Androgenic alopecia is a common form of hair loss. In men, we often call it male pattern baldness: hair begins to recede in a characteristic M shape, in addition to hair thinning along the crown, often progressing to partial or complete baldness. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to see overall thinning than to notice a receding hairline or total baldness.
But the question we all have is: Why does this happen? Unfortunately the truth is often buried beneath widespread myths. The most common of which is the infamous “hair loss gene” passed from mother to son. In reality, male pattern baldness genetics are a) complex, and b) only one part of the hair-loss story.
Let’s set the record straight on the “baldness gene.”
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Myth 1: There is one baldness gene
What’s been dubbed the “baldness gene” is more accurately called the “androgen receptor gene,” which lives on the X chromosome.
While previous studies have supported the baldness gene myth, many were limited by small sample size. In 2017, the largest male pattern baldness genetics study to date was published. Researchers collected data from over 52,000 men. Their findings supported the link between male pattern baldness and the androgen receptor gene found on the X chromosome. However, they also told a more complex story. They did not find one “baldness gene,” but rather identified over 200 independent genetic predictors of male pattern baldness.
They investigated further and found what is even more interesting: of the participants with the greatest number of hair loss genes, only 58% reported hair loss.
Myth 2: Hair loss is inherited from your mom’s side
The origin of this myth comes from the fact that the androgen receptor gene is X-linked, aka passed from mother to son (a male inherits X from mom, Y from dad).
But as mentioned above, this is far from the only gene involved in hair loss. It may not even be the main gene involved. Adriana Heguy, professor of pathology and director of the NYUMC Genome Technology Center, writes, “There are genes in basically all chromosomes that have been implicated in androgenic alopecia,” suggesting some will be inherited from our fathers as well. Coupled with the data from the comprehensive 2017 study, it has become ever more clear that hair genetics are, pun intended, a bit hairy
Myth 3: Male pattern baldness only impacts men
It is estimated that 50 million men and 30 million women are affected by androgenic alopecia. Fifty percent of men over age 50 have some degree of hair loss, beginning as early as in the teen years. In women, this type of hair loss is most common after menopause.
Myth 4: Hair loss means high testosterone
Serum testosterone levels are not an accurate predictor of hair loss. In fact, many people who experience hair thinning may have high or low levels. Androgenic alopecia is actually caused by an increase in a hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which makes hair follicles produce thinner hairs and causes some follicles to eventually die off.
Saw palmetto, an herb at the forefront of Nutrafol Men’s and Women’s Balance formulas, is a known DHT balancer and has been shown to improve hair growth.
The truth about hair thinning
The truth beneath the myths is simple: Hair loss is a multi-factorial product of nature and nurture.
Case in point: A study published in the Journal of Gerontology compared elderly twins and concluded that 79% of hair loss can be explained by genetic factors. Genetics evidently play a large role, but when we return the comprehensive 2017 study, we remember that of the participants with the greatest number of hair loss genes, only 58% reported hair loss.
In addition to genetics, hair thinning can be caused by changes in hormones, stress, nutrition, metabolism, and environmental factors. Good nutrition, healthy movement, and stress management are foundational to supporting optimal hair health.
When we need extra support, Nutrafol can offer follicle-supporting vitamins and minerals, DHT-inhibiting herbs, and individualized care to support you on your personal hair journey.