There are two ways to supplement with DHT inhibitors: topically and internally. Of course, each method of supplementation will have its own mechanisms behind its efficacy. However, it is first important to understand why blocking DHT works to prevent hair loss and promote hair growth in the first place.
- DHT: The Cause Of Male-Pattern Baldness?
- The Two Types of Natural DHT Blockers: Explained
- 5 Topical DHT Blockers
- 5 Internal DHT Blockers
- How to Use Topical and Internal DHT Blockers
- FDA-Approved Treatments: An Overview
- DHT Blocker Side Effects
- Important! Why You Must Know About DHT Sensitivity
- Frequently Asked Questions About DHT and DHT Blockers
NOTE: The majority of DHT blockers in this article have NOT been tested on humans. There is no clear evidence that these natural DHT blockers cause hair regrowth in humans, more studies are needed in this area. This is unlikely to help. This is not an FDA approved treatment. Do see a doctor before you proceed with treatment.
DHT: The Cause Of Male-Pattern Baldness?
Male-pattern baldness, or Androgenetic Alopecia (AGA), is a common condition accounting for 95 percent of hair loss seen in men.
It is commonly believed that the main culprit behind male-pattern balding is DHT (2). This stands for Dihydrotestosterone, and it is an androgen sex hormone produced from testosterone.
Essentially, testosterone, the sex hormone responsible for your “maleness”, combines with 5-alpha-reductase, an enzyme involved in steroid metabolism. This results in the production of DHT, a compound that can wreak havoc throughout your body, especially your scalp, if you have a predisposed sensitivity.
Once there, DHT connects to the androgen receptors at the base of the hair follicles. For those who are sensitive to DHT, this leads to miniaturization of the hair follicles and, eventually, hair thinning and loss.
The logical answer may be to block testosterone. Of course, that is a possibility. However, it will result in some less-than-pleasant side effects, including gynecomastia, decrease in strength, sexual dysfunction, and infertility (3, 4, 5). Essentially, blocking testosterone will lead to a decrease in the characteristics that make you male.
The next best option is to reduce DHT levels.
Below, you will find a list of dihydrotestosterone blockers. This is a bit of a misnomer, as some of the ingredients block DHT, while others inhibit the activities of 5-alpha-reductase, thereby preventing the production of DHT to begin with.
However, all of the listed ingredients can be a beneficial addition to your hair loss treatment routine.
The Two Types of Natural DHT Blockers: Explained
When it comes to blocking DHT or inhibiting 5-alpha-reductase, there are two ways to go about it. They each have their benefits and drawbacks as outlined below.
Internal DHT Blockers
If you have been researching hair loss for a while, it is very likely that the first thing to come to find when you hear “internal DHT blocker” is finasteride. It is a popular hair loss treatment drug, after all.
As mentioned above, finasteride actually works to inhibit 5-alpha-reductase. This blocks the production of DHT indirectly.
An internal DHT blocker is taken orally. This is usually done in the form of a pill or capsule. The active ingredient then enters the bloodstream and begins to interrupt the processes involved in DHT production and androgen receptor activity.
The levels of DHT within the body will decline which means that less DHT is available to attach to the androgen receptors at the hair follicles. This is good for the hair follicles, but do remember that internal DHT blockers are indiscriminate. This means they target the process of DHT production throughout the body and not only at the scalp.
The risk of side effects when using an internal DHT blocker will depend on the dosage, as well as other factors. There is no denying, however, that internal DHT blockers have higher risks than topical DHT blockers.
External (Topical) DHT Blockers
If you are looking for less risk of side effects, then consider external (topical) DHT blockers.
As the nomenclature suggests, external DHT blockers are applied topically to the area you want to treat. They are absorbed into the skin and enter the bloodstream in order to interfere with DHT activity at the hair follicle.
The benefit to this is less chance of systemic side effects. The flipside to that is topical DHT blockers tend to be less potent than oral blockers. A lower concentration is entering the bloodstream, so there is less of an impact. This can be a benefit for those who have suffered from DHT blocking side effects in the past, though.
5 Topical DHT Blockers
When you have a condition, it is common to treat the underlying cause in order to reduce symptoms and treat the condition effectively. For individuals with androgenetic alopecia, does it not make sense then to treat the condition at the source and block DHT present within the scalp before it is able to do damage?
