Hormones are a handful.
They’re extremely sensitive to shifts in the body. Genetics and environmental factors work synergistically to either promote balance or imbalance.
One of the hormones that can be a real contributor to hormone imbalance, especially in women, is dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
In fact, it’s often the culprit behind one of the most common forms of hair loss.
In this article, you’ll find out how to remove DHT from your scalp naturally, why it’s important to prioritize balancing DHT, and how these natural remedies work.
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What Is DHT?
DHT is a powerful male hormone. It is created when testosterone binds to an enzyme called 5α-reductase (5α-R).
DHT has a higher binding affinity for androgen receptors (ARs) than testosterone, meaning it stimulates the activity of ARs more effectively (1).
Once testosterone is reduced to DHT, it can no longer be converted into estrogen through aromatase. This means it can easily offset the natural hormone balance, especially in women.
- DHT is a powerful male hormone that is created when testosterone is reduced to DHT by 5α-R.
- It has a higher binding affinity for ARs meaning it stimulates their activity more effectively.
- DHT cannot be converted into estrogen unlike testosterone so it can easily offset the natural hormone balance, especially in women.
DHT and Hair Loss
DHT is a well-known, firmly established contributor to a form of hair loss called Androgenetic Alopecia (AGA) (2).
AGA is characterized by an increase in scarring around the hair follicle (perifollicular scarring) and blood vessel calcification. These factors contribute to a phenomenon known as hair follicle miniaturization where follicles slowly but surely produce fewer and thinner hairs.
DHT plays a key role in mediating these characteristics. It exerts its action by binding to ARs. Then, the androgen/AR complex moves to the nucleus where it works with the androgen co-activator to influence DNA transcription.
One of the genes that increase in expression is the TGF-β gene. This results in an abundance of TGF-β which is responsible for both perifollicular scarring and blood vessel calcification.
DHT also increases sebum production which allows P. acnes to readily colonize the hair follicle. When P. acnes proliferates, it increases inflammatory byproduct secretion. This results in inflammatory responses and free radical production, two factors that also influence AGA development.
This oxidative stress is also known to stimulate TGF-β along with DHT.
This inflammation and free radical production is known to be toxic to Dermal Papilla Cells (DPCs), the cells that are responsible for maintaining hair growth (3). Studies that support this notion demonstrate slowed growth of DPCs from balding scalps is directly correlated with increases in oxidative damage.
One theory also states that DHT may lead to the overgrowth of scalp muscles. This could result in scalp tension that, in theory, actually further exacerbates elevated androgