In 30 seconds…
DHT is a sex hormone derived from testosterone. It helps with the development of typically male traits like body hair and a deep voice. Combined with a genetic tendency towards male pattern baldness, DHT in the hair follicles on your head can shrink the follicles and stop them producing healthy hairs.
Effective, scientifically proven treatments are available to reverse the effects of DHT and help you grow a thicker head of hair again. Even though two-thirds of all men will be affected by male pattern baldness during their lifetime, we know that doesn’t make it easier for you when it comes to saying goodbye to a full head of hair. Hair loss is a very personal experience.
The good news is: There are ways to treat the condition and reverse your hair loss, and one approach is to tackle a tricky little hormone called DHT.
What is DHT?
DHT stands for Dihydrotestosterone – no guessing why we shorten it! It’s an androgen, a sex hormone, derived from testosterone but much more powerful.
Testosterone and DHT are found in both men and women’s bodies. For men, they play a key role during puberty, helping to develop the physical features associated with adulthood, such as facial and body hair, increased muscle mass, and a deep voice. These hormones also have benefits as you age, helping you hold onto muscle strength and fertility over the years.
So you might be wondering at this point: If DHT actually helped hair grow earlier in my life, what’s it doing to make it fall out now?
How does DHT cause hair loss?
DHT can be converted from testosterone right inside your hair follicles (that’s the little “capsules” that each create a single hair), with the help of an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase (5-AR). When this happens, the hair follicles can shrink and stop producing strong, healthy hairs.
High DHT levels also affect your hair growth cycle. Each follicle produces a hair over a two to six year period, including a growth, transition, and resting phase. Too much DHT shortens the growth phase and lengthens the resting phase, making new hair growth slower. Hairs that do manage to grow end up thinner and more brittle than before.
If you’re already prone to male pattern baldness (MPB), then your hair follicles will be more sensitive to the effects of too much DHT. MPB is a condition that’s heavily influenced by your genetics. If your dad lost his hair in a particular way (whether that’s on top or receding from the front) you’ll probably follow his lead. However, you may have an advantage over your dad (or you could be nice and let him in on the secret) because there are ways to stop DHT and give your body a boost to produce new, healthy hair.
DHT Blockers: What are they and how do they work?
DHT blockers are chemicals that prevent DHT from binding to receptors in your hair follicles and reducing the follicles’ hair growth potential. Various products and natural remedies are claimed to have DHT blocking powers, but there’s only one treatment that has scientific evidence behind it.
Finasteride (also known by its brand names Proscar and Propecia) is a prescription tablet that’s taken once per day. The drug binds to the 5-AR proteins in your hair follicles, blocking DHT from forming there. If taken correctly, on a daily basis, Finasteride can lower the DHT levels in your scalp by up to 60%.
So how do we know it works? Well, a 2003 study found that 83% of men treated with Finasteride stopped losing hair, and a further 2012 study discovered that the drug caused improved hair growth in 87% of participants. Not bad, right?
However, it’s important to remember that the benefits of Finasteride can only be maintained with consistent, long-term use. After stopping treatment, the positive effects usually start to wear off after about six months and disappear after nine to 12 months. Great hair takes some commitment!
Important note: Finasteride is only suitable as a treatment for male pattern baldness and should never be used by women.
You may have already come across some natural or herbal remedies that are marketed as “DHT blockers”. These include pumpkin seed oil, caffeine, and pygeum bark. Tempting as it might be to think that hair loss can be reversed by the power of nature alone, there is little or no scientific evidence that these products really work.
Some remedies, such as pumpkin seeds, do indeed contain micronutrients that contribute to healthy hair (discussed below), but Finasteride is the only product currently available that is a true DHT blocker.
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Other effective treatments for hair loss
Another effective treatment for hair loss, which works in a different way to Finasteride, is Minoxidil. Also known by its brand name Regaine, Minoxidil is a topical medication that’s applied directly to the scalp twice a day.
Minoxidil works by increasing the blood flow to your scalp. This helps bring the hair follicles back to life and revitalises your hair growth. Research has demonstrated the Minoxidil works for more than six out of ten men, and results are usually seen within three to six months.
For a two-pronged approach that blocks DHT and revitalises your hair follicles, it’s possible to combine treatments and use both Finasteride and Minoxidil at the same time.
You can also aim to enrich your diet with foods that promote healthy hair growth. Key micronutrients to factor in are biotin (vitamin B7/vitamin H), zinc, and selenium.
Biotin is a B complex vitamin that helps your body turn food into energy it can use. In addition, it boosts your levels of keratin, a protein found in your hair, nails, and skin. Biotin can be taken as an oral supplement, or food sources of the vitamin include eggs, nuts, and wholegrains.
Zinc and selenium are both important minerals that contribute to healthy hair growth and body tissue repair. Zinc is found in oysters, beef, green leafy veg, pumpkin seeds, and lentils, while selenium is found in brazil nuts, meat, eggs, dairy, and cereals. Supplements are also available if you find your diet isn’t providing enough of these minerals.
Important note: Overconsumption of zinc and selenium has been shown to increase hair loss, so medical advice should be sought before taking a supplement.
DHT might be one of the main culprits responsible for hair loss but it can be beaten. If your genetics have made you prone to MPB, using Finasteride to block the effects of DHT can help you grow a new, healthy head of hair. You can also consider supporting Finasteride treatment with Minoxidil and a diet rich in hair-boosting micronutrients.
With effective treatment options to choose from, hair loss doesn’t have to be a fact of life.