That is the logic behind topical DHT blockers.
Topical All-Natural Blockers
Here is a look at five topical DHT blockers that you can start using today.
1: Saw Palmetto
This is a berry-producing plant native to the Americas, and one which is believed to inhibit the enzyme 5-alpha-reductase (6). This is the enzyme responsible for the conversion of testosterone to DHT and therefore acts as a preemptive DHT blocker.
Unlike the majority of the other substances that inhibit DHT on this list, saw palmetto works most effectively at reducing DHT present in the body and scalp. This was shown in a 2016 study performed by Opoku-Acheampong et. al., when saw palmetto was combined with either testosterone or DHT in Syrian hamster flank organs (7).
As shown by the above photo comparison, the saw palmetto combined with testosterone was better at reducing pigmentation of the flank organ (a sign of androgen activities) than the saw palmetto-DHT combination.
This is because saw palmetto works best by inhibiting 5-alpha-reductase as opposed to stopping the activities of DHT.
NOTE: Do keep in mind that this study was performed on hamsters. However, this treatment may still prove beneficial for humans, too.
2: Stinging Nettle
Stinging nettle is a plant indigenous to parts of North America, Europe, and Asia and it is well-known for its ‘stinging’ effects when touched. What you may not have known, however, is that stinging nettle extract is an excellent topical DHT blocker (8).
A 2011 research study that considered the effects of stinging nettle on BPH found that it decreased prostate size, a strong indicator of its 5-alpha-reductase inhibitory effects (9).
While this first study was done on rats, a previous study performed by Safarinejad studied stinging nettle’s effects on BPH in human patients (10). In fact, this was a large-scale study with 620 patients in total.
The study was performed over a period of six months, and the results were collected using various models and techniques. These included:
- International Prostate Symptom Score (IPSS);
- Maximum urinary flow rate (Qmax);
- Postvoid Residual Urine Volume (PVR);
- Serum Pros-tatic-Specific Antigen (PSA);
- Testosterone levels; and
- Prostate size
After six months, both the IPSS and Qmax decreased significantly in the stinging nettle group. For example, the IPSS decreased from 19.8 down to 11.8. In the placebo group, it only decreased from 19.2 to 17.7.
Stinging nettle has been shown to inhibit 5AR’s activities, which is great for men and women with AGA.
3: Reishi Mushroom
As a newly-discovered DHT blocker, reishi mushroom is still gaining traction in the world of hair loss treatment and hair growth. That does not mean it is any less effective at treating the underlying cause of AGA, though, and is an excellent addition to your topical hair care routine.
In a 2005 study, the DHT-blocking abilities of 19 different mushrooms were tested (11). While the majority of the tested mushrooms did inhibit the activity of 5-alpha-reductase, Ganoderma lucidum (reishi) was the clear winner:
It actually had an inhibitory percentage of over 70 percent, which was significantly better than the other mushrooms in the study.
By inhibiting 5AR’s activities, reishi is comparable to finasteride in that both inhibit 5AR and, as a result, reduces the amount of DHT that attaches to the hair follicles.
4: Rosemary Oil and Extract
On the topic of DHT blocking, specifically, topical application of rosemary extract has been proven to inhibit 5-alpha-reductase. As a result, this blocks DHT from connecting to the scalp’s androgen receptors and prevents hair loss and hair follicle miniaturization.
According to a 2013 study, topical applications of 200 mg/mL and 500 mg/mL inhibited the conversion of 5-alpha-reductase by 82.4 percent and 94.6 percent, respectively (15). That is better than finasteride’s inhibition percentage (81.9 percent) in the same study.
5: Ecklonia Cava
An alga found off the coasts of Japan and Korea, E. Cava is a promising new lead when it comes to the cessation of hair loss and the growth of new hair.
While E. Cava may make a delicious addition to your soups, its topical use has been proven to inhibit 5-alpha-reductase and, therefore, DHT (18). When applied as a whole, E. Cava was shown to inhibit 5-alpha-reductase up to 61.5 percent. Even better, though, was the inhibition results of the polyphenol extract dieckol:
Dieckol is found in abundance within the alga. The highest concentration tested (100 mg/mL) actually proved to be just as effective as finasteride:
This means that E. Cava and its extracts are a good option to consider if you are looking to block DHT and even contribute to the proliferation of new dermal papilla cells (19).
