As we get older and wiser, most of us also start noticing our hair beginning to thin — and it’s no coincidence. According to the National Library of Medicine, at any given time 50 million men and 30 million women in the United States are affected by hormonal hair loss, which often comes later in life.
If you’re experiencing hair loss, you’ve probably been trying to parse all of the literature about it, and you’ve likely stumbled across the acronym DHT (or the enthusiastic suggestion that you take DHT blockers). That’s because DHT is one of the most influential elements in hormonal hair loss. Keep reading to learn about what it does in the human body and how you can deal with the hair loss it causes.
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What Is DHT?
DHT stands for dihydrotestosterone. It’s one of a few different androgens (i.e. male steroid hormones) that the human body produces. Both men and women’s bodies produce androgens, as they are critical for a variety of human body functions, but men generally have more of them since they play a more critical role in their development.
DHT is integral for men’s sexual maturation and physical differentiation; in other words, it is the hormone that makes men physically different from women. In the body, DHT works by binding to androgen receptors, and unlike testosterone, it is much clingier. Once an androgen binds to the receptor, the receptor becomes activated, which is how DHT can have its effects. High amounts of progestin, one of the female hormones, androgen receptor from becoming activated.
How Is DHT Produced?
The human body naturally produces DHT out of testosterone. Testosterone circulates through the body until it reaches areas where 5a-reductase is produced. 5a-reductase is an enzyme that naturally occurs in certain human tissue, and it is considered a catalyst — this means it converts testosterone into DHT. After that, unlike testosterone, DHT actually tends to stay put in the specific tissues where it was first created, which are generally the male genitalia, but also the brain, liver, skin, and most relevant to us, the hair follicles.
DHT and Hair Loss
As we’ve established, DHT is very important for men, but for both men and women, it also brings on some undesired effects. Its concentration in the skin and hair follicles, in particular, can lead to two seemingly contradictory effects: the growth of body hair and the loss of hair on the head, which is also known as pattern baldness or androgenic alopecia.
Now that we understand how DHT ends up concentrated in the follicles, it’s time to really dive deep, and answer why DHT actually reduces hair growth. Once it has activated the androgen receptors in the hair follicles in the scalp, DHT actually shrinks them, and as a result it progressively shortens the hair growth cycle. This is why, over time, hair loss becomes worse and worse, so it is better to deal with it early on rather than to wait until it gets unbearably bad.
Related: How Much Hair Loss Is Normal?
How DHT Affects Women
DHT-induced hair loss in women is different from hair loss in men — men usually end up with a receding hairline and a bald patch at the crown, but women’s hair will become thin all over.
For women, hormonal hair loss usually comes with menopause, and it manifests as a loss of hair density (this can take a serious toll, especially considering that it usually shows up along with other unpleasant symptoms of menopause).
During menopause, it’s not that DHT necessarily increases in the body. What actually happens is that the body produces fewer female hormones like estrogen and progestin, and as a result, androgen receptors become more sensitive. This is why as many as two-thirds of postmenopaulsal women hair loss.
Women can also experience an increase in DHT if their body produces more testosterone because of a specific endocrine (i.e. hormonal) health condition like polycystic ovary syndrome or if they develop an androgen-secreting tumor. In this instance, hair loss in women can actually be a sign of more urgent underlying health issues.
How to Block DHT for Beautiful, Thicker Hair
If DHT is a cause of pattern hair loss, you’re probably wondering: How can I stop it in its tracks?
There are actually a few different treatments often used to try and suppress DHT. The principle behind almost all of them is not to directly address DHT, but to address 5a-reductase. Rather than eliminating DHT in the body, they stop the catalyst from turning more testosterone into DHT; the hope is that over time, the DHT levels in the body go down and pattern hair loss is reversed. These treatments are usually called either DHT-inhibitors or DHT-blockers.
The most common DHT-blocker on the market is called Finasteride, but it is a serious medication usually prescribed when DHT leads to serious issues like an enlarged prostate. It is sometimes recommended for treating hair loss, but it is not effective for postmenopausal women, not to mention that it can have serious side effects especially during pregnancy. Some scary side-effects that can influence all populations include sexual issues and depression.
However, there are also natural ingredients that can inhibit DHT without the serious side-effects of a prescription medication. First, there is saw palmetto, a small palm tree with a fruit that has remarkable effects. When consumed, saw palmetto acts as a DHT-inhibitor — and research has shown that it is able to increase hair growth caused by androgenic alopecia when consumed on a daily basis.
Amazingly, some DHT-inhibitors can also work when applied directly to the scalp! Red clover, especially in combination with oligopeptide-2, is one of those ingredients that are effective for reversing hair loss caused by DHT even when applied directly to the scalp. This is why it is one of the key ingredients in Vegamour’s GRO Hair Serum.
Pattern hair loss, like other physical changes, can be scary, but now that you understand the science behind it you can start dealing with it. Natural DHT blockers might be the solution you need to achieve hair wellness.