Two Problems Men Have. One Possible Cause.

Nearly 50% of all men experience male pattern baldness. It happens gradually.  You start to notice a few hairs on the shower stall floor. Some days more, some days less. But the fallout is unrelenting. And that’s not all men experience. After the age of around 40, many men develop an enlarged prostate. Researchers believe there may be a common cause of male pattern baldness and an enlarged prostate (BPH). The good news that there may also be a common solution to both problems. Here’s why…

Within our bodies exists the enzyme, steroid Type II 5 alpha-reductase, which converts testosterone (male hormone) to 5 alpha-dihydrotestosterone (DHT). It is believed that accumulation of DHT in the prostate leads to Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy (BPH), or an enlarged prostate. What’s interesting is that the same accumulation of DHT in the prostate may be linked to male pattern baldness.

Receptors in hair follicles allow DHT to enter. What happens is that DHT shrinks your hair follicles. DHT also thickens your scalp’s membrane, which restricts blood flow to the capillaries that feed hair follicles. As the effects of DHT progressively damage hair follicles, there is an inflammatory response mediated by the immune system. Immune cells cause further damage to hair follicles, eventually destroying them. This combination of events is what causes hair to fall out.(1) The medical term for this balding process is called androgenetic alopecia (AGA or male pattern baldness). Is there any way to inhibit DHT production AND block its entrance into hair follicles? Studies show there may be.

Green Tea, a Natural DHT Blocker!
Scientists found that certain natural compounds may inhibit production of 5 alpha-reductase and DHT while preventing DHT from getting into hair follicles. One common household item that contains potential DHT-blocking nutrients is Green tea. Within tea leaves are two compounds, epicatechin-3-gallate, and epigallo-catechin-3-gallate (EGCG), which have been shown to inhibit 5 alpha-reductase activity.(2) Although there have been no human studies of Green Tea’s impact on hair growth, animal studies have shown that when Green Tea polyphenol extract was added to their drinking water, the animals presented significant hair regrowth.(3)

Fatty Acids for Thinning Hair.
Another source of DHT blockers is Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an essential fatty acid (EFA) found mostly in plant-based oils such as evening primrose oil, black currant seed oil, and borage oil. EFAs are necessary for healthy brain function, bone health, stimulation of skin and hair growth, and metabolism. GLA has been shown in studies to inhibit DHT-enhanced activity of 5 alpha-reductase. (4) In one study, animals treated with GLA had a noticeable effect on inhibiting 5 alpha-reductase type 2.(5) In the study, researchers investigating another compound that inhibited 5 alpha-reductase type 2 suggested this particular agent might be effective for fighting male pattern baldness.

60% Saw Improvement!
In addition to the agents just discussed, researchers have been investigating Beta Sitosterol, a botanical ingredient, for its role in blocking the conversion of testosterone to DHT. Beta Sitosterol has been shown to be effective against BPH. This is the first example of a placebo-controlled, double-blind study undertaken in order to examine the benefit of this substances in the treatment of AGA (male pattern baldness). The study involved males between the ages of 23 and 64 with mild alopecia (male pattern baldness). Sixty percent of the study group treated with Beta Sitosterol were rated as improved at the final visit. The study showed that naturally occurring 5 alpha-reductase inhibitors against AGA warrants further clinical trials.(6)

Baldness May be Just a Memory.
Another plant extract adding to the list of DHT blockers is Ginkgo Biloba. We normally think of Ginkgo as a memory nutrient due to its ability to promote vasodilation and improve blood flow in arteries. veins, and capillaries, which is good for the brain (7).  But, Ginkgo Biloba also helps improve microcirculation in the blood vessels of the scalp so that the hair can receive sufficient nourishment. So an extract that helps memory may also help our hair.

There’s also Saw Palmetto, a plant extract that has also been shown to suppress DHT levels in the prostate, suggesting that inhibition of the enzyme 5 alpha-reductase is a mechanism of action of this substance. (8) A review of various alpha-blocker treatments published in a medical journal indicated that “treatment for men with co-occurring benign prostatic hyperplasia and prostatitis may include alpha-blockers, 5alpha-reductase inhibitors and phytotherapies (saw palmetto and bee pollen extract), with evidence clearly showing the benefits of alpha-blocker therapy.”(9) Although there have been conflicting reports as the impact Saw Palmetto has on blocking DHT, many studies do provide compelling evidence that the plant extract is effective in this area. In fact, one study found that there was such a strong positive response to Saw Palmetto and Beta-Sitosterol treatment in participants with Androgenetic Alopecia, the lead researcher felt this therapy justified expansion to much larger trials.(10)

While there are numerous studies confirming the benefits of supplementing with these plant-derived alpha-blockers to improve BPH, concluding that alpha-blockers can also benefit men with male pattern baldness is more difficult. However, the idea that inhibiting production of DHT makes perfect sense and is worth trying a supplement that provides the previously mentioned agents. Even the drug Propecia works by inhibiting the 5-alpha reductase enzyme so it prevents the conversion of testosterone into DHT – exactly what Saw Palmetto, Green Tea, and Beta-Sitosterol do!.

1. Ann Derm Venereol (France), May 2002, 129(5 Pt 2) p.787-92.
2. Biochem Pharmacol 2002 Mar 15;63(6): p1165-76.).
3. J Natl Med Assoc. 2005 Aug;97(8):1165-9.
4. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol 2002 Nov;82(4-5):393-400.
5. J Dermatol Sci. 2003 Apr;31(2):91-8.
6. J Altern Complement Med (US), Apr 2002, 8(2) p143-52.
7. Cell Mol Life Sci, 2003 sep;60(9):1779-92.
8. Urology (United States), May 2001, 57(5) p999-1005.
9. Curr Opin Urol. 2006 Jan;16(1):5-10.
10. J Altern Complement Med. 2002 Apr;8(2):143-52.