The prostate-reducing drug that Donald Trump uses to treat hair loss has been linked to an increased risk of depression and self-harm, a new study warns.
Finasteride – a widely-used drug that reduces the size of prostate glands and stimulates hair growth – was not tied to an increased risk of suicide.
But experts warn the new research is the first concrete study to examine the pills’ mental health risks, and confirms many medics’ fears.
‘There wasn’t a lot of good studies in this area, and it’s a very common medication for urologists to use,’ said lead author Dr. Blayne Welk, of Western University and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Ontario.
The researchers at Western University examined finasteride and dutasteride, which both belong to a class of medications known as 5-alpha-reductase inhibitors (5ARIs).
5ARIs have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years by regulators in the United States and Canada because of a possible link to mental health issues, according to the researchers.
Welk’s team analyzed data from 93,197 men who were at least 66 years old when they received prescriptions for 5ARIs between 2003 and 2013, plus another 93,197 similar men who had never filled a prescription for a 5ARI.
Overall, 5ARIs were not linked with an increased risk of suicide, the researchers reported in JAMA Internal Medicine.
During the first 18 months, however, the men using 5ARIs had an 88 percent higher risk of harming themselves. That risk did not extend beyond 18 months.
Men in the 5ARI group also had a 94 percent higher risk of depression in the first 18 months, compared to men not using these drugs. Beyond 18 months, the increased risk of depression fell to 22 percent.
The type of 5ARI did not appear to significantly alter the results.
Welk cautions that the actual risk of depression and self-harm is very low.
If the drugs were actually causing these side effects – which this study wasn’t design to prove – ‘you’d need 470 men to take this medication for a full year to have a new case of depression,’ Welk said.
That number would have to be even higher to cause a new case of self-harm, since self-harm is less common than depression.
‘It is a risk potentially and patients and physicians should be aware of it,’ Welk said.
Finasteride was originally developed to treat urinary problems in men.
Studies showed the drug made prostate glands smaller by reducing the levels of the hormone dihydrotestosterone in participants.
But during the clinical trials, scientists saw an unexpected side effect – hair growth.
And so in 1997, the FDA approved the steroid inhibitor as the first ever drug to treat male pattern baldness.