What Does DHT Have To Do With Hair Loss?

A Look At One of the Main Causes of Male-Pattern Baldness

Credit: Michael Bonkosky / Unsplash

It’s not just your imagination — male-pattern baldness is very common. According to the Canadian Dermatology Association, androgenetic alopecia (the fancy term for male-pattern baldness) affects up to 50 percent of all men, and can start as early as your teen years. Although there are usually a variety of factors that come into play when trying to understand the causes of this type of hair loss, research has shown that a hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT) is partly to blame. 

What is DHT?

Dihydrotestosterone plays an important role in the development of what are considered typically male characteristics. Things like a deeper voice, body hair, and increased muscle mass are all impacted by the body converting regular old testosterone into dihydrotestosterone. Although around 10% of testosterone produced by the male body is converted to DHT each day, it’s believed that body’s sensitivity to this hormone is a major contributor to male-pattern baldness

Why Does DHT Cause Hair Loss?

The exact causes of hair loss by way of androgenetic alopecia are still being discovered and understood. But researchers think that DHT plays a role in shortening the part of the hair growth cycle by miniaturizing hair follicles. Eventually, the growing phase of the cycle is so short that new hairs can’t pass through the surface of the scalp, and the ones that do pass through fall out easier. 

Can You Slow Down or Block DHT? 

The good news is that there are products and medications that can help fight against the development of DHT which are mostly safe and effective. Some of these products come in the form of shampoos or sprays. They often work to keep DHT away from the hair follicles on your head, and are available for purchase online or from pharmacies without a prescription. But there are also prescription medications that go further than simply keeping DHT away from the hair on your scalp. 

Finasteride, usually available in a once-daily tablet, has been used by doctors and patients in the fight against hair loss for decades. Unlike DHT-blocking shampoos, finasteride actually helps stop testosterone from converting to DHT in the first place. One study looked to measure finasteride’s effectiveness in slowing down hair loss and even growing new hairs in more than 1500 men between the ages of 18 and 41. 

When compared to the placebo group, those who were given 1mg of finasteride each day over a two year period saw an increase in their hair count, and saw overall improvement in scalp hair. Converversely, the placebo group continued to see progressive hair loss.

What Are The Risks?

In recent years, instances of side effects experienced by men who took finasteride have caused health authorities to take note. Both the British Columbia Health Authority and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have pointed to sexual-related side effects like erectile dysfunction, decreased libido and decreased semen discharge during orgasm. 

What’s more, a 2010 review of academic studies that featured nearly 4000 men found that although finasteride did produce some positive effects on subjective and objective hair growth, it also increased the risk of sexual dysfunction. 

With that said, the FDA acknowledged that only a small percentage of men experienced these effects. Just 3.8% of men who participated in clinical trials reported such side effects, while 2.1% of men in those trials who received the placebo also reported the same side effects. And for the most part, side effects stopped when the drug was no longer being taken. 

Where Can You Find Out More?

Male-pattern baldness can seem like a mountain of a challenge to overcome. Even with the information and knowledge we’ve gained regarding DHT’s role in hair loss, and treatments we’ve developed to combat it, hair loss is a complex condition. That’s why you should take action and find out more about your particular type of hair loss and what you can do about it. 

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