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Hair loss can be distressing, embarrassing and a downright nuisance. Most men will experience hair loss to some degree, so it’s not surprising it’s a hot topic. When you, your partner or friends start to go bald, it’s natural to wonder why, and what can be done about it.
There are numerous theories that are bandied about. Hair loss is caused by hair products. Hair loss can be cured by standing on your head. Bald men are more virile. Some of these theories have a basis in science; most of them are just a lot of hot air.
Here, Dr Tom Brett, Medical Director of LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor, addresses some of the main hair loss myths:
Hair loss comes from your mother’s side.
FALSE. Male pattern baldness, the most common cause of hair loss, is hereditary, but the gene can come from either your mother’s or father’s side. Your mother may not have hair loss herself (due to female hormonal protective effects), but her father or other male relatives may well have had hair loss.
More than 80% of men who experience hair loss have a history of it in their family.
Standing on your head can help hair loss.
FALSE. Some people think that standing on your head will slow down hair loss as it will increase the blood supply to the hair follicles. But hair loss has nothing to do with blood circulation!
Male pattern baldness happens when hair follicles become extra sensitive to a hormone called DHT, which is produced by the male hormone testosterone. DHT causes the follicles to slowly shrink away; this effect can become apparent any time after puberty. As the follicles become smaller, the hair growing out of them becomes thinner and weaker. Eventually, the follicles stop producing hair altogether.
Click here for more information on male pattern baldness.
Bald men are more virile.
FALSE. The link between testosterone and male pattern baldness has led to the myth that going bald is a sign of virility. But men with hair loss don’t have any more testosterone than other men. They simply have more sensitive hair follicles.
Stress causes hair loss.
TRUE. Stress can cause a type of hair loss called alopecia areata. It does not, however, cause male pattern baldness, the more common type of hair loss, as this is an inherited condition.
An accident, surgery, a frantic work life or marital difficulties can all cause enough stress to make your hair fall out, albeit in small clumps. Unlike with male pattern baldness, this hair will usually grow back again once the stressful period is over.
There is a link between hair loss and prostate cancer.
The jury is still out on this one.
DHT, the hormone responsible for male pattern baldness, is also responsible for the growth of the prostate. As such, it can lead to benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), in which the prostate enlarges, causing difficulties urinating.
However, having BPH does not increase your risk of getting prostate cancer. While the two conditions are not mutually exclusive, having an enlarged prostate is not usually a cause for alarm – in fact, prostate enlargement is a natural part of the ageing process.
Studies are yet to illustrate why it is that the hormones that underpin male hair loss could also lead to prostate cancer. Until they do, the best that balding men can do is make sure to attend regular check-ups with their doctor and, between the ages of 40 and 50, have a screening for prostate cancer.
Haircare products can cause hair loss.
FALSE. Gels, sprays and mousses won’t cause or worsen hair loss (unless you’re allergic to them), so feel free to pile on the products. Contrary to popular belief, wearing hats won’t affect your hair either.
It’s normal to start losing hair in your 30s
TRUE. Many men with male pattern baldness start to lose their hair in their 30s and this is perfectly normal. For some men hair loss can be obvious from their early 20s, while for others it doesn’t start till much later. Most men will have considerable hair loss by the age of 50.
This article was written by Dr Tom Brett, Medical Director of LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor. Dr Brett trained St Thomas’ Hospital Medical School in London, and went on to complete his post-graduate General Practitioner training in Australia. In 1998 he gained fellowship of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and was later awarded certificates in Sexual Health and HIV prescribing. In 2007 he returned to live and work in London, and now heads the team of doctors at LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor.