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What does DHT do to hair? What causes DHT to increase? What happens if DHT is high? How can I reduce DHT naturally? These are all common questions about DHT, and we explore the answers below.
What Is DHT?
DHT stands for dihydrotestosterone, which is an androgen. Androgens are sex hormones that lead to the development of what we associate as male characteristics like body hair. These can also, however, make you lose your hair earlier and faster. Male pattern balding is known as androgenic alopecia, the most common reason men lose their hair as they age.
Women can also experience this form of hair loss less commonly.
DHT comes from testosterone. Androgens like testosterone are associated with increased body hair and muscle mass, changes in how fat is stored around the body, a deep voice, and the growth of the penis, scrotum, and testicles.
When you get older, testosterone and DHT have benefits. For example, they’re essential for male sexual health and fertility.
Men usually have more testosterone than women, and about 10% of testosterone in all adults converts to DHT.
DHT flows in your blood and can link to hair follicle receptors.
High levels of DHT can be problematic, but so can low levels. Suppose you have levels of DHT that are too low during puberty as a male. In that case, it could lead to incomplete or late development of sex organs, and changes in the distribution of your body fat, leading to conditions like gynecomastia.
What Does DHT Do to Hair?
The hair found all over your body grows from follicles and structures under the skin. Your follicles contain each strand of your hair. The hair in a follicle goes through a cycle of growth lasting anywhere from two to six years. When you cut your hair, the same hair grows from the follicle.
When your hair ends this cycle, it enters a resting phase, then falls out a few months later. The follicle will produce new hair, starting the process over.
High levels of androgens, including DHT, can shrink hair follicles and shorten your hair’s natural cycle. That can make your hair look thinner and more brittle as it grows out and fall out faster.
DHT can cause it to take longer for new hairs to replace the ones that fall out.
People can be more susceptible to the DHT effects on hair based on variations in the androgen receptor gene. An androgen receptor is a protein that lets hormones, including testosterone and DHT, bind to them, and the binding leads to normal hormone processes, including hair growth.
If you, however, have a variation in your androgen receptor gene, it can increase receptivity in your follicles, making you more likely to have male pattern hair loss.
Hormones are the most commonly seen cause of hair loss for men and women, and DHT is responsible for this hormonal hair loss in both men and women. If you are affected by DHT as a woman, it’s called androgenic alopecia or female-pattern hair loss.
In women, rather than the horseshoe pattern that develops or the receding hairline common in men, there is usually diffuse thinning across the entire scalp. You probably won’t get a receding hairline, to put in other words, but your hair can become noticeably thinner throughout.
Menopause can trigger hormonal hair loss in women because it affects hormone production. During menopause, your sensitivity to male hormones, including DHT, can increase. If you’re already genetically sensitive to DHT, it can affect your hairline and your hair thickness during menopause.
PCOS Hair Loss
PCOS is a hormone disorder that can lead to hirsutism, which means you have excess facial and body hair as a woman, and then at the same time, you may experience female pattern hair loss.
PCOS causes extra androgen production, which can lead to thinning of your head hair, especially near the front of your scalp.
What Causes DHT to Increase and What Happens If DHT Is High?
Anytime someone has excess testosterone production, it can lead to an increase in DHT. As mentioned, if a man is experiencing male pattern baldness, it may be due to a genetic factor that increases the receptors for DHT in their scalp.
For women, causes of elevated DHT and testosterone include PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), an androgen hormone imbalance, or congenital adrenal hyperplasia.
Symptoms of high DHT in women, in addition to thinning hair or balding, can include:
- Increased muscle mass
- Excess facial hair
- Irregular menstrual cycle
- Low libido
- Deep voice
- Changes in mood
If a man has too much DHT, they may not notice many changes beyond the hair loss.
How Can I Reduce DHT Naturally?
If you want to reduce DHT naturally, some options are available. There are certain natural ingredients and also combination supplements available.
