Wouldn’t it be nice if eating junk food also came with added benefits? Fast food may be a guilty pleasure, but as we know, gorging on the stuff can lead to health problems. However, imagine how amazing it would be if one form of junk food could also help cure a common condition.
That was the tantalizing prospect facing scientists at Yokohama National University in Japan. Experts there discovered an astonishing link to junk food while conducting research on hair loss. The team were looking into potential cures for the condition when they made a surprising discovery.
During their investigations into possible cures for baldness, the scientists discovered a way to create “hair follicle germs” (HFGs) on a mass scale. Put simply, HFGs are crucial for the development of hair follicles and, therefore, actual hair. And the scientific breakthrough saw researchers succeed in growing 5,000 HFGs in a matter of days. That’s 100 times the number that current techniques manage.
Excitingly, this in turn could help in the fight against baldness. Many people in the world find hair loss to be a huge problem, one that can have deep emotional and psychological effects. As a result, hair transplants have risen in popularity over the years, with men in particular opting to have the procedure rather than face a life without hair.
Moreover, a number of celebrities have taken the plunge in order to slow down one of nature’s most obvious signs of aging. Elton John was an early adopter, while David Beckham was also rumoured to have had a helping hand up top. At the same time, research into a cure continues, and this recent development received a great deal of interest from media outlets all over the world.
The lead scientist from the research group, Junji Fukuda, is something of an authority on human tissue, including hair. Promoted to full professor on January 1, 2018, Fukuda found himself the centre of attention when his research into HFGs came to light a month later. And he explained how his team made the all-important breakthrough.
“The key for the mass production of HFGs was a choice of substrate materials for the culture vessel,” Fukuda told the Daily Mail in February 2018. And as we’ll see, one of the chosen materials has a great many uses outside the laboratory.
Substrate material sorted, the team then moved on to the next stage. This involved combining human stem cells with skin cells and stem cells from mice. This mixture of cells was subsequently contained within the culture vessel and injected into mice.
Scientists then had to wait to see what effect the cells would have. And the results were startling, to say the least. During the next few days, the cells began to trigger changes that resulted in black hairs being reported on the scalps and backs of the mice, the two sites where the cells had been injected.
When describing the results of the experiment, Professor Fukuda said, “These self-sorted HFGs were shown to be capable of efficient hair-follicle and shaft generation upon injection into the backs of nude mice.” Furthermore, although the resulting hair looked different to typical mice hair, it did seem to mimic its growth cycle.
The scientists were amazed at this discovery – and for a very good reason. Their groundbreaking experiment was the first time that HFGs had been successfully produced on a mass scale in a lab. It was an important development and one that could have far-reaching implications when it comes to humans.
But why do these results point to a breakthrough in the bid to cure human hair loss? Well, the answer to that is pretty straightforward: the Japanese scientists’ discovery could help develop a procedure that provides people who’ve already gone bald with a chance to regrow their own hair. And Professor Fukuda marveled at how relatively uncomplicated his technique had been.
“This simple method [of growing regenerated hair] is very robust and promising,” Professor Fukuda explained. “We hope this technique will improve human hair regenerative therapy to treat hair loss such as androgenic alopecia.” This is a type of hair loss common in both sexes. Indeed, it affects roughly half of all men and a third of all women by age 50.
These results are exciting in themselves for many scientists and for people experiencing baldness. But if you study the experiment more closely, you’ll find that one particular ingredient was integral to its success. And it’s an additive used in a whole range of items central to many people’s everyday lives.
In fact, contact lenses, cosmetics, and even silly putty all contain the substance. Moreover, scientists have known about its properties for a number of years. In the container where the HFGs were grown, was a type of silicone known as dimethypolsiloxane – and its presence proved invaluable.
“We used oxygen-permeable dimethylpolysiloxane (PDMS) at the bottom of the culture vessel, and it worked very well,” said Professor Fukuda. However, it is the chemical’s link to one particular fast food – and fast food chain – that makes the research even more intriguing. Incredibly, this ingredient is also used by McDonald’s and can be found in the firm’s signature fries.
Apparently, the burger behemoth uses PDMS in its fryers. The firm’s fries are cooked in oil that contains the chemical, which is added to prevent the cooking liquid from spattering. And the presence of the chemical in McDonald’s fries got many news organisations very excited. Some even reported that eating McDonald’s fries could solve the problem of baldness.
For example, an article in U.K. tabloid the Daily Express claimed that “a cure for baldness has been discovered in McDonald’s fries that can regrow hair in days using a ‘simple’ technique which does not need a transplant.” And media outlets from further afield followed suit. Indeed, papers in Australia, Pakistan, and the U.S. all picked up on the story.
Sadly, however, it seems some people may have been getting a little carried away. Speaking to The Japan Times, Professor Fukuda said, “I have seen online comments asking, ‘How many fries would I have to eat to grow my hair?’ I’d feel bad if people think eating something would do that!”
Fukuda’s research could lead to a better understanding of hair loss, then. Sadly, though, it seems that racing to the drive-thru at the first signs of thinning hair won’t be the answer to a lot of people’s problems. So the Japanese study might well lead to a successful treatment for baldness in the future, but it doesn’t give us a guilt-free reason to binge on fries. More’s the pity…