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Do DHT Blockers Work?

Published on May 6, 2020
Updated on November 23, 2020
A close-up of various blue, oval pills
Finasteride pills are one of the most well-known and commonly consumed DHT blockers available.

Do DHT Blockers really work? In short – definitely! In fact, finasteride, which is one of the most popular treatments for hair loss, is a DHT blocker.  

You may be aware that pattern hair loss has both a genetic and a hormonal component. DHT, otherwise known as dihydrotestosterone, is the hormonal component that is considered to be one of the main causes of hair loss.

What is DHT?

DHT is an androgen and a sex steroid. Testosterone is converted into DHT by an enzyme family that’s known as 5-alpha reductase (5-αR). According to a study in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, DHT is essential for normal male development. However, in large quantities, DHT can also cause a variety of health problems. Excess DHT has been associated with:

  • Acne
  • Androgenic alopecia (male pattern baldness)
  • Enlarged prostate
  • Excessive body hair growth
  • Prostate cancer

It’s quite ironic that DHT can produce too much hair on your body, but also causes hair loss on your head. Fortunately, medications can help target DHT in order to resolve these issues.

What are DHT blockers?

DHT blockers essentially stop the body from converting testosterone into DHT. DHT blockers typically target one or two receptors from the 5-αR enzyme family, rather than testosterone or DHT directly.

A study in the journal Dermatologic Therapy reported that there are various types of DHT blockers. Some of them target a single receptor of the 5-αR enzyme, while others target both receptors of the enzyme.

Do DHT blockers actually work?

DHT blockers really do work! In fact, finasteride, which is one of two Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved medications for male pattern hair loss, targets a single receptor of the 5-αR enzyme.

Another DHT blocker is dutasteride. Unlike finasteride, which only targets a single receptor, this medication targets two 5-αR enzyme receptors. Dutasteride is FDA-approved for the treatment of enlarged prostates, but is not yet approved for the treatment of hair loss. However, the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology reported that it is still considered to be a valid hair loss treatment among dermatologists as it’s much stronger than finasteride.

Natural DHT blockers

DHT blockers aren’t only found in medications. The study in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology and studies in the Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery, Andrologia, and Nutrients  reported that many herbs and plants are natural DHT blockers, too. These include:

    • Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens/serrulata)
    • Equisetum species (particularly horsetail – Equisetum debile) 
    • Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica)
    • Lingzhi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum)
    • East Indian globe thistle (Sphaeranthus indicus Linn.)
    • Giant dodder (Cuscuta reflexa Roxb.)
    • Wax gourd/Winter melon (Benincasa hispida Cogn.)
    • Black pepper (Piper nigrum)
    • Lesser galangal (Alpinia officinarum)
    • Japanese climbing fern (Lygodium japonicum)
    • Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus)
    • Shiitake mushrooms (Lentinula edodes)

Out of these, the most well-known natural DHT blocker is saw palmetto. Saw palmetto is thought to help prevent hair follicles from taking up DHT and as well as DHT’s binding to androgenetic receptors.

Keep in mind that these are all herbs and plants with DHT blocking properties, which means that most of them haven’t been clinically tested the same way that finasteride and dutasteride have. However, some studies have found that saw palmetto can help improve hair growth, hair density, and scalp health in men and women with pattern baldness.

More research is needed to truly understand how well these natural DHT blockers work. In the meantime, though, there’s nothing wrong with drinking nettle tea, making a mushroom stir fry, or simply grinding some black pepper over your food.  

 

Chopsticks holding a rehydrated shiitake mushroom, with more shiitake mushrooms floating in a bowl of water in the background

Natural DHT blockers, like shiitake mushrooms, may already be a normal part of your diet

When Don’t DHT blockers work?

DHT blockers usually work for people with male pattern hair loss – but they don’t work for everyone. A study in the Journal of Clinical Trials & Research said that not everyone with hair loss has elevated levels of DHT. This is particularly true for hair loss that occurs due to alopecia areata (an autoimmune condition) or stress-induced hair loss.

For example, some people with pattern baldness end up having hair loss that’s caused by a variety of factors – for instance, inflammation, immune system issues, or poor nutrition can affect the hair growth cycle. These factors can make people’s hair follicles particularly sensitive to DHT, and DHT consequently ends up affecting their hair follicles even though they have normal hormone levels. 

In these cases, DHT-blockers may not work that well. Instead, improving your diet, managing lifestyle issues like stress or lack of sleep, and reducing exposure to allergens may be able to help. If you’re not certain of the cause behind your hair loss, talk with your doctor. They can help you determine if your DHT levels are elevated and help you figure out a treatment plan.   

 

Effectiveness vs. Side Effects

DHT blockers work, but medications like finasteride and dutasteride have well-known side effects. Both of these medications are well tolerated, according to the study in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, but tend to cause sexual side effects. In fact, one study found that side effects like decreased libido, smaller amounts of ejaculate, and erectile dysfunction occurred in as many as 15.8 percent of participants. Finasteride and dutasteride might certainly give you back your luscious head of hair, but are they really worth taking if they throw your libido out the window? 

Many people who take medications like finasteride and dutasteride find that sexual side effects decrease as their bodies get used to the medication. However, this isn’t always the case. In fact, the National Institutes of Health even included information about post-finasteride syndrome in its Genetic and Rare Disease Information Center.

In contrast, natural DHT blockers typically work without causing side effects. Unfortunately, research on the effectiveness of most of these natural DHT blockers is limited. There are also very few studies that compare the effectiveness of DHT blocking medications with natural DHT blockers. However, the studies that do exist seem promising. Most research has focused on saw palmetto.  

One study, published in the International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology, assessed people taking saw palmetto supplements over a two-year period. These researchers found that 38 percent of people using saw palmetto had improved hair growth. However, a study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, which used a lower dose of saw palmetto but combined it with a nutritional supplement, reported that 60 percent of people in their study had improved hair growth. 

Newer studies are now studying the effectiveness of saw palmetto in different formats. For example, a study in the Australasian Journal of Dermatology tried using a combination of saw palmetto serums, lotions, and shampoos over a 24-week period and found very promising results. That being said,  it noticed that people had responded to some products better than others. 

There’s still a lot of research to be done before a standardized saw palmetto treatment option can be recommended. However, saw palmetto is generally recognized as a potential treatment option for male pattern hair loss. Its lack of side effects — particularly sexual ones — will continue to make it popular in people who want to avoid finasteride. 

 

Takeaway

DHT blockers really do work. Medications like finasteride and dutasteride are thought to work in a similar manner to natural DHT blockers, like saw palmetto. However, natural DHT blockers have no known major side effects, unlike these medications.

Most other natural DHT blockers haven’t been studied in detail. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with integrating certain natural DHT blockers into your diet. In fact, you may already be putting foods like galangal in your Thai curries, mushrooms in soups or stir fries, and winter melon in your stews.

 

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

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