Take it or leave it.

Sunday, December 25, 2011


The thinking used to be that if you were meant to lose your hair, there was nothing you could do about it short of taking Rogaine or Proptia all your life, getting a transplant, or (yikes) wearing a wig.

Recent research tells us otherwise. It turns out that, though there is a genetic predisposition to hair loss, diet plays a key part. Specifically, animal foods such as meat, eggs, and dairy, can accelerate hair loss, especially in genetically susceptible individuals. This includes both gals and guys.

First, a quick lesson in physiology. Hair loss occurs because of the action of a hormone called dihydrotestosterone, or DHT. This hormone is concentrated in the follicles of your hairline, and it causes them to thin and become wispy and eventually erode altogether, giving rise to the horseshoe pattern of hair loss also known as male pattern baldness.

Where does DHT come from? It is a metabolite of another common hormone, testosterone.

Testosterone is made primarily in the testicles, which is why men usually have more of it (and more DHT) than women. But it is also found in the diet. Animal products can contain high levels of testosterone, which are then converted by your body to DHT. Interestingly, DHT also causes beard and chest hairs to thicken and become more dense, as if to compensate for the balding pate.

Evidence for this? Men who have their testes removed owing to medical problems do not go bald, even when they come from families in which male pattern baldness is common. However, if these men are given testosterone injections, hair loss quickly reaches levels similar to that which occurs in their siblings.

Note also that your testosterone production (both males and females produce testosterone, women just produce less of it, and lose their hair less frequently than men) is twice as high in the fall as in the spring. Not coincidentally, your rate of hair loss in the autumn months is twice as high (60 hairs per day) than in the vernal months (30 hairs lost per day). This is a natural cycle and your body replenishes hair with regrowth every six months.

The problem is that diets that contain animal foods keep our testosterone levels artifiicially elevated the whole year through.

Some may argue that testosterone levels occurring in meat are a fraction of what your body produces and so have a negligible effect on DHT levels. While this may or many not be the case, there is no getting around the high fat content of animal products, and high fat diets contribute to high levels of DHT for a number of reasons:

Diets high in fat (the same diets that contain animal protein, since meat, eggs and dairy are major fat sources) contribute to hair loss in three ways. First, fatty foods produce oilier hair follicles. The oil glands are the source of the enzyme that converts testosterone to DHT. Consequently, when they grow in size, more DHT gets produced, and the balder one becomes.

Also, fatty diets increase the production of testosterone (and estrogen) in the blood. They also reduce the amount of sex hormone binding globulin, which keeps testosterone inactive. Reduced amounts increase the likelihood that testosterone will be converted to DHT.

Incidentally, the Chinese and Japanese are known to contain less of the enzyme (reductase, see above) that converts testosterone to DHT, and are therefore much less likely to go bald, a fact which observation supports. However, when Asians migrate to America and adopt the Western diet (or eat large amounts of fast food in their home countries, which is becoming increasingly common) they go bald just like their American counterparts. Assimilation to the extreme.

It should be noted that men with higher cholesterol and a history of heart disease are also more likely to be bald than men with healthier diets. What's the connection? Two words, animal food.

Good news: If you are starting to lose your hair, you can reverse or at least stall the process by modifying your diet. Adopt a diet that is naturally low in fat, and low in animal hormones. Reduce or eliminate the consumption of vegetable oils (high in fat) and animal protein (high in fat and in testosterone).

And enjoy an abundance of lustrous hair for life . . . or at least for a lot longer than you otherwise would.
And yes, Billy Idol is a vegetarian...

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