Common Hair Loss and Prostate Drug May Also Cut Heart Disease Risk in Men and Mice

The drug finasteride, also known as Propecia or Proscar, treats male pattern baldness and enlarged prostate in millions of men worldwide. But a new University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign study suggests the drug may also provide a surprising and life-saving benefit: lowering cholesterol and cutting the overall risk of cardiovascular disease.

The study, published in the Journal of Lipid Research, found significant correlations between finasteride use and lower cholesterol levels in men taking part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2009 and 2016. In mice taking high finasteride doses, the researchers found reductions in total plasma cholesterol, delayed atherosclerosis progression, lower inflammation in the liver, and related benefits.

As exciting as the survey results were, they had their limitations. Of nearly 4,800 survey respondents meeting general health criteria for inclusion in the analysis, only 155, all men over 50, reported using finasteride. And the researchers couldn’t tell how much or how long men in the survey had taken the drug.

But first, why would a hair loss and prostate drug affect cholesterol? Amengual studies atherosclerosis, the condition in which cholesterol plaques choke arteries, leading to stroke, heart attack, and other forms of cardiovascular disease. Because the disease is far more common in men than premenopausal women, scientists have long suspected the sex hormone testosterone is important in atherosclerosis, though its role isn’t entirely clear.

Finasteride works by blocking a protein found in hair follicles and the prostate gland that activates testosterone. The common thread, testosterone, was enough to pique Amengual’s interest.

After documenting the first-ever link, albeit observational, between finasteride and lower cholesterol in men, Amengual got doctoral student Donald Molina Chaves to see if the pattern held in mice.

Molina Chaves tested four levels of finasteride — 0, 10, 100, and 1000 milligrams per kilogram of food — in male mice genetically predisposed to atherosclerosis. The mice consumed the drug, along with a high-fat, high-cholesterol “Western” diet, for 12 weeks. After the experiment, Molina Chaves analyzed the levels of cholesterol and other lipids in the mice, along with evidence of atherosclerotic plaques. He also tested gene expression in the liver, looked at bile acid metabolism, and analyzed steroids, triglycerides, immune activity, and more.

Although the effects were only significant at the highest dose, a level Amengual calls outrageous for humans, he explains that mice metabolize finasteride differently than people.

Humans take 1 milligram or 5 milligram doses of finasteride daily for hair loss and enlarged prostate, respectively. The fact that a clear pattern showed up in a survey of men likely taking one of these doses suggests the drug may be lowering cholesterol without the megadoses tested in mice.


Patrick McQueen, Donald Molina, Ivan Pinos, Samuel Krug, Anna J. Taylor, Michael R. LaFrano, Maureen A. Kane, Jaume Amengual. Finasteride delays atherosclerosis progression in mice and is associated with a reduction in plasma cholesterol in men. Journal of Lipid Research, 2024; 65 (3): 100507 DOI: 10.1016/j.jlr.2024.100507

University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. (2024, February 20). Common hair loss and prostate drug may also cut heart disease risk in men and mice. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 22, 2024 from
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