, Spanish researchers reported Monday at a San Francisco meeting of the American Urological Assn.  The findings hint that early hair loss could be sign that men are going to develop prostate disease and that preventive treatment should be begun, they said.

Male pattern baldness, formally known as androgenetic alopecia, is the most common type of hair loss in men. It is associated with higher-than-normal levels of an enzyme known as 5-alpha-reductase, which converts the male hormone testosterone into dihydrotestosterone. Baldness results from a genetic defect that renders hair follicles more susceptible to the influence of dihydrotestosterone, causing them to shrink when exposed to it. The enzyme also plays a role in benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and researchers have long speculated about a link between the two conditions. In fact, Propecia, a drug that is used to combat hair loss, contains the same ingredient -- finasteride -- as Proscar, which is used to prevent or treat BPH. It inhibits 5-alpha-reductase.

The Spanish researchers studied 30 men with early-onset male pattern baldness and compared them to a group of men with full heads of hair. None of the participants had been diagnosed with BPH or were taking drugs to prevent it. Using ultrasound, the researchers found that the volume of the prostates was 34% larger in the bald men, while their urine flow was 32% lower, indicating that they had an early stage of BPH.

"BPH is a very treatable condition that can significantly impact quality of life if left unchecked," Dr. Kevin T. McVary, a urology association spokesman, said in a statement. "The study suggests that patients with [baldness] should talk with their doctors about any urinary symptoms they may be experiencing so that we can minimize this impact by taking preventative measures."

-- Thomas H. Maugh II

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