Hair loss

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What causes male pattern baldness and how to stop it

What causes male pattern baldness and how to stop it

We think of our hair as one of our defining physical characteristics. It’s part of our natural appearance that we can shape and style as we like. But as you get older or if you develop a condition, you may lose your hair through no fault of your own.

Losing your hair can be disappointing and traumatic. Any condition that alters your appearance can directly impact your confidence and the way you feel about yourself in general. But the good news is that you may be able to stop or reverse your hair loss depending on the cause.

Here, we’ll discuss the causes of hair loss and what you can do to slow it down.

Daniel Atkinson
Medically reviewed by
Daniel Atkinson, GP Clinical Lead
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Medically reviewed by
Dr Daniel Atkinson
GP Clinical Lead
on August 02, 2022.
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What causes male pattern baldness?

Your hair goes through different stages of growth: anagen, catagen, telogen, and exogen. Anagen is the growing stage, catagen is the transition stage, telogen is the resting stage, and exogen is the shedding stage. Most of your hair is in the growing stage at any given point in time, but up to 100 hairs fall from your head every day as a result of the shedding stage. Men who have daily hair shedding in excess of 100 hairs may be experiencing male pattern baldness or another form of hair loss.

There are a few different types of hair loss: male pattern hair loss (or baldness), female pattern hair loss, and several types of alopecia. Male pattern baldness only affects men and is caused by a combination of factors: heredity, age, and hormones. It usually presents with a receding hairline combined with hair loss at the crown of your head.

What causes a receding hairline?

Androgenetic alopecia, or male pattern baldness, is caused by genetics, hormones, and age. The hormones you produce during puberty combined with your genetic predisposition for baldness cause you to lose your hair as you age. This happens in a predictable fashion. Your hairline will begin to recede at the same time as you begin to lose hair from the crown of your head. The resulting pattern is what we’ve come to call male pattern baldness.

Nutrient deficiencies play an unclear role in hair loss. Studies have found a link between too much vitamin A or selenium and hair loss. There is some data that shows an association between hair loss and low vitamin D levels.

Also there may be a link between the lack of certain vitamins, mineral, essential fatty acids or proteins and hair loss. Although the exact mechanism for this to occur is not entirely understood.

A specific kind of testosterone, called dihydrotestosterone (DHT), directly contributes to male pattern hair loss. DHT is synthesized when testosterone is combined with an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase (5-AR). It’s main function in your body is to deepen your voice, increase body hair and muscle mass, and facilitate the growth and changes to the penis, scrotum, and testicles during puberty. It also reduces the size of hair follicles in the scalp, leading to male pattern hair loss.

There isn’t any research to suggest that either the frequency of hair washing or shampoo directly causes hair loss. Rather, certain chemicals in shampoo, such as parabens and sulfates, can dry out and damage your scalp and hair. This could lead to split ends and hair breakage. This risk is similar to the risk of hair breakage from hair brushing and styling.

There are a wide variety of medications that can cause hair loss. Most people are aware that chemotherapy often causes cancer patients to lose all of their hair. What you may not know is that a lot of other drugs can have a similar impact on your hair:

  • Antibiotics
  • Antidepressants
  • Mood stabilizers
  • Steroids

This list isn’t exhaustive. There are a lot more medications that cause you to suffer from hair loss. If you think your hair loss may be due to your current treatment plan, talk to your doctor. They may be able to switch your medication to prevent further hair loss.

How to prevent balding

You can prevent yourself from becoming completely bald by paying attention to your hair. If you notice any receding in your hairline or thinning throughout your hair, tell your doctor. They may recommend a change in your medications (if it’s medication that’s causing it).

Because male pattern baldness doesn’t adversely affect your physical health and is an aesthetic condition, a doctor will normally leave you to decide whether you want to pursue treatment for it or not. Hair loss doesn’t bother a lot of men, but it does others, so it’s an individual choice.

How to stop balding

Once you've established that you’re balding, you may be looking for the best way to stop hair loss. Your first step should be figuring out why you’re losing your hair. This will help you and your doctor choose an appropriate approach to treatment.

In some cases, a medication you’re taking can be causing your hair loss. Your doctor may suggest discontinuing it in favor of an alternative that may not cause hair loss. If there are no alternatives, such as chemotherapy or a medication that controls your blood pressure or cholesterol, you may need to continue taking the medication despite your hair loss.

Sometimes, there are no other factors to explain your hair loss other than your family history of baldness, aging, and the DHT hormone. People who fit this set of circumstances may benefit from a medication to prevent hair loss, like Propecia (finasteride), Avodart (dutasteride) or Regaine (minoxidil). These medications stop hair loss through two different mechanisms. Propecia (finasteride) and Avodart (dutasteride) reduce the production of DHT in your body, to stop your hair from falling out. Regaine (minoxidil) increases blood flow to your scalp to promote hair growth.

Does exercise stop hair loss?

There isn’t any known link between exercise and hair loss (or reduced hair loss). There is speculation that exercise can stop hair loss, but there are studies that suggest the opposite: that exercise can be a causal factor in hair loss, combined with other circumstances. One study found that people who suffer from hair loss tend to exercise more than people who don’t. This study posits that the amount of reactive oxygen species (ROS) produced during exercise may be the key to this association between hair loss and exercise. Either way, the results are inconclusive and warrant further study.

What’s the best diet to stop hair loss?

It’s unclear if diet alone can have any bearing on hair loss. There are studies that suggest that certain nutrients can stop or even reverse male pattern hair loss. One such study suggests that vitamin D can reduce hair loss, while another suggests that consuming too much vitamin A, vitamin E, and selenium may actually cause hair loss.

You could try eating foods rich in vitamin D or taking a supplement, but without definitive results it’s difficult to determine if this would be any more helpful than your regular diet.

I want to stop my hair loss: what’s the next step?

care-iconOnce you’ve identified the cause of your hair loss, you’ll want to talk to your clinician about the options available to you. There might be some lifestyle changes you can make that might help to stop your hair-loss, or perhaps you could switch to a different treatment if your medication is the culprit.

Treatment for hair-loss is an option too. If you feel like medication for hair growth could be a good option for you, take a look at the different choices available to you before making a decision. Based on your health needs and the advice of your clinician, you should be able to find the treatment that’s best for your life.

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This page was medically reviewed by Dr Daniel Atkinson, GP Clinical Lead on August 02, 2022. Next review due on August 01, 2024.

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