Sunday, March 20, 2011

A totally (un)scientific (anecdotal)study into male pattern baldness among non-resident Indians

One of the first things anyone will say when you're leaving to the West is 'So, you'll come back bald isn't it?' There's not much you can do except crack a smile and just hope the topic changes. This is an investigation of sorts into the phenomenon.

Does it really happen?

Do men actually lose hair in the prime of their youth, with the rate of loss being much more than what it would have been had they stayed put in India? Going with anecdotal evidence here... The answer will be a resounding yes. Photos from aeons ago laid side by side reveal much shorter hair; dramatic inroads on either side of the head like someone clearing the Amazon jungle, little by little.

Then there's the totally eagle-eyed group of relatives, who always have most to say about 1. Hair and 2. Weight. It's either that you've put on weight after eating home-made food or lost a lot of wight by cooking your own. Either way, you lose. Coming back to the topic of this post, they will say, yes, one has lost quite a lot of hair, with lots of advice to not lose more in the future because it may damage prospects. Another thing to worry about.

Probable reasons for the hair loss

Now that we've established that it does actually happen, we have to move on to pinpoint the causes.
  • Eating habits
More seriously, there might be some credence to the effect of 'diet' on overall health. In the West, consumption of junk food - soda(anything carbonated has loads of sugar and HFCS), cookies, chips, pretzels and almost anything and everything packaged in plastic with shiny graphics - doesn't count towards nutrition, though the calories count, giving you a neat belly.

Expanding on the topic, growth hormones are probably the biggest unknown variable modifying growth in humans today. Wading in the realm of speculation, consuming milk and meat - 80% of antibiotics in the US is given to farm animals - significantly increases your chances of consuming them and whether they affect you negatively is not yet proven or unproven(it's a conspiracy!).

Almost everyone(except those who keep their finances in control) prefers to eat out rather than cook at home - part convenience, part lack of time and part not wanting to wash the dishes. Even worse is not eating on time and skipping a meal or two. Anything already made has loads and loads of salts as preservatives and additives to improve taste and texture of the food. All you have to do is read the label. My roommate was surprised to learn that the 'butter' he bought contained almost no milk - it was mainly hydrogenated oils. The pressure to improve the look and feel and shelf life of foods has pushed manufacturers to completely modify their The pressure to improve the look and feel and shelf life of foods has pushed manufacturers to completely modify their products so much that they are not what they are supposed to be.

Why take supplements, which may not be absorbed as well as whole foods with that essential vitamin or mineral?
  • Bathing habits
I've really thought about this and it might be the biggest factor of them all. Back in India, owing to water shortage and/or lack of continuous hot water supply, most bathing, including a head bath is performed using a bucket and mug; in the US, it's with a shower. I don't even know of any houses with facility for a bucket to be filled from a tap.

The effect of this shower, which coincidentally spurts out hot water at our preference, is that a pointed jet(s) of hot water is directed at the hair, for elongated periods of time. A very poor analogy would be watering a grass lawn with a hose of hot water - continuously(please correct me if this analogy is more wrong than right). Sounds scary. Solution: Use only warm water and avoid prolonged exposure to the water.

Applying oil is pretty often in India, much scorned here - another factor? The oil could be locking in the moisture keeping hair fluffy and not dry. Infrequent cleaning of the scalp - which allows dead skin and dirt to build up - doesn't help matters.
  • Climate control
All buildings and confined spaces have temperature control, so it's a given that the temperature will always at the opposite end of that outside the building. So, while all other parts of the body are clothed, the hair is often exposed to extreme temperatures - for a few minutes - everyday. E.g.
Midwest:
Home: 20 C
Outside: -10 C Swing: 30 C
Car: 10 C Swing: 20 C
Outside: -10 C Swing: 20 C
Building: 20 C Swing: 30 C

For the South or during summer the swing might be lesser, about 10 C, but still such a swing during winter is tremendous.

Apart from temperature control, many houses have constant humidity, which could be over or under the required amount. Warm air during winter can sap water vapour from the air, hence the hair could be devoid of the moisture it needs.
  • Stress
Have a girlfriend: Stress out keeping her happy
Don't have a girlfriend but friend has a girlfriend: Still stress out
Have a girlfriend back home: Stress out in the middle of the night with lack of sleep
Stuck with a prof who extracts 25 hours a day: Huge stress
Equipment fail: Mega stress
Need to be done with dissertation, paper publications and job within 6 months: Ultimate stress

'Stress' is a proven factor contributing to hair loss.
  • Genetic
And finally the most obvious reason of all: Your grandfather lost his hair at 40, your father at 32, so you will at age 23. Simple.

Please chime in with your own well (un)reasoned thoughts on the topic.