5 Internal DHT Blockers
While topically reducing DHT certainly has its place in the treatment of hair loss and promotion of hair growth, internal DHT inhibition can be more beneficial than topical blockers in the long term.
Internal All-Natural Blockers
Here is a look at five internal DHT blockers that you can start using today.
1: Green Tea
Green tea is commonly touted as a cure-all, but did you know that green tea extract can actually be used to block DHT and treat the source of male-pattern baldness?
Green tea is a source of epigallocatechins (EGCG) (20). These are catechins, a type of plant phenol with a variety of beneficial properties. One such property of epigallocatechins is its proven ability to inhibit the activity of 5-alpha-reducatase (21).
To reap the benefits of green tea supplementation, you could of course increase your tea intake or add in a green tea supplement.
Two studies were performed on animals, both showing the benefits associated with flaxseed supplementation.
The first study, performed in 2013, measured the effects of various plant-based lignans on DHT (23). These plants included flaxseed, sesame, safflower, and soy, and were administered orally either in powdered form or in a petroleum extract.
The study was performed on castrated male rats, with a focus on prostate weight (as lowered weight indicates less androgenic activity).
Flax (both the powdered and ethanol extract) proved to decrease prostate weight, as well as lower testosterone levels. These are both strong indicators of 5-alpha-reductase inhibition.
The second study, performed in 2014, looked specifically at flaxseed’s hair growth benefits (24).
To quickly summarize, 16 rabbits were split into groups of two. The first group received regular rabbit feed (control), while the second group received a feed infused with crushed flax (test).
Over a period of three months, a section on the rabbits’ backs was shaved once per month. Measurements were taken each time, and these were the results:
As shown above, the group that received flaxseed supplementation (LSI) saw improved length, width, and weight of the hair.
Scientists could not exactly pinpoint the reason for such results. However, it may be safe to say that DHT blocking (as shown above in the first study) is one of the main contributors.
One of the easiest ways to work flaxseeds into your routine is by adding it (milled or powdered) to your smoothies. This adds a nice boost of fiber, as well as adds a slightly nutty depth. You can also sprinkle it on your salads, add to stir frys, and even make your own flaxseed dressing with a bit of honey and lemon!
3: Sesame Seeds
In the 2013 study on flaxseed mentioned above, sesame seeds were another plant-based lignan studied (27). In fact, the ethanol extract of sesame seeds was shown to be incredibly effective at reducing prostate weight and testosterone levels in the tested rats.
And, similar to flax, sesame seeds are very easy to incorporate into your diet. Mix a few drops of sesame oil into your smoothies, soups, and salads. Or, use it in place of canola or olive oil while cooking. Add a few sesame seeds to your favorite dishes, including chicken, fish, and pork for a slightly nutty flavor.
There are plenty of ways to add this health supplement to your daily diet. Take a look at some of my favorite hair loss supplements here.
Pygeum is a bark from the Pygeum Africanum tree, believed to significantly relieve the symptoms of men who suffer from Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH) (31).
BPH is an enlargement of the prostate and can lead to obstructive and irritative lower urinary tract symptoms (32).
DHT is a well-known aggravator of BPH, meaning that its inhibition contributes to a shrinking of the enlarged prostate and a reduction in the painful and irritating symptoms associated with the condition (33).
This was shown in a 1998 review study, which considered the role that pygeum bark played in the reduction of BPH symptoms (34).
As proven, men treated with pygeum bark were twice as likely as the placebo group to report symptom and improvement. In addition, nocturnal urination was reduced by 19 percent, residual urine volume (urine remaining in the bladder) was reduced by 24 percent, and peak urine flow was increased by 23 percent.
To supplement with pygeum, you can add a high-quality supplement to your day. A dosage of 100mg per day is a typical recommendation (35).
5: Pumpkin Seed Oil
Of course, pumpkin seed oil can be applied topically. This provides gentle cleansing and is an excellent way to maintain a healthy scalp.
However, for those looking to treat male-pattern baldness, pumpkin seed oil is most effective when ingested. Why? Pumpkin seed oil is believed to inhibit the activity of 5-alpha-reductase. When done internally, this is the most effective method for inhibition.
How effective is this method?
In 2014, scientists in Korea asked this very question (38). To answer their question, they recruited 76 male subjects with mild to moderate AGA. Half received a supplement containing PSO (400 mg per day) while the other half received a placebo capsule.
