The causes of hair loss and ways to stop it
Unlike wine, whiskey, and your favourite pair of jeans, unfortunately some things don’t improve with age. Hair density is one of those things. Male pattern baldness (MPB), or male androgenetic alopecia (MAA) as it’s also known, is the most common form of hair loss in men. Current evidence suggests male pattern baldness often begins when a man is in his 30s or 40s (sometimes earlier), and affects 30-50% of men by the time they hit the age of 50.
Healthy hair growth is an essential part of your self-image. For some men, hair grows as the defining feature to help stand out in a crowd, or the safety blanket unconsciously carried through life. While some men proudly embrace newfound bald life (and the wisdom that comes with it), others have a hard time dealing with the transition and potential loss of mojo.
If you’re starting to notice the early signs of hair loss, the prospect of losing your hair can cause a massive blow to your self-confidence. You may feel unattractive, antisocial, or introverted. And you may experience bouts of depression, particularly if hair loss hits you at a young age. The thing is: with the right help and course of treatments, hair loss could be optional. So, let’s learn what you can do to prevent and reduce hair loss.
But first, let’s explain hair growth
Before you spot fresh locks flourishing from your scalp, each hair follicle undergoes four phases of hair growth: anagen, catagen, telogen, and exogen.
Now, here’s the part where we conveniently translate those four phases into English for you.
Phase 1: Anagen (or, the growth phase)
The first phase of hair growth, anagen is the active phase in which follicles develop and appear on your scalp. As part of the longest phase of the hair growth cycle, hair follicles in the anagen phase continue to grow until they reach a lifespan of 3 to 7 years and naturally fall out, or you decide it’s time for a chop.
At any time, approximately 85 – 90% of all hairs on your head are in the anagen phase.
Phase 2: Catagen (or, the transitional phase)
The end of the anagen phase marks the beginning of the catagen phase. For the duration of about 10 days, hair growth slows as follicles shrink.
At any time, approximately 5% of all hairs on your head are in the catagen phase.
Phase 3: Telogen (or, the resting phase)
Next up, the follicles on your scalp spend around 3 months resting in the telogen phase, aka The Telogen Hotel. At The Telogen Hotel, hairs don’t grow, yet they don’t fall out either. They simply rest (and maybe enjoy a little in-room meal service).
At any time, approximately 10-15% of all hairs on your head are in the telogen phase.
Phase 4: Exogen (or, the shedding phase)
Once hair shafts have outgrown the telogen phase, they begin to detach from the follicle and fall out. With a little help from hair brushing and washing (check your bathroom drains for proof), hairs gradually shed from the scalp.
The average person will shed between 50-100 hairs per day.
What causes hair loss?
The most common causes of hair loss include:
Genetics and hormonal changes
When you check yourself out in the mirror only to notice thinning hair, a bald spot, or receding hairline, the experience can be confronting. While you may momentarily reconsider the hair habits you practice in everyday life (wearing a hat, washing your hair daily, and using styling products), the truth is that most hair loss resulting from MPB is beyond your control.
MPB hair loss is caused by a combination of genetic factors and your body’s production of male sex hormones, or androgens. More specifically, the cause of male pattern baldness stems from a genetic sensitivity to the hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
DHT is a naturally occurring by-product of testosterone, the hormone in charge of a range of male biological processes, including the assignment and formation of male genitals before birth, muscle mass, bone strength, facial hair, body hair, and a masculine voice during puberty. While it’s true that DHT plays a pivotal role during the pubescent transition to manhood, once you hit adulthood DHT does two things: it causes existing hair follicles to weaken, and new follicles to stop growing.
The thing with hair follicles is that they contain androgen receptors (hormone receptors that androgens bind to exert their action). In men with MPB, androgen receptors exist in a concerningly large number. When DHT binds to hair follicle androgen receptors, the reaction causes hair follicles to weaken and miniaturise over time until hair regrowth stops altogether. To be clear, MPB is not caused by DHT production itself, but rather an inherited sensitivity to it.
On par with taking up lawn bowls as your hobby of choice, losing hair is basically a prerequisite of ageing. The proportion of men with moderate to extensive hair loss increases with age, ranging from 16% for men 18-29 years of age to 53% of men 40-49 years of age. In knowing this, perhaps you’re a little closer to embracing a future of baldness. If Bruce Willis can pull it off, we reckon you can too.
