It’s well known that dihydrotestosterone (DHT) is the hormone that is mostly responsible for male pattern baldness.
Luckily, there is quite a lot you can do to lower your DHT levels, but it’s probably not what you expect.
I’ve already written a huge guide about how to reduce DHT levels in your scalp so I recommend reading that, but I will summarize the points here as well. Since the scalp is where hair loss takes places, it makes sense to localize your efforts around this area.
But in this guide, I will focus on reducing levels on a systematic scale. Now, let’s jump in!
Why Would You Want to Reduce DHT Anyway?
DHT is an androgen hormone that’s a product of testosterone, and it’s converted by the enzyme known as 5-alpha-reductase (1). Of course, we don’t want to block DHT and lower our testosterone levels as a result, so a more effective approach is to inhibit (slow down) the action of the enzyme.
An important point to understand is that men who suffer from male pattern baldness don’t have particularly high levels of DHT. That’s not the problem.
So although lowering DHT will help, there are more effective ways to stop hair loss by reducing the sensitivity of the hair follicle to the androgen.
How to Reduce DHT Sensitivity
The methods outlined below aren’t guaranteed to reduce your genetic sensitivity to DHT, as there are many factors that play a part. However, they may help and they’re a great place to start.
Eat a More Alkaline Diet
The modern Western diet contains red meats, dairy, simple carbs, and alcohol. In other words, it’s highly acidic. And when these foods are consumed regularly, they can wreak havoc on the body.
The human body, just like any other organism, has a preferred pH balance – 7.4 (3).
But a diet high in acidic foods may throw this balance out of whack, and this could trigger hormone fluctuations and nutrient/mineral imbalance (4).
It may even make your body a more hospitable place for the enzyme 5-alpha-reductase – which thrives in a pH of between 5 (type 2) and 7 (type 1) (5).
An increased intake of alkaline foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats may be a simple way to reduce DHT and maintain a healthy balance.
There is quite a bit of debate surrounding the topic of blood alkalization.
In other words, does diet actually contribute to the pH balance of blood?
However, one thing is for certain: an alkaline diet does provide health benefits which may indirectly contribute to healthy hair growth.
More specifically, these benefits include (6):
Increased fruits and vegetables in an alkaline diet would improve the K/Na ratio and may benefit bone health, reduce muscle wasting, as well as mitigate other chronic diseases such as hypertension and strokes.
The resultant increase in growth hormone with an alkaline diet may improve many outcomes from cardiovascular health to memory and cognition.
An increase in intracellular magnesium, which is required for the function of many enzyme systems, is another added benefit of the alkaline diet. Available magnesium, which is required to activate vitamin D, would result in numerous added benefits in the vitamin D apocrine/exocrine systems.
Alkalinity may result in added benefit for some chemotherapeutic agents that require a higher pH.
That’s not to say that you have to follow a strict, alkaline-only diet. But the more alkaline foods you eat, the better.
Reduce Allergies and Autoimmune Responses
Allergies and autoimmue responses lead to increased hair follicle sensitivity to DHT. So although lowering DHT levels will help, why not attack the problem from both sides and make your hair follicles less sensitive?
We all know about food allergies (like shellfish, peanuts, etc.) but fewer people know about what’s called delayed allergic reactions (7).
One of the big ones is delayed allergic reactions to gluten, the protein found in many grains, that many people suffer from (but don’t know they do).
A famous example of this is the number 1 tennis player in the world; Novak Djocovick. During his early career Djocovick suffered from gluten intolerance but didn’t know it, and his tennis suffered.
He regularly collapsed on court and was the butt of many jokes from his competitors such as Roger Federer.
However, Djocovick finally realized his sensitivity to gluten and removed it from his diet. Now he has been the number one tennis player the world for over 5 years. You can read more about his journey in his excellent book, Serve to Win.
Anyway, back to hair loss…
Everybody responds to these delayed allergic reactions differently. For Novak it caused fatigue, muscles aches, stiffness, and slowness, but for other the allergies can increase their sensitivity to DHT.
The thing is though, it’s not obvious. The reaction is delayed so its hard to connect the food type with the reaction. Without knowing what to look for it’s hard to tell what you might be sensitive to.
Novak suffered for years as a professional tennis player despite being surrounded by world-class doctors and nutritionists before connecting the dots.
Gluten isn’t the only substance that can cause delayed allergic reactions. Everybody is different and has different sensitivities.
You will only know when you remove the foods entirely from your diet over a period of time (usually a couple of weeks) and then introduce them to see the effect.
This technique of removal and reintroduction makes the allergic reaction more obvious and clear to feel in your body. You can then take note to eliminate those foods from your diet (or at least minimize them) to reduce the effect they have on your hair.
Stabilize Blood Sugar Levels
Blood sugar level spikes are another dietary mistake that can contribute to hair loss.
In particular, they may cause an increased sensitivity to DHT (8).
Fortunately, the solution is simple: you must eat foods with a low glycemic index.
