At the beginning of each year, millions of men and women worldwide begin to re-evaluate their bad habits and work to improve their lives. Amongst these New Year’s resolutions – exercising, dieting, and getting in shape are some of the most popular. But can regular exercise and weight lifting cause or accelerate hair loss? What about taking dietary supplements or mixing whey protein powder with milk, juice or water?
Hair Loss: It’s in the Genes
The most common cause of hair loss and baldness is genetics, carried out by the hormone DHT (dihydrotestosterone). DHT is produced when testosterone (the male androgen hormone) joins with 5-alpha-reductase enzymes. Men and women can both carry the baldness genes but is more commonly visible in men due to elevated quantities of DHT in the male body. The question is, does exercise influence this process and if so, how?
Exercise, Testosterone and Genetic Baldness
Because exercise can temporarily increase the amount of testosterone in the body, the concern resides in whether or not the additional testosterone will convert to DHT in such a brief period of time. Furthermore, one has to ask if increased DHT levels can cause or accelerate genetic balding, technically known as androgenic alopecia.
The Role of DHT in Genetic Hair Loss
While a person’s genetic makeup is the ultimate reason why men and women experience pattern baldness, DHT is responsible for carrying out the follicular demolition work. Consider a construction business as a metaphor. Management of a construction firm (similar to genetics) creates and supervises a job to be performed. Its employees (similar to DHT) then carry out the responsibilities required by management. Just as a construction company can’t perform their duties without blue collar workers; neither can genetics carry out the destruction of hair follicles without DHT. Thus, the quantity of DHT along with follicular vulnerability will ultimately impact the quantity and speed of the work performed.
Propecia (finasteride) hair loss treatment can potentially slow down, stop or even reverse the effects of genetic baldness because it can prevent the conversion of testosterone to DHT in the body. The balding process comes to a screeching halt or at the very least, is often slowed because there’s simply not enough DHT to carry out the demolition work, even though the follicles are still genetically vulnerable. Conversely, increased levels of DHT have the ability of carrying out follicular devastation more quickly and efficiently, accelerating hair loss. This is why women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or PCOS (which increases DHT levels in the body) are more likely to experience thinning hair than women who don’t suffer from PCOS.
Some believe that those with the baldness gene(s) would eventually experience total hair loss in time, that is, if people lived for hundreds or thousands of years. Thus genetic hair loss may be a combination of genetics, DHT, and the amount of time necessary to complete the job. If this is true, the varying amounts of DHT in each person and hair follicle resistance may explain the varying degrees of balding (Norwood and Ludwig classifications) throughout a single person’s lifetime.
Can Exercise and Weight Lifting Cause or Accelerate Hair Loss?
While working out can temporarily increase the amount of testosterone in the body, nothing seems to suggest that the quantity and short length of time testosterone levels are elevated can produce an increased amount of DHT. Thus, there’s no evidence to suggest exercise, weight lifting, or consuming whey protein can cause or accelerate hair loss.
In fact, evidence demonstrates that exercise is a great way to look and feel younger longer. Thus, anyone with a New Year’s resolution of getting in shape shouldn’t hesitate to get started immediately without the fear of losing their hair.