What is Dihydrotestosterone (DHT)?
Male pattern balding, also called androgenic alopecia, is one of the most common reasons that men lose hair as they get older.
Women can also experience this type of hair loss, but it’s much less common. About 30 million women in the United States have this type of hair loss compared to 50 million men.
Sex hormones in the body are believed to be the most significant underlying factor behind male pattern hair loss.
Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) is an androgen. An androgen is a sex hormone that contributes to the development of what are thought of as “male” sex characteristics, such as body hair. But it can also make you lose your hair faster and earlier.
There are treatments meant to slow the onset of male pattern baldness by specifically targeting DHT. Let’s discuss how DHT works, how DHT relates to your hair and to testosterone, and what you can do to stop, or at least delay, male pattern balding.
What does DHT do?
DHT is derived from testosterone. Testosterone is a hormone that’s present in both men and women. It and DHT are androgens, or hormones that contribute to male sex characteristics when you go through puberty. These traits include:
- a deep voice
- increased body hair and muscle mass
- growth of the penis, scrotum, and testicles as sperm production begins
- changes in how fat is stored around your body
As you get older, testosterone and DHT have many other benefits to your body, such as maintaining your overall muscle mass and promoting sexual health and fertility.
Men typically have more testosterone present in their bodies. About 10 percent of testosterone in all adults is converted to DHT with the help of an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase (5-AR).
Once it’s freely flowing through your bloodstream, DHT can then link to receptors on hair follicles in your scalp, causing them to shrink and become less capable of supporting a healthy head of hair.
And DHT’s potential to cause harm goes beyond your hair. Research has linked DHT, especially abnormally high levels of it, to:
- slow healing of skin after an injury
- enlarged prostate
- prostate cancer
- coronary heart disease
Having too little DHT
High levels of DHT can increase your risk for certain conditions, but having too little DHT can also cause problems in your sexual development as you go through puberty.
Low DHT may cause delays in the onset of puberty for all sexes. Otherwise, low DHT doesn’t appear to have much effect on women, but in men, low DHT may cause:
- late or incomplete development of sex organs, such as the penis or testes
- changes in body fat distribution, causing conditions such as gynecomastia
- increase in risk of developing aggressive prostate tumors
Why DHT affects people differently
Your proclivity to hair loss is genetic, meaning that it’s passed down in your family.
For example, if you’re male and your father experiences male pattern balding, it’s likely that you’ll show a similar balding pattern as you age. If you’re already inclined to male pattern baldness, the follicle-shrinking effect of DHT tends to be more pronounced.
The size and shape of your head may also contribute to how quickly DHT shrinks your follicles.