At the end of the 24-week study, 44.1 percent of the men in the supplement group saw a mild-moderate improvement in hair growth. This same improvement was seen in only 7.7 percent of the placebo group.
And here is the visual evidence that supplements containing PSO can be effective DHT blockers:
One thing to point out is that PSO was not the only ingredient within the supplement. However, it very likely did contribute to the hair growth effects as shown above. Just consider all of the benefits of PSO. These include anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic (39, 40).
Pumpkin seeds are a great snack by themselves. You can eat them by the handful, or toss them onto salads, into soups, and even blended into smoothies and juices.
How to Use Topical and Internal DHT Blockers
If you would like to add topical or internal DHT blockers to your hair care routine, there are a few options for doing so. The most common way to use DHT blockers is topically. This includes in shampoos and solutions, but sometimes even directly.
There are many products already on the market with DHT-blocking ingredients. These include our very own line – Hairguard.
Such products can have positive effects on the hair follicles, and they are less likely to produce side effects as with internal blockers.
But there are also ways to add internal blockers to your routine if you so wish. Perhaps the easiest way is with supplements.
Over-the-counter supplements will often contain the recommended daily dose (or close to it) of a variety of vitamins and nutrients. And some of these can even be DHT blockers, such as those containing green tea, pumpkin seed oil, and flaxseed.
You can also add many of the internal ingredients mentioned above to your smoothies, juices, and other recipes.
FDA-Approved Treatments: An Overview
There has been mention of an FDA-approved DHT blocker throughout this article. It is called finasteride, and it is a common hair loss treatment method prescribed by doctors worldwide.
Finasteride works by inhibiting the activities of 5AR which indirectly reduces the concentration of DHT in the body.
Finasteride is not the only FDA-approved treatment, though. There is also minoxidil, a topical solution believed to work by stimulating blood flow to the scalp.
DHT Blocker Side Effects
Before you move ahead with any of the DHT blockers on the list, it is important to consider the potential negative effects of their use.
There is a potential for side effects when you use a DHT blocker. The risk increases with internal DHT blockers, though it is possible to experience them with topical blockers, too.
When you are suffering from hair loss, it is easy to see DHT as the enemy. DHT does play some beneficial roles in the body, though.
DHT is an androgen sex steroid that plays a major role in male sexual development. It assists in the development of secondary sexual characteristics, such as body hair, facial hair, and pubic hair. The use of DHT blockers has been shown to lower libido and decrease sexual function. This suggests that DHT plays a major role in many things that make a man feel, well, manly.
Here is a closer look at the potential side effects associated with DHT blockers. They include:
- Loss of libido;
- Inability to get an erection;
- Inability to maintain an erection;
- Inability to ejaculate;
- Loss of ejaculatory volume;
- Lowered sperm count.
In some cases, the use of DHT blockers can even cause enlarged breast tissue, testicular pain, and a rash.
This list of side effects is not meant to scare you away. It should lead you to question your commitment to hair loss treatment, though, as well as help you to consider alternative options.
If you choose to go ahead, then consider a low-dose internal DHT blocker or a topical DHT blocker. You should also consult with your doctor prior to starting the use of a DHT blocker.
Do keep in mind that if you stop using a DHT blocker, you will likely experience increased hair shedding and hairline recession. This is because the DHT blocker doesn’t treat the underlying issue.
Important! Why You Must Know About DHT Sensitivity
You have now learnt about the most powerful natural DHT blockers in the world, but this is only a small part of the story because high DHT levels are not the sole cause of hair loss. In fact, there is something that is much more important than blocking DHT, and that is DHT sensitivity.
It is not the levels of DHT at the scalp that cause problems, but instead the sensitivity of the hair follicles. The location of this sensitivity is linked to chronic scalp tension.
Mechanical Tension of the Scalp
Just as with the skin, there are multiple layers of the scalp that play different roles. From outermost to innermost, these layers are: skin, subcutaneous, galea, subgalea, and pericranium.
The galea is a fibrous, connective tissue that covers the entirety of the scalp from just above the eyebrows (the frontalis muscle) to behind the ears (the occipitalis muscle) (48). This tissue may actually be responsible for the progression of pattern balding (49).
