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What Causes Baldness?

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If you’ve got a receding hairline, don’t be so quick to blame it on your baseball caps or your grandpa.

Studies show that genetic factors mostly determine a person’s predisposition for hair loss. Humans have 46 chromosomes of DNA, and two of these chromosomes determine the sex of a person: the X chromosome and the Y chromosome. Women have two X chromosomes, while a man has an X chromosome and a Y chromosome. These chromosomes are passed from the parents to their child. The gene affecting hair loss is located on the X chromosome.

Since a male child can only inherit an X chromosome from his mother, it is often said that a man can determine the likelihood of becoming bald by looking at his mother’s father. If a man’s maternal grandfather expresses hair loss, then that man may also experience hair loss within his lifetime.

But it is possible to have a grandpa with a full head of hair and still become bald. This is because hair loss is only partially hereditary; a man may only have a 50/50 chance of inheriting baldness from his mother, since his mother has two X chromosomes. Additionally, a joint 2008 study conducted by McGill University, King's College London and GlaxoSmithKline Inc. pinpointed a small area on Chromosome 20 called 20p11 that is associated with male pattern baldness. Research is still being done as to the “why”, but so far it is known that men with this particular genetic variant are seven times more likely to lose their locks than those who do not carry it.

Still, genetics are not the only piece of the puzzle. Diet, exercise, and stress levels can also cause baldness. And while some may view baldness as a mark of distinction and maturity, others have tried all sorts of homemade remedies to stimulate hair growth. In ancient Egypt, doctors recommended mixtures of fats from hippos, crocodiles, tomcats, snakes, and ibex. One medical text even suggests boiling porcupine hair in water and applying it to the scalp for four days.

In the United States during the 19th century, salesmen and sideshow performers marketed phony concoctions of snake oils that supposedly reversed hair loss. Later in the 20th century, manufacturers developed a Thermocap device that worked to stimulate hair follicles. Unfortunately, the few individuals who wore the Thermocaps looked like characters from Coneheads. Much like Viagra, Minoxidil (the active ingredient in Rogaine) was originally intended as a possible treatment for high blood pressure. When the hair growth side effect was discovered, Big Pharma changed its marketing strategy.

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Big Questions
Why Does Turkey Make You Tired?
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Why do people have such a hard time staying awake after Thanksgiving dinner? Most people blame tryptophan, but that's not really the main culprit. And what is tryptophan, anyway?

Tryptophan is an amino acid that the body uses in the processes of making vitamin B3 and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep. It can't be produced by our bodies, so we need to get it through our diet. From which foods, exactly? Turkey, of course, but also other meats, chocolate, bananas, mangoes, dairy products, eggs, chickpeas, peanuts, and a slew of other foods. Some of these foods, like cheddar cheese, have more tryptophan per gram than turkey. Tryptophan doesn't have much of an impact unless it's taken on an empty stomach and in an amount larger than what we're getting from our drumstick. So why does turkey get the rap as a one-way ticket to a nap?

The urge to snooze is more the fault of the average Thanksgiving meal and all the food and booze that go with it. Here are a few things that play into the nap factor:

Fats: That turkey skin is delicious, but fats take a lot of energy to digest, so the body redirects blood to the digestive system. Reduced blood flow in the rest of the body means reduced energy.

Alcohol: What Homer Simpson called the cause of—and solution to—all of life's problems is also a central nervous system depressant.

Overeating: Same deal as fats. It takes a lot of energy to digest a big feast (the average Thanksgiving meal contains 3000 calories and 229 grams of fat), so blood is sent to the digestive process system, leaving the brain a little tired.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
How Are Balloons Chosen for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade?
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The balloons for this year's Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade range from the classics like Charlie Brown to more modern characters who have debuted in the past few years, including The Elf On The Shelf. New to the parade this year are Olaf from Disney's Frozen and Chase from Paw Patrol. But how does the retail giant choose which characters will appear in the lineup?

Balloon characters are chosen in different ways. For example, in 2011, Macy’s requested B. Boy after parade organizers saw the Tim Burton retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. (The company had been adding a series of art balloons to the parade lineup since 2005, which it called the Blue Sky Gallery.) When it comes to commercial balloons, though, it appears to be all about the Benjamins.

First-time balloons cost at least $190,000—this covers admission into the parade and the cost of balloon construction. After the initial year, companies can expect to pay Macy’s about $90,000 to get a character into the parade lineup. If you consider that the balloons are out for only an hour or so, that’s about $1500 a minute.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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