Iron deficiency is one of the world’s most common nutritional deficiencies that also happens to be a well-known cause of hair loss. Vegans and vegetarians are particularly vulnerable towards iron-deficiency related hair loss as their requirement for dietary iron is 1.8 times higher than their omnivore friends.
Then, there’s protein. Popular among the gym community with a hefty side of broccoli. But when protein is lacking in a diet, protein malnutrition can quickly form a nutritional deficiency that impacts the structure and growth of healthy hair, resulting in hair thinning and loss.
Crash diets and disordered eating patterns that trigger a sudden loss of weight can also cause telogen effluvium, a temporary form of hair loss.
Smoking and its role in androgenetic alopecia have long been studied and debated. There’s evidence to suggest smoking may help to cause hair loss by vasoconstriction (the constriction of blood vessels resulting in a reduced blood flow to the hair follicle), forming DNA adducts (a segment of DNA bound to a cancer-causing chemical), free radical damage to the hair follicle, and hormonal effects. However more research is required to demonstrate the benefit of avoidance of smoking leading towards improvements in hair loss.
Certain medications and health conditions
Alopecia areata is a medical condition characterised by an immune system that attacks hair follicles and causes hair loss. Experiencing hair loss can also be a common side effect of chemotherapy drugs used to treat cancer. Chemotherapy drugs are extremely potent medications that attack growing cancer cells. Unfortunately, chemotherapy drugs also attack other growing cells in the body, including those in the hair shaft.
Persistent or higher than normal physiological or emotional stress levels can cause a sudden onset of telogen effluvium, a temporary, non-inflammatory form of alopecia hair loss.
How to stop hair loss?
Like many medical conditions, there’s no guaranteed hair loss treatment to prevent hair from falling out. And if you have genetic hair loss, unfortunately there’s a low chance of reversing it. Hair loss is a condition often predetermined before birth, and as hard as the world’s best biohackers have tried, there’s no way to reverse the process of ageing.
To slow and stop hair loss:
Visit your doctor for prescription medications and treatments
If you’re concerned of a bald future, consult your doctor for the best ways to prevent hair loss. Depending on your circumstances, your doctor may prescribe minoxidil or finasteride. These prescription hair loss medications are available in the form of oral or topical treatment and can be combined or used individually. They work two-fold by preventing further hair loss and stimulating partial hair regrowth. However they cannot completely reverse balding.
To date, there are no effective forms of over the counter hair loss treatment available.
Eat a nutritious diet
Hair is made from a strong protein called keratin that is formed by amino acids sourced from the foods you eat. So, when trying to keep your hair and scalp healthy, it’s important to include adequate amounts of foods high in iron, protein, zinc, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, B-complex Vitamins, Omega-3, and Omega-6 fatty acids as part of a healthy, balanced diet. Vitamin A is also important in moderation, keeping in mind that excessive amounts of Vitamin A can actually contribute towards hair loss.
One of the easiest ways to cover the key vitamins and minerals required for good hair health, is to adopt a Mediterranean diet. This 2017 study found that consuming a Mediterranean diet rich in fresh herbs and fresh vegetables could lead to a decreased risk of androgenetic alopecia in males.
Taking supplements is one way to restore any vitamins and minerals your diet may skimp on, and improve hair growth resulting from nutritional deficiencies. Effectiveness will vary from person to person, and always speak with your doctor before introducing supplements to your body.
Genetic hair loss is one thing. But if cigarette-related hair loss could be avoided, surely giving up the cigarettes is worth a shot. Even if more research is required to demonstrate the benefits of smoking avoidance relating back to hair loss prevention.
If you’re someone living with hair loss, dreaming of days of increased hair thickness, there’s never been a better time to hit up your partner for a massage of the scalp. Because in this 2016 study observing the effects of scalp massage as a natural treatment for hair loss, results found that standardised scalp massage promotes hair growth by inducing stretching forces to dermal papilla cells in the subcutaneous tissue. All it takes is 4-minutes of scalp massage per day for 24 weeks to promote hair growth by improving blood circulation to the follicles on your scalp.
Wanting to slow hair loss but still unsure where to start?
We’re here to help with your hair regrowth!
Start your hair loss conversation with one of our trusted Aussie-based doctors today. With the right advice and treatment up your sleeve, you’ll be on your way to stimulate hair growth in no time.