For many men, hair loss is an inevitable but challenging part of getting older. The most common type of hair loss is male pattern balding, which is also known as androgenic alopecia.
While there has been extensive discussion and debate about alleged cures for hair loss (including pills, lotions, and hair transplant surgery), not many people know about the science behind hair loss. In this article, we will outline the medical causes behind male pattern balding, focusing on how dihydrotestosterone (DHT) impacts hair loss.
What is DHT?
Men’s bodies naturally produce androgen hormones, which create male sex characteristics such as a deep voice and increased muscle mass. DHT and testosterone are two examples of these androgens.
Of all testosterone in a man’s body, about 10% of it is converted into DHT using an enzyme called 5-alpha-reductase (5-AR). Following that process, DHT is then released into the bloodstream. Sometimes, there is an excess of DHT in the body, which can not only lead to hair loss but also coronary heart disease and prostate cancer.
What role does DHT play in hair loss?
In the bloodstream, DHT and other androgens (like testosterone) attach themselves to receptors on hair follicles. However, DHT binds to these receptors five times more than testosterone does.
When this happens, DHT reduces the size of the follicles and shortens the growth cycle of hair that originates from these follicles. Then, the follicles are unable to create enough healthy hair, so hair may appear thin and take longer to regrow.
When there are higher amounts of 5-AR in the body, more testosterone will be converted to DHT (which is considerably more potent than testosterone). As a result, more DHT in the bloodstream will equate to increased hair loss.
DHT can impact people in a variety of ways, but many men experience the adverse effects of this androgen. In fact, about half of men in the United States will have some form of DHT-caused hair loss by the time they turn 50.
How can this information be used to prevent or reverse hair loss?
Limiting the amount of DHT has proven to be effective in reducing male pattern balding. One of the most common treatments is the oral medication finasteride, which prevents 5-AR from converting testosterone into DHT. In turn, this increases the amount of testosterone in the body.
Researchers have found finasteride to be useful for hair regeneration. In one Japanese study, 87% of participants reported seeing great, moderate, or slight increases in hair growth from taking 1mg of finasteride per day.
Currently, in the United States, finasteride is available with a doctor’s prescription and sold under the brand names Propecia and Proscar. It is important to remember that this medication will only stimulate hair growth as long as an individual takes it. In other words, once a person stops taking finasteride, hair growth will cease.
Although hair loss is not considered a serious medical condition or disease, it can cause severe self-esteem and confidence issues for the men (and women) who experience it. As such, it is vital to understand the science behind hair loss and the available methods for treating it.
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