Some of the individual ingredients that can help reduce DHT naturally include:
- Saw palmetto
- Stinging nettle
- Pumpkin seeds
- Green tea
- Pygeum bark
- Grapefruit seeds
Combination supplements that can help naturally block DHT or lower DHT levels that are top-rated include:
- Advanced Trichology Store DHT Blocker Hair Growth Supplement
- S Raw Science DHT Blocker with Biotin
- Havasu Nutrition Saw Palmetto for Women Plus Biotin DHT Blocker
Saw Palmetto for Hair Loss
Saw palmetto is one ingredient you’ll see talked about most consistently to help with hair loss.
There is research that indicates saw palmetto may block 5-alpha-reductase. That’s an enzyme responsible for the conversion of testosterone to DHT. In one study, there was promising evidence that palmetto could treat an enlarged prostate, but researchers believe it could also slow or stop hair loss. The elements of saw palmetto that block the enzyme appear to work in a way similar to synthetic ingredients in prescription medicines for hair loss, but research is still somewhat limited.
Saw palmetto is generally considered safe, although it can thin your blood, and interactions may occur with other medications you’re taking.
It appears that saw palmetto could work similarly to finasteride, which is used for treating hair loss.
As mentioned, PCOS is one of the reasons for DHT-related hair loss in women, and saw palmetto has also shown some promising benefits for this condition. Saw palmetto may help inhibit the conversion of testosterone to DHT, which can reduce PCOS symptoms like facial hair growth, menstrual irregularities, and acne.
Saw palmetto may also regulate estrogen levels in women with estrogen dominance, and it’s been studied as a treatment for pelvic pain.
Saw palmetto overall can both reduce androgens and balance hormones, which is why it could be something to consider if you’re looking for a natural DHT blocker.
Recommended brands of saw palmetto include:
Stinging Nettle for Hair Loss
Another natural supplement that can help block DHT and reduce hair loss is stinging nettle. Stinging nettle root suppresses 5-alpha reductase, which can help prevent the conversion of testosterone to DHT.
Stinging nettle also contains beta-sitosterol, which helps release something called vascular endothelial growth factor or VEGF, which stimulates improved blood supply that can help improve hair growth.
Stinging nettle prevents the release of IL-1-alpha cytokines in hair follicles, which can help promote the anagen phase of the hair growth cycle, promoting hair regrowth. You can use stinging nettle as a tea, supplement, or hair rinse.
My recommended types of stinging nettle include:
Key Takeaways—What Does DHT Do to Hair?
To sum up, what does DHT do to hair? This byproduct of testosterone can lead to male pattern baldness and cause hormonal-related hair loss in women. When DHT levels are too high, hair follicles can shrink. The result is brittle and thin hair that’s more likely to fall out, causing thinning. DHT-related hair loss, also called androgenic alopecia, affects around 30 million women as well as 50 million men in the U.S.
Women with PCOS or going through menopause are especially likely to experience hair loss because of high DHT levels because their hormones aren’t balanced.
Natural supplements can help block DHT, and two of the most potentially effective options are saw palmetto and stinging nettle.
Kinter, Kevin J and Anekar, Aabha, A. “Biochemistry, Dihydrotestosterone.” NIH National Library of Medicine, March 9, 2022. Accessed January 5, 2023.
Evron, Evyatar, et al. “Natural Hair Supplement: Friend or Foe? Saw Palmetto, a Systematic Review in Alopecia.” NIH National Library of Medicine, November 2020. Accessed January 5, 2023.
Krishnan, Abhaya, et al. “Effect of DHT-Induced Hyperandrogenism on the Pro-Inflammatory Cytokines in a Rat Model of Polycystic Ovary Morphology.” NIH National Library of Medicine, March 2020. Accessed January 5, 2023.
Dhariwala, Maria Yusuf, et al. “An Overview of Herbal Alternatives in Androgenetic Alopecia.” NIH National Library of Medicine, August 2019. Accessed January 5, 2023.