Last Updated on October 10, 2023 by Beth Skwarecki
Finasteride treats various medical conditions, including BPH and androgenetic alopecia. However, it has its side effects, which can concern some individuals. This guide aims to explore Finasteride’s world, common uses, and potential side effects while discussing strategies to reduce them. It provides valuable insights and strategies for those considering Finasteride for the first time or already using it to manage its side effects.
It is important to note that not everyone will experience side effects, and there are strategies and precautions available to minimize their impact. This comprehensive guide is designed to help individuals make informed decisions about their treatment.
What is Finasteride & How Does it Work?
Finasteride is a medication used to treat men’s prostate gland conditions and hair loss. It belongs to the 5-alpha-reductase inhibitors class and inhibits the enzyme 5-alpha-reductase, which converts testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a hormone that contributes to prostate gland growth and male pattern baldness.
By blocking 5-alpha-reductase, Finasteride reduces the conversion of testosterone into DHT, thus lowering DHT levels in the body. This, in turn, has several beneficial effects. Finasteride helps treat benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) by shrinking the prostate gland, reducing symptoms like difficulty urinating. It can also slow down hair loss and promote regrowth for male pattern baldness in some individuals by inhibiting DHT’s effects on hair follicles.
Benefits of Finasteride
We will explore the various benefits of Finasteride, highlighting its positive impact on medical conditions and its role in improving the quality of life for individuals with specific health concerns.
#1. Improved Quality of Life in BPH Patients
- Reduction in Prostate Size: Finasteride is highly effective in reducing prostate gland size in individuals with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Shrinking the prostate helps relieve urinary symptoms such as frequent urination, difficulty starting or stopping urine flow, and incomplete emptying of the bladder. This leads to a significant improvement in the quality of life for BPH patients.
- Symptom Relief: BPH can cause bothersome urinary symptoms that can disrupt daily activities and sleep patterns. Finasteride helps alleviate these symptoms, allowing individuals to enjoy a better quality of life by reducing the urgency and frequency of urination and minimizing nocturia (nighttime urination).
- Prevention of Complications: Left untreated, BPH can lead to complications such as acute urinary retention or the need for surgical interventions. Finasteride’s ability to manage and reduce prostate size can prevent these complications, thus enhancing the overall well-being of individuals with BPH.
#2. Hair Regrowth and Restoration
- Treatment of Androgenetic Alopecia: Finasteride is an FDA-approved medication for treating male pattern baldness, also known as androgenetic alopecia. It has shown significant efficacy in promoting hair regrowth and slowing down the progression of hair loss in many individuals.
- Increased Hair Density: Users of Finasteride often experience an increase in hair density, particularly in the crown and frontal areas of the scalp. This can lead to improved self-esteem and a positive impact on one’s appearance.
- Prevention of Further Hair Loss: Finasteride promotes new hair growth and helps maintain existing hair, preventing further thinning or loss. This means that individuals can enjoy the benefits of a fuller head of hair for an extended period.
#3. Potential Benefits in Other Conditions
- Hirsutism: In some cases, Finasteride may be used off-label to manage hirsutism in women, a condition characterized by excessive hair growth in areas where men typically grow hair. Finasteride can help reduce unwanted hair growth and improve the self-esteem of individuals with hirsutism by inhibiting the action of androgens.
- Transgender Hormone Therapy: Finasteride may be included in transgender hormone therapy protocols to help reduce body and facial hair growth in transgender women (male-to-female) transitioning from male to female. This can contribute to a more feminine appearance and enhance the overall well-being of transgender individuals.
Risks and Side Effects of Finasteride
While this medication has proven effective for various medical conditions, it is essential to be aware of the possible adverse effects during treatment.
#1. Common Side Effects
- Sexual Dysfunction: One of Finasteride’s most frequently reported side effects is sexual dysfunction. This can manifest as a reduced sex drive (libido), difficulty achieving or maintaining an erection (erectile dysfunction), or decreased semen volume. These effects may occur in a subset of users and are often reversible upon medication discontinuation.
- Gynecomastia: Some individuals may experience breast tenderness, enlargement, or discomfort, a condition known as gynecomastia. This side effect is generally rare and can resolve upon discontinuation.
- Dizziness and Weakness: Finasteride may occasionally cause dizziness or weakness. Users should exercise caution when engaging in activities that require mental alertness, such as driving until they are sure how the medication affects them.
#2. Less Common but Serious Side Effects
- Allergic Reactions: While rare, severe allergic reactions to Finasteride can occur. Symptoms may include rash, itching, swelling (especially of the face, tongue, or throat), severe dizziness, and difficulty breathing. Users should seek immediate medical attention if they experience any of these symptoms.
- Depression and Mood Changes: Some individuals have reported mood changes, including depression, anxiety, and emotional disturbances while taking Finasteride. It is essential to monitor one’s mental health during treatment and consult a healthcare professional if any concerning symptoms arise.
- Risk of Prostate Cancer: Finasteride is used to manage benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), but there has been some debate about its potential link to prostate cancer. Some studies have suggested a slightly increased risk of high-grade prostate cancer in Finasteride users, while others have not found a significant association. Individuals must discuss the benefits and risks of Finasteride for their specific situation with their healthcare provider.