The tension theory states that activation of the Hic-5 protein, an androgen receptor co-activator that improves the function of a cell’s androgen receptors, may be triggered by mechanical tension of the galea.
But why would activation of Hic-5 mean hair loss? Because as an androgen receptor co-activator, this protein has been shown to induce androgen sensitivity in the hair follicles (50).
So the solution, then, is to reduce scalp tension.
By reducing tension, you can reduce your need for DHT blockers such as those mentioned above.
Frequently Asked Questions About DHT and DHT Blockers
Here are some quick answers to the most asked questions about DHT and DHT blockers.
What is DHT?
DHT, dihydrotestosterone, is an androgen sex steroid and hormone. The hormone is a by-product, or derivative, of testosterone. It has many functions in the human body (both males and females), including sexual development, muscle growth, and even as an anti-inflammatory.
The androgen works by connecting to androgen receptors found in many locations throughout the body, including the prostate gland, skin, hair follicles, liver, and brain.
How Can I Tell If I’m Sensitive to DHT?
Are you unsure whether the cause of your hair loss is male-pattern baldness? This is a common problem among men (and women) who are suffering from hair shedding, hairline recession, and hair loss.
The easiest way for men to determine the true cause of their hair loss is to examine the pattern.
Men with androgenetic alopecia will experience a tell-tale pattern of balding. It will first become noticeable at the temples and hairline as the hairline recedes. The eventual pattern will form an M-shape which will only deepen with time.
It can be more difficult for women to determine if DHT sensitivity is the cause of their hair loss, as it can often masquerade as diffuse thinning. This means that women may initially notice a general thinning of the hair over their entire scalp, though there may be a greater loss at the crown.
If you are unsure of the cause of your hair loss, or if you would like professional confirmation, then you should visit a dermatologist. A dermatologist can examine your scalp and hairs under a microscope. This will shed light on the true cause which you can then treat appropriately.
Why Am I Sensitive to DHT?
For many years, it was thought that people with pattern baldness had an excess of DHT. This is why drugs like finasteride became so popular.
The truth is that men and women with androgenetic alopecia do not necessarily have higher levels of DHT in their body. They will likely have a higher concentration of DHT at the scalp (which can be explained by the Scalp Tension Theory of Hair Loss mentioned above). The true issue, though, is follicular sensitivity to the androgen hormone.
So, why are some individuals sensitive to DHT while others aren’t? The same question can be asked of other sensitivities. The answer? We don’t fully know.
If you subscribe to the Scalp Tension Theory of Hair Loss, this sensitivity may be explained by chronic scalp tension. If you subscribe to the DHT Theory of Hair Loss, then the answer may be a genetic predisposition. Or, it could be a combination of the two.
No matter why you are sensitive to DHT, the one thing that is known is that the sensitivity must be addressed if you wish to stop further hair loss.
Why Can’t I Block DHT Entirely?
If we know that DHT plays such a significant role in pattern hair loss, why do we not block it entirely?
As an androgen hormone with many roles, it would be detrimental to block DHT within the body entirely. Doing so would have many immediate side effects, and there is no telling the extent of side effects from long-term blocking of the hormone.
The fact is, DHT is not all bad. You do not want to block DHT throughout the body, but instead, just reduce its presence at the hair follicles.
You can do so with some of the natural DHT blockers above, with topical finasteride (in development), or with scalp tension relief. These methods will work to reduce DHT at the follicle without interrupting its important roles throughout the rest of the body.
Is it Possible to Remove DHT Instead of Blocking It?
With the side effects associated with DHT blockers, it is not uncommon to want to avoid blocking it altogether. One way that many people have dealt with DHT sensitivity at the scalp is to remove DHT once it is present.
This approach to hair loss treatment is more reactive than proactive, but many people have had success with it especially when using other methods (like scalp massage, or minoxidil).
There are specialty shampoos on the market that claim to remove DHT from the scalp, though they really just block it externally. One way to truly remove DHT from the scalp is with an epidermal scrub using ingredients like hyaluronic acid, salt, and charcoal.
There is no doubt that sensitivity to DHT plays a role in pattern hair loss. As such, by blocking (or minimizing the presence of) DHT you may be able to stop hair loss and even promote growth.
However, this will only treat the problem temporarily. You must find out the underlying cause of your hair loss, and then target it directly if you wish to see long-term results.