Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) gets a mixed rep:
It is attributed as being the primary cause behind male pattern baldness and prostate issues, but it is also responsible for many of the characteristics that we associate with masculinity.
This article will go over everything you need to know about DHT and clear the air on whether it's actually a good idea to supplement with DHT blockers or not.
Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) is a male sex hormone with powerful androgenic properties. It plays a crucial role during puberty and is largely responsible for the development of adult male characteristics, e.g. deeper voice, muscle development, body hair, etc.
DHT is derived from testosterone.
Anywhere in the body where the 5α-reductase enzyme is present (which is basically everywhere except muscle tissue) testosterone gets converted into DHT.
DHT is 2-3x more potent than testosterone. Furthermore, it remains attached to androgen receptor sites for up to 5x longer.
Testosterone is the active androgen in muscle tissue. Everywhere else - brain, skin, hair follicles, prostate, liver - it is DHT that exerts the androgenic influence.
Researchers have found elevated DHT levels to be correlated with thinning hair (source).
DHT is often accused for being the prime culprit behind male pattern baldness (MPB).
DHT is created from testosterone and bald men have higher levels of DHT in their scalp.
Does this mean that balding men have higher testosterone levels?
Well, here's something to think about:
The incidence of hair loss tends to increase with age, despite the fact that androgen levels decrease with age.
Clearly, there's something else going on.
Diving deeper, we find that there are actually two types of DHT in our bodies:
The impact that DHT has on hair-loss is dependent on the type of DHT we're talking about.
Serum DHT (the type that's circulating in your blood stream) has been shown to have no correlation with hair loss (source).
One study even found serum DHT to be higher in men without hair loss (source).
So, based on the research:
Serum DHT has no link to hair loss and, in fact, actually reduces the incidence of hair loss.
Then there's tissue DHT, the type that's bound to the androgen receptors in your scalp, skin, and other areas of your body.
Studies have found tissue DHT to be elevated in the scalps of balding men (source).
As it turns out, higher levels of DHT in the scalp are linked to male pattern baldness.
But another interesting point is that DHT actually encourages body and facial hair growth (source).
How can it be that DHT causes hair loss in the scalp and hair growth everywhere else?
This is a paradox that, based on the current state of research, remains to be answered.
Plus Points of DHT
Downsides of DHT
Despite these facts, it remains unclear whether DHT is actually the root cause of hair loss or not.
But when we expand our scope beyond just DHT, we uncover the fact that hair loss, in both sexes, is closely linked to a hormonal imbalance.
An imbalance between testosterone and estrogen.
Women experiencing hair loss tend to have an elevated testosterone:estrogen ratio (source).
Visually, it looks something like this:
In men, it's the other way around:
A decreased testosterone:estrogen ratio (source).
For men, an increase in estrogen imbalances the ratio, as does a decrease in testosterone.
It's no coincidence, then, that the rising incidence of hair loss is coupled with a generational wide decline in testosterone levels. The average man today has anywhere from 20-25% lower T compared to the average man from just a few decades ago.
So the bottom line is this:
If you want to minimize your chances of hair loss, you have to optimize your endocrine health. For men, this means naturally increasing your testosterone levels and decreasing your estrogen.
Although increased DHT in the scalp can lead to thinning hair, it is not the root cause. Hair loss is more likely the result of a hormonal imbalance and/or genetic factors.
Another common misconception about DHT is that it causes dysfunctional prostate growth.
The truth, however, is more complex.
You must understand that there are profound differences between healthy prostate growth (during puberty), growth due to benign prostatic hyperplasia, and cancerous growth.
There are major differences between healthy prostate growth and BPH.
The first type of prostate growth is developmental growth. It takes place during puberty and is caused by an increase in androgen secretion.
Healthy prostate growth is a normal part of puberty.
During the developmental stage, the prostate grows from its prepubescent size to the normal sized, healthy, and functioning size of an adult male prostate. The prostate maintains this size during early and mid adult age, despite the increase of androgens in the body during this period.
On the flip side, if androgens are blocked during this period (via castration or blocking of 5-AR enzyme) then the adult prostate begins to shrink.
In the later years of adulthood, another type of prostate growth begins to occur. This growth is termed benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPA). The exact cause is not known, but mounting evidence suggests that it's because of an increase in the estrogen/androgen ratio, a common occurrence in aging men.
Researchers hypothesize that an enlarged prostate is most likely the result of increased estrogen.
Researchers hypothesize that an enlarged prostate is actually the result of increased estrogen. More precisely, an increase in the estrogen/androgen ratio.
Studies have shown that increased DHT in fact lead to a decrease in size of the prostate (source).
Surprisingly, high DHT also tends to be stated as a cause of cancerous prostatic growth. Again, this could not be further from the truth.
Men with prostate cancer tend to experience decreased DHT levels.
Researchers have found that men with prostate cancer tend to have lower levels of DHT compared to the control group (source).
Furthermore, patients with low DHT levels were found to have a decreased survival rate from prostate cancer (source).
The only time DHT causes prostate growth is during puberty, whereby the prostate reaches the healthy adult size. In BPH and cancerous growth, research has consistently shown DHT levels to, in fact, be lower in men with enlarged prostates compared to men with healthy sized ones.
Now that we've busted the myths about the negative side-effects of DHT, let's move on to what's good about it.
Before you were born, DHT played a critical role in the development of your primary sexual characteristics. It is literally what makes you a man.
