A month after Donald Trump’s doctor revealed that the president uses a drug called finasteride to treat hair loss, a new study by researchers at Western University has linked the drug to an increased risk of mental health issues, including depression and self-harming (self-injury) behavior. But the study did not tie the drug to an increased risk of suicide.
Trump’s doctor, Dr. Harold Bornstein, revealed last month in an interview with the New York Times that Trump takes a small daily dose of the steroid inhibitor finasteride, sold under the brand names Propecia and Proscar, to treat male-pattern baldness. Bornstein also revealed to the New York Times that he (Bornstein) was also taking the drug to promote hair growth.
The information generated interest because it was not known previously that Trump was taking a drug to stimulate scalp hair growth.
Finasteride and dutasteride — sold under the brand name Avodart — belong to a class of drugs known as 5-alpha-reductase inhibitors (5ARIs). They are prescribed widely for the treatment of enlarged prostate glands (benign prostatic hyperplasia, BPH) and to stimulate hair growth in men.
But there were suspicions that the drugs could have potentially serious mental health and erectile dysfunction side effects. Users reported experiencing chronic depression, insomnia, brain fog, and suicidal thought preoccupation, which persisted long after they had stopped taking the drugs, according to the Huffington Post.
Users also complained about sexual dysfunction side-effects, such as painful erections and loss of ability to have orgasms.
The claims have reportedly been the subject of more than 1,200 lawsuits filed since 2011 against the pharmaceutical company Merck, which manufactures the drug, Men’s Journal reports.
Many of the lawsuits alleged that the company did not give sufficient warning to users about the potential mental health and erectile dysfunction side-effects of the drug.
Due to suspicions that finasteride and other 5ARIs could be linked with mental health issues, a team of researchers led by Blayne Welk at Western University conducted a study that involved analysis of data obtained from 93,197 men aged 66 and above, who had used 5ARIs between 2003 and 2013. They compared the data with another group of 93,197 men who had never used the drugs.
The study, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine on March 20, 2017, confirmed the suspected link between the use of 5ARIs and an increased risk of mental health issues, specifically depression and self-harming behavior.
The study found that compared with non-users, patients taking finasteride and other 5-ARIs, such as dutasteride, had a 94 percent increased risk of depression and an 88 percent increased risk of self-harming behavior. But the increased risk was limited only to the first 18 months of use of the drugs.
However, the study found no link between use of the drugs and increased risk of suicide.
The study found no evidence of increased risk of suicide due to the use of the drug.
The researchers concluded that although the overall risk of mental health issues for individual users was low, doctors need to take it into consideration when prescribing the drugs.
The study results come after evidence emerged from previous studies that finasteride was linked with erectile dysfunction in men.
A study published in the journal PeerJ on March 9, 2017, by researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, found a link between 5ARIs and the incidence of erectile dysfunction. About 5 percent of men who had taken the drugs for at least 180 days reported suffering from erectile dysfunction that lasted at least 90 days after they had stopped taking the drugs.
Finasteride was developed to treat urinary problems in men by making the prostrate gland smaller. But researchers noticed accidentally during clinical trials that it also stimulated hair growth.
The observation sparked research interest in the hair growth stimulating effects of the drug, and in 1997, the FDA approved it as the first-ever drug for treating male-pattern baldness. The drug has proved to be very highly effective for treating baldness in men.
According to medical experts, Trump’s use of finasteride explains his low prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels. That Trump has unexpectedly low PSA levels for his age was revealed in two medical reports about his health released by Bornstein 2015 and 2016.
Trump’s low PSA levels led to speculation that he was being treated for an enlarged prostate or prostate cancer. But Bornstein later told the New York Times that Trump was not under treatment for an enlarged prostate or prostate cancer. The doctor explained that Trump’s low PSA was due to the fact that he was taking finasteride (Propecia) to stimulate hair growth.
[Featured Image by Steve Helber/AP Images]