Foods with a high-glycemic index are quickly digested by the body which causes glucose levels to spike. You can reduce the risk of a spike by eating foods that are natural and unprocessed.
Some of the easiest ways to reduce the overall glycemic index of your diet is to replace sugary drinks with water and replace white foods (rice, bread, cereals, pasta, etc.) with whole grain.
How to Lower DHT Levels In the Scalp
As I mentioned in the introduction, I’ve already written a huge guide to reducing DHT in your scalp so go and read that guide for all the information. What follows is the short guide.
If you want a clinically-proven approach to lowering scalp DHT, then finasteride is just what you’re looking for.
Finasteride, more commonly known by its brand name Propecia, is a hair loss drug. It was initially developed for the treatment of Benign Prostastic Hyperplasia (BPH), but studies soon showed that it also contributed to hair growth (9).
The reason for this is clear – both BPH and AGA are triggered by a sensitivity to DHT. The first condition affects the prostate, and the second affects the hair.
It doesn’t block DHT or even reduce DHT levels directly. Instead, it inhibits the activities of 5-alpha-reductase and therefore reduces the by-product of this enzyme’s interaction with testosterone (10).
But exactly how much does finasteride reduce scalp DHT levels?
A 1999 study on the topic found that a 1mg dose of finasteride reduced scalp DHT by 64 percent while a 5mg dose reduced scalp DHT by 69 percent (11). These results were seen after 42 days of treatment.
This makes finasteride one of the most effective ways to combat AGA.
Utilize Natural DHT Blockers
While there is still much room for research as it relates to the use of natural DHT blockers, there are a few which preliminary studies show may play a role in lowering scalp DHT. Here are just a few.
There are a few research studies which highlight the anti-androgen activities of saw palmetto. One of the most in-depth was one that showed a combination of gelatin-cystine and saw palmetto was effective in reducing free radical levels and inducing hair growth (12).
This study followed 48 volunteers (24 male and 24 female) as they applied the lotion (either active or placebo) over a period of 50 weeks. Some participants (12) also took an oral supplement (which did not contain saw palmetto, but did contain gelatin-cystine). All of the patients were previously diagnosed with AGA (ranking anywhere from a stage III to IV on the Norwood-Hamilton scale).
The 48 volunteers were split into five groups:
- Group 1: Active lotion A;
- Group 2: Inactive (placebo) lotion B;
- Group 3: Active diet supplement C;
- Group 4: Inactive (placebo) diet supplement D; and
- Group 5: Active lotion A and active diet supplement C
The lotion was applied twice per day (morning and evening), and the participants were also provided a mild shampoo. They were instructed to use this shampoo throughout the study.
So, how did researchers assess hair growth? They used the mean percentage variation of hair number per squared centimeter of scalp.
Now, let’s look at those results:
The three active groups (lotion, diet, and lotion + diet) performed significantly better than the two placebo groups (lotion and diet). The most effective was the lotion + diet group, followed by diet, and then lotion.
While this doesn’t definitively prove saw palmetto’s efficacy, it does give provide hope.
Since the study was performed to test both saw palmetto and gelatin-cystine, there’s no way to say which of the two worked best.
However, as mentioned, other studies have been performed which show saw palmetto’s benefits in relation to hair growth (13).
Stinging nettle is another herb which has been shown to have anti-androgenic effects. How do we know this?
One study, performed in 2011, showed stinging nettle’s effects on Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH) in human patients (14).
This studied consisted of 620 patients, and it was performed over six months. The results were collected using various techniques, including:
- 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
The techniques above were used throughout the study, and the six-month results proved stinging nettle’s efficacy.
Most notably, both the IPSS and Qmax decreased significantly when compared to the placebo group.
But how does this relate to hair loss?
The fact that stinging nettle was useful in the treatment of BPH proves its ability to inhibit 5AR’s activities. So while it’s not a direct DHT blocker, it may still contribute to healthy hair growth.
Reishi mushroom is another unlikely ingredient for lowering DHT levels in the scalp according to a 2005 study (15).
The study was created to test 19 different mushroom species and determine whether any of them were an effective DHT blocker.
Researchers prepared ethanol extracts of each mushroom species, and then added the extracts to a suspension containing rat liver and prostate microsomes. This was carried out to see which species, if any, could inhibit 5AR:
As you can see above, reishi (G. lucidum) performed the best.
It actually had an inhibitory percentage of over 70 percent, which was significantly better than the other mushrooms in the study.
This shows that reishi mushroom can be considered comparable to finasteride, since both inhibit 5AR and, as a result, reduce the amount of DHT that attaches to the hair follicles.
While using a DHT blocker seems to be the most obvious technique for combatting pattern hair loss, you should also consider techniques that enable you to lower DHT sensitivity.
These include reducing the risk of blood sugar spikes, maintaining a hormonal balance, and eating a more alkaline-rich diet.
Of course, there are also ways to lower DHT levels, including essential oils. But if you’re set on seeing results, then the drug finasteride is likely your best bet.
Do you have questions about DHT or how you can reduce levels yourself? Leave a comment below.