The importance of DHT can better be illustrated with an example:
5α-reductase is the enzyme responsible for converting testosterone into DHT. Men born with a 5α-reductase deficiency are likely to develop pseudohermaphroditism. In this condition, males are born with an underdeveloped penis and prostate. As a result, they are often raised as girls. By the time puberty comes around, testosterone levels elevate naturally and muscular development is comparative to normal male adults. However, due to the lack of DHT, the penis and prostate remain underdeveloped. Nor is any pubic/body hair developed.
Basically everywhere that's not muscle tissue, DHT is the active androgen.
This means that the androgen receptors on skin are activated by DHT.
DHT is what's responsible for body and facial hair growth.
I guess this could be a good or bad thing depending on what your goals are. But the more DHT you have, the more widespread will be its influence on the androgen receptors spread throughout your skin.
In one study, mood parameters were measured in hypogonadal men, i.e. men experiencing decreased androgen production.
After giving the subjects DHT and testosterone treatment the men were shown to experience significant decreases in anger, irritability, sadness, tiredness, and nervousness. Furthermore, significant increases were seen in energy levels, friendliness, and overall sense of well-being (source).
Although not shown in any human studies, DHT was able to increase cyclic AMP, or cAMP, levels in mice (source).
Cyclic AMP is a cellular messenger that interacts with a host of other cells. Higher cAMP leads to lower blood pressure, increased vasodilation (dilated blood vessels), increased bronchodilation (deeper breathing), and most importantly, an increase in thyroid hormone secretion.
Increased thyroid hormone secretion is linked with increased lipolysis (fat burning). But what it is also linked with is protein kinase.
Protein kinase has been shown to activate hormone-sensitive lipases, which are involved in the breakdown of the building blocks of fatty tissue, aka triglycerides.
Increased DHT leads to increased cAMP, which both increases the rate of fat-loss and actually breaks down fatty tissue as well.
How strong you are on a particular movement is dependent on three individual factors:
Testosterone is the active androgen in muscle tissue and the primary factor behind muscle growth. Increased muscle mass translates to you having more strength relative to when you had less muscle mass.
The expression of strength, however, is governed by our central nervous system (CNS). The CNS is what recruits and activates our muscle fibers. Neuromuscular adaptations to heavier loads allow the muscles to contract with more force and efficiency.
In other words:
Neuromuscular adaptations allow us to utilize more of the full potential of our existing muscle mass.
DHT is what exerts the androgenic influence in our central nervous system and is the primary factor behind increased neuromuscular adaptations.
Although I was unable to find any promising human research on the topic, a study on DHT administered rats found that it increased their fast-twitch muscle fibers, i.e. the muscle fibers associated with force, power, and strength (source).
The third facet of strength is your familiarity with the particular movement. You need to get better at performing the exericse in order for you to get stronger at it. For example, how strong you are on the squat is affected by how many times you've performed the movement. That, of course, can only come with practice.
Much of what we attribute as "masculine" in terms of physical appearance can be tied back to bone structure:
As you know DHT is what exerts the androgenic influence everywhere in the body except muscle tissue.
DHT is the active androgen in skeletal tissue.
Studies have shown DHT levels to be directly correlated with bone density in men (source). So much so, in fact, that men with lower DHT levels were also at a higher risk of developing osteoperosis.
In rats given DHT treatments for 2 months, the rats were shown to experience significant increases in skeletal mass by increasing bone growth (source).
Testosterone treatment is well known to have anti-anxiety and anti-depressive effects.
This has been shown in multiple studies where men who were given testosterone treatments reported significant improvements in mood and overall quality of life.
Researchers are now saying that these affects are largely the result of DHT's actions on the brain (source).
In another study, researchers found that finasteride (an alpha-reductase inhibitor) has been shown to induce symptoms of depression (source). It's highly possible that these symptoms become induced due to a decrease in DHT.
In one study, 6 months of DHT treatment allowed subjects to experience significant improvements in erectile function (source).
In another study, researchers looked towards the importance of DHT in stimulating orgasms. They say that orgasms are the dominant aspect of sexual behavior in healthy men. What they concluded was that DHT concentrations was the independent hormonal predictor of the frequency of orgasms (source). They also go on to say that a fluctuation of DHT levels is a major predictor of sexual activity in healthy young men.
In a cell culture study, DHT was found to activate the glucose regulating pathway in skeletal muscle cells (source).
In another study, researchers looked at human and rat cells to observe how they respond to different stimulus. One of the findings was that that DHT decreased blood sugar (source).
DHT status in elderly men was significantly correlated with cognitive function (source). More precisely, as DHT levels went down so did the cognitive function.
After analyzing a number of blood samples, researchers found that men in the advanced stages of a prostate tumor also had lower DHT levels (source). Also, an inverse relationship was found between the size of a tumor and DHT levels:
Lower DHT implied the growth of tumors with bigger volume.
In another study, researchers found low DHT levels to be correlated with a lower rate of survival amongst patients with prostate cancer (source).
The benefits of DHT far outweigh the possible draw backs of hair-loss. Is your hair really more important than your masculinity?
Given the above list of benefits, it should be clear that decreasing DHT is not a good idea.
Do you really want more hair at the expense of your masculinity?
I think the answer is quite obvious.
If you think that going bald is the worst thing that can happen, just take a look at the myriad of bald alpha men in Hollywood.
Increasing DHT comes down to increasing testosterone, but the following bullet points should help get you started:
There's a tendency for the human mind to classify things as black and white.
The thing with DHT, as with most things in life, is that there are mostly shades of grey. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people consider it a "bad" hormone that serves no function in the body.
After reading this article, hopefully, you have received the required knowledge to draw a better conclusion.
The wide use of 5-AR inhibitors has become very popular, but given the vast array of benefits that come with DHT this should really be given second thought.
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