#3. Special Considerations
- Pregnancy and Breastfeeding Warnings: Finasteride should not be handled by pregnant or breastfeeding women due to the risk of potential harm to a developing male fetus. Pregnant women should avoid contact with crushed or broken Finasteride tablets. Men taking the medication should use effective contraception methods if their partners are pregnant or planning to become pregnant.
- Long-Term Use and Potential Consequences: Some individuals may use Finasteride for extended periods to manage chronic conditions like BPH or androgenetic alopecia. The long-term effects of prolonged use still need to be fully understood, and users should work closely with their healthcare providers to monitor their health over time.
How To Reduce Side Effects of Finasteride
Here are some ways to reduce the side effects of Finasteride based on scientific evidence and expert advice:
#1. Lower your dosage
It has been shown that taking a lower dose of Finasteride (such as 0.2 mg or 0.25 mg per day) can still treat BPH and MPHL while reducing the risk of sexual side effects. You should consult your doctor before changing your dosage, as they can monitor your response and adjust it accordingly.
#2. Take Finasteride with food.
Some studies suggest that taking Finasteride with food can decrease its absorption and bioavailability, which may reduce its potency and side effects. However, this may also reduce its effectiveness, so you should weigh the pros and cons with your doctor.
#3. Use topical minoxidil
Minoxidil is another medication used to treat MPHL, which stimulates blood flow and nutrient delivery to the hair follicles. It is applied directly to the scalp and does not affect the hormonal levels in the body. Some studies have found that combining Finasteride with minoxidil can enhance hair growth results while reducing the need for a high dose of Finasteride. Minoxidil can also help counteract some of the negative effects of Finasteride on hair quality, such as dryness and brittleness.
#4. Supplement with zinc and biotin
Zinc and biotin are essential minerals and vitamins for hair health, as they are involved in the synthesis of keratin, the main protein in hair. Zinc also plays a role in regulating testosterone levels and DHT production in the body. Some studies have shown that supplementing with zinc and biotin can improve hair growth and quality in people with MPHL, especially when combined with Finasteride. Zinc and biotin can also support your immune system and skin health, which may prevent or reduce allergic reactions and rashes caused by Finasteride.
#5. Improve your lifestyle habits
Your lifestyle habits can significantly impact your overall health, including your prostate and hair condition. Keeping your weight down, getting regular exercise, eating foods high in vitamins and minerals, cutting back on alcohol, and quitting smoking can all help counter the side effects of Finasteride. These habits can also improve blood circulation, hormonal balance, mood, energy levels, and sexual function.
#6. Seek psychological support
Finasteride can affect your mental health as well as your physical health. Some people may experience anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, or reduced confidence due to hair loss or sexual problems. These psychological factors can worsen the side effects of Finasteride or even cause them in some cases. If you are feeling stressed or unhappy about your condition, you should seek professional help from a therapist or counselor who can offer you emotional support and coping strategies.
#7. Talk to your doctor
Finasteride is a prescription medication that requires regular monitoring by your doctor. You should inform your doctor about any side effects you experience while taking Finasteride, as they may indicate a serious problem or a need for dosage adjustment. Your doctor can advise you on alternative treatments or medications that suit you better or have fewer side effects.
Finasteride is a proven and effective treatment for BPH and MPHL, but has risks.
Who Should Not Use Finasteride?
- Women of Childbearing Age: Women of childbearing age who are sexually active and not using reliable contraception methods should avoid Finasteride due to the risk of unintended pregnancy and potential harm to a developing male fetus.
- Individuals with Allergic Reactions: If an individual has experienced an allergic reaction to Finasteride or any of its components in the past, they should not use the medication. Allergic reactions can range from skin rashes to more severe symptoms and should be taken seriously.
- People with Liver Dysfunction: Finasteride is metabolized by the liver, and individuals with significant liver dysfunction should be cautious when considering it. In such cases, a healthcare provider may adjust the dosage or recommend an alternative treatment.
- Children and Adolescents: Finasteride is generally not recommended for use in children and adolescents, as its safety and effectiveness have not been well-established in this age group.
- Individuals with Contraindications: Some medical conditions may contraindicate the use of Finasteride. These can include severe urinary tract obstruction, prostate cancer, and other prostate conditions. Always consult a healthcare professional to determine whether Finasteride is appropriate for your medical situation.
In conclusion, while Finasteride can be an effective medication for managing conditions like benign prostatic hyperplasia and male pattern baldness, it’s essential to be aware of the potential side effects and take proactive steps to address them. Consulting with a healthcare provider, considering alternative treatments, and making lifestyle adjustments can all play a role in minimizing the impact of these side effects. Remember that individual experiences may vary, so open communication with a healthcare professional is key to finding the most suitable approach for your needs. By managing and mitigating side effects, individuals can make more informed decisions about their finasteride treatment and enjoy its benefits with greater peace of mind.
Beth is Cloudmineinc’s senior health editor and a certified personal trainer. She has over 10 years experience as a science journalist and is the author of two books. She deadlifts over 315 lbs.