Everyone has an opinion about balding, why it happens, and how to stop it. You’d think that science would debunk myths and urban legends by now, but dodgy information continues to circulate, especially online.
The genetic origins of balding are where the truth becomes even harder to find. Not only is genetics a relatively new field and widely misunderstood, but the connections between DNA and alopecia are still tenuous at best.
This broad topic can be summarized into one short yet controversial question: is balding an inherited trait from the mother or the father? This simple line of questioning leads us down many different paths regarding the genetic nature of hair loss and where it comes from.
As you might guess, it’s not a simple either/or answer! Let’s lay out the context, see what the research says, and discuss how you can use genetic clues to help your current hair loss situation with practical tips.
Any hair loss conversation should start from a place of nuance. While it’s easy to say that balding is entirely genetic and beyond our control, the reality is far more complex.
There is certainly a genetic component to hair loss in men, but the question is to what degree? Some research suggests that nearly 80 percent of balding is heritable, while others say our DNA is far less of a factor, pointing to our environment, lifestyle, and other variables.
Rather than speculating on data that has yet to be confirmed in the scientific community, our time is better spent on getting proven information with strong clinical backing. This might leave us with more questions than answers, but it’s also a silver lining, pushing us to discover more and not be limited by the status quo.
If hair loss is somewhat dictated by genetics, this means that our family tree contains useful information about the future of your hair health. Studies show that the likelihood of hair loss rises with more family members having experienced hair loss, which is reason enough to be more vigilant about prevention and restoration.
However, family history doesn’t guarantee anything in the realm of hair loss, and it’s by no means a crystal ball that tells your future.
As always, correlation doesn’t equal causation with genetic matters, and we can’t jump to any conclusions about hair loss just by looking at ancestral patterns.
As for the idea that hair loss comes primarily from the mother’s side, research is surprisingly sparse. One study discredited this concept by finding that men are twice as likely to suffer hair loss if their fathers had experienced balding at the same age.
This already puts a dent in the urban myth that matrilineal hair loss is the only explanation. It’s also easier to collect data by looking at the father’s side of the family tree and discussing hair loss history with men in the family.
More than likely, it’s a combination of paternal and maternal genetics determining the likelihood of hair loss in men. Considering that more than 75 percent of men experience balding at some point, there’s no reason to point fingers or place blame on one side or the other.
Remember that hair loss is not a “yes or no” situation, either. Hair loss comes in many forms and levels of severity, as outlined in the Norwood-Hamilton scale of pattern balding.
Here are some of the ways that hair loss can differ based on genetic factors:
With so many variables at play, we see the complex nature of hair loss and how genetics impact balding differently. Therefore, we don’t get the full story of hair loss simply by looking at family pictures or analyzing grandparents’ hair in their advanced age.
More information is needed to get a more accurate view of hair loss — even the best predictive models are subject to fault.
Digging into the science of hair loss genetics, what can we find about individual genes and how they might set the stage for male pattern baldness?
Much of the recent research has focused on the X chromosome, inherited from the mother’s side of the family, to uncover secrets of hair loss and help develop treatment options.
Within the X chromosome are found several genes that show strong correlations to androgen receptors, specifically the AR gene. In short, the AR gene contains the genetic code for how male hormones interact and express themselves physiologically, including the regulation of key compounds like testosterone and dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
However, having high levels of DHT isn’t an automatic hair loss indicator. The body will convert a certain amount of testosterone to DHT as men age, and that’s perfectly normal and healthy. The challenge is finding how the body responds to DHT, what this means for maintaining balance in the follicle life cycle and minimizing the negative outcomes for hair health.
In other words, differences in the AR gene do not alter the amount of DHT in the body but rather how follicle cells and structures react to its presence. Even men with high levels of DHT may dodge hair loss symptoms if they have the right arrangement of androgen receptors, suggesting that blocking DHT might not be the correct mechanism to pursue.
This revelation has led some leading hair loss experts to recommend against the use of drugs like finasteride and plant-based DHT blockers, as these may cause sexual side effects and fail to address the root issues.
Furthermore, scientists have identified more than 50 other genetic variations that could lead to balding, and only a handful are on the X chromosome. That should be enough evidence to put the matrilineal balding myth to rest and open the floor to more discoveries moving forward.
It seems that the more we explore the genetics of hair loss, the less we truly know. While scientists are hard at work to decode the DNA of male pattern balding, other factors should not be ignored.
At the top of that list is a lifestyle, including everything from diet and exercise to stress reduction and healthy habits. Now that more than 50 percent of Americans are overweight and consume a diet of highly processed foods, hair loss experts are urging patients to address these lifestyle issues first rather than pursue medical intervention as a first reaction.
By restructuring their diet and ensuring a balanced intake of macro and micronutrients, men may be able to buy themselves some time in the battle against hair loss. At a healthy weight, the body can work more efficiently and better regulate hormones to maintain hair.
Regular exercise is also key to encouraging circulation, boosting oxygen and nutrient delivery to the scalp and the follicle roots. By meeting the recommended daily exercise requirements, men are better positioned to fend off hair loss or at least slow its progression.
Sleep and recovery are also essential in achieving hair health and overall well-being. By prioritizing quality sleep and combatting chronic stress, you may save yourself the hassle of early hair loss and make the most of your available hair.
Doctors tend to temper expectations and take the conservative route when assessing hair loss, yet there are some practical ways to use genetic information to your advantage.
Here are some tips to learn more about hair loss indicators in your family and employ the correct course of action.
Start by gathering more details about the nature of hair loss from the male members of your family, and try to connect the dots as patterns emerge.
Don’t hesitate to ask questions and dig deeper to get a roadmap of these genetic tendencies.
You may find that men in your family started to lose their hair at a certain age, under certain conditions, or with common trends in speed or severity. This information should be your compass for how to catch early signals and respond appropriately.
For instance, you may want to keep a close eye on your hairline as you approach your mid-30s if that appears to be a common thread in your family tree.
Even if you have a full head of hair now, it’s never too early to put a hair loss plan in place. The sooner you respond to early indicators of hair loss, the better your efforts will pay off long term.
Instead of fearing the hereditary factors for balding in your family, turn them into your unique advantage. Analyzing research will only go so far, and you need a strategy that actually works!
Use this guide to get you on the right track, and connect with Dr. Jae Pak, when it’s time to put your plan into action.
Speak with Jae Pak, M.D. today!Request a Consultation