So, your hair is thinning. You’ve reached that age, and now it feels like it’s all downhill from here.
You feel like your youth is finally slipping away, and that you’re not the virile, masculine man you used to be. You’re starting to look like your dad. You might feel embarrassed or weak.
We’re here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way.
First, you can take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone: male pattern baldness - or androgenic alopecia - affects between half and three-fourths of all men globally, and is the most common cause of hair loss in Singaporean men.
But more importantly, science says that there are so many reasons you could be losing your hair that have nothing to do with your masculinity, or even your testosterone. And even where the reasons for your hair loss are hormonal, your intuitions about why and what it means for you might be wrong.
Here are six causes of hair loss in men - and remember, they have nothing to do with you or your manliness.
Hereditary hair loss that comes with aging is the most common cause of hair loss in men. Put simply, if your dad started going bald, there’s a higher chance that you will too. You inherited half your genes from your dad, including the way his body started changing with age.
Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about this: your genes are fixed from the time you were born. However, keep in mind that there is no “balding gene.” Your genes are actually causing hormonal changes that result in balding, and if you’re seeking treatment, then hormone-based treatments are available.
That’s why the most important cause of hair loss you should understand is...
Thinning hair is so often associated with declining virility or masculinity: that your receding hairline correlates with your declining testosterone levels. Science says that sometimes, it’s the exact opposite.
Yes, it’s true that balding before age 40 is sometimes associated with low testosterone, but men with alopecia actually tend to have higher testosterone - it’s just that there are different types of testosterone that do different things.
One kind of testosterone, called dihydrotestosterone (DHT), stops hair follicles from growing on the top of the head, which is what makes the M-shape in male pattern baldness. Testosterone is converted to DHT by an enzyme called 5-alpha-reductase, and men experiencing hair loss have more of this enzyme and convert more of their testosterone to DHT.
If you’re worried about declining testosterone, or that your balding is an omen of a less satisfying sex life, then this should give you hope! Even as you lose your hair, your testosterone levels can remain high, and you can still enjoy all the things that make you feel masculine - youthful energy, building muscle, and having sex.
3. Chronic Illness
Illnesses of any kind are taxing. Because they’re abnormal conditions, they consume an abnormal amount of energy and put a lot of stress on your body’s machinery. That kind of stress and exhaustion is enough to make anyone’s hair fall out.
Chronic fevers, inflammation, or infection have all been linked to temporary hair loss. Diseases of the thyroid, on the other hand, disrupt hormone production and may have longer-lasting effects.
Your hair is made of a protein called keratin, and just like every other protein in your body, it needs raw materials from your diet to be produced.
Getting too little protein in your diet can lead to hair loss. This means you should eat a healthy amount of lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, legumes, and low-fat dairy products. These foods also provide your body with iron and vitamin A - deficiencies in both of these nutritional building blocks have been linked to hair loss in men.
If you’re taking prescription medication for any number of health issues, your hair loss may just be a side effect. Hair loss has been linked to medications treating arthritis, depression, gout, high blood pressure, and heart problems.
6. Autoimmune disease
Autoimmunity is when your immune cells - the cells that fight off harmful invaders in your body - start attacking your body itself. Different autoimmune conditions target different parts of the body, including your hair.
One cause of hair loss that has nothing to do with hormones is an autoimmune condition called alopecia areata, in which your immune cells start attacking your hair follicles. This condition leaves small bald patches in your hair rather than one big receding hairline, but unfortunately, there is no treatment available for this form of hair loss.
Richa, C. (2019, Sep 26). Alopecia: causes, symptoms, and treatments. (Link)
Case-Lo, C. (2018, Aug 22) Hair loss and testosterone. Healthline. (Link)