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Propecia Linked to Depression?

by Dean Anderson

While most men would be ecstatic to see their hair loss stopped by any means, a new study suggests that a small number of those seeking to halt balding using the hair loss drug Propecia may experience lasting depression. Research conducted on the popular medication in 2011 uncovered a rare occurrence of long-term sexual issues in users, and the recent follow-up study—focused solely on those experiencing such unfortunate side effects—uncovered high rates of depression, dementia, and suicidal thoughts as well. The results have stunned the hair loss community and left many men wondering whether Propecia is worth the unlikely but potentially life-altering risks.

Propecia, prescribed to an estimated 1.5 million men worldwide, uses active ingredient finasteride to help block the transformation of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone, the hormone responsible for male pattern baldness. Finasteride was originally used as a drug to combat enlarged prostate before its hair-restoring effects were discovered, and for years its unique interaction with testosterone was suspected in producing sexual side effects in a small number of users. These suspicions were confirmed by Dr. Michael Irwig, an assistant professor of medicine for George Washington University, who found cases of erectile dysfunction, impotence, low libido, and gynecomestica in a select group of Propecia users.

The recent depression study, also conducted by Dr. Irwig, focused on 61 men who had no history of depression, sexual issues, or diagnosed psychiatric disorders prior to taking Propecia. After taking the drug for a year or more, all men experienced negative sexual symptoms which persisted for months after stopping Propecia use. An additional 29 men with hair loss but no history of Propecia use or psychiatric issues were selected as a control group for comparison.

Participants of the study were given the Beck Depression Inventory II, a 21-question psychiatric instrument for measuring depression. Of the former Propecia-takers surveyed 75% reported symptoms of depression, with 64% classifying their symptoms as “moderate or severe.” Only 10% of the control group indicated symptoms of depression, and none considered their feelings moderate or severe. More unsettling are the statistics on whether participants had thoughts of suicide. A staggering 44% of former Propecia users admitted suicidal thinking versus 3%, a single participant, of the control group.

The study results, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, are prompting many experts to lobby for more stringent warnings on Propecia labels. “I definitely think this study has very important messages when you’re looking at something like suicide and suicidal ideations,” Dr. Irwig told “After all—how many deaths from a medication do you really need to be considered important enough and to change [warning] labels?”

In light of the new study, scientists believe it’s plausible that the same aspects of the drug that affect sexuality might contribute to a variety of mental diseases. The finasteride in Propecia is capable of passing the blood-brain barrier and has proven effects on the production of gamma-aminobutyric acids, brain chemicals linked to anxiety and depression. Further research into finasteride’s effect on the brain could induce changes to Propecia labels and litigation for its producer Merck & Co.

Though the link between mental disease and the sexual side effects of Propecia is alarming, it’s important to note that the FDA only found such sexual effects in 3% of the users of Propecia during its clinical trials for approval. Dr. Irwig’s depression study focused solely on this small demographic, while the vast majority of men who are prescribed Propecia experience nothing of this nature.

However you choose to view Propecia in the light of these studies, know that there are plenty of hair loss treatment options that don’t involve hormone or brain altering medications. Hair transplant surgery is currently the only permanent non-chemical solution to balding. If you’re interested in sorting you hair restoration options with a specialist, contact us today. Hair Loss Specialists can schedule you a private consultation with hair loss expert near you.

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