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ANOTHER PILL PROMISES THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH

Along with taking their one-a-day vitamin, daily aspirin and vitamin C tablet, many American men will have a new pill to take starting in January.

It is the prescription drug Propecia, said to grow hair on the empty space on men's heads. And it marks the first time that the Food and Drug Administration has given its blessing to such a product.

But it has me scratching my head.

Maybe I'm splitting hairs, but I don't understand why men would sign on for a lifetime of taking medication that has been tested for only two years.

Given a choice between Jason Alexander and Tom Cruise, I think the latter looks better.

But . . .

The question has to be raised about what will be gained and what might be lost if the nation's 40 million balding men try to stop the loss of locks with this new pill.

Certainly manufacturer Merck & Co., which estimates that a monthly supply will cost about $45, has much to gain financially.

Users may gain something, too.

Reports say that the tiny tan-colored tablet promoted hair growth, or at least stopped hair loss, in 83 percent of men who took it.

There are some other numbers tucked in the statistics -- 2 percent of men experienced decreased libido and impotence while taking Propecia. Those men -- who we presume are growing hair to be more attractive -- may well be defeating the purpose.

Still, there's certain to be interest. The book "Body," for example, boldly states: "In the Pantheon of male bodily obsessions, the receding hairline ranks No. 1."

I asked Alice Rosenthal, a clinical social worker in private practice, if she could shed some light on the phenomenon.

"I think it's as complex as why most of us do anything about our appearance, men or women," she said.

"It can be a loss of self-esteem. It's a loss of who you thought you were. Or if men have associated their hair with virility and youthfulness, they may feel less attractive."

The attitude of each person will be shaped, she said, by what they heard in their families and what their social group now thinks.

Finally, she said, hair loss is an unavoidable reminder of aging, of mortality.

"A loss of any part of yourself, even a tooth, can have a deep meaning," she said. "It's a very concrete marker of mortality, and I don't care if it happens when you are 20 or when you are 70."

Will men buy into taking the pill? Or will they view it as follicle follies?

Let's ask a man who may be shy of hair, but who's never shy with an opinion.

"I don't think I'd jump into it right away," said Stephen T. Banko III, Mayor Masiello's director of communications, who became a first-time grandfather this month. "I have gotten kind of accustomed to this look."

Would the cost put him off?

"I was spending $75 a month for Redux to lose weight," he said. "And I did. I lost about 50 pounds. So if this drug for balding has the same efficacy and doesn't cause my heart rate to fluctuate, I might try it.

"Being a grandfather, being fat, being bald, I need all the help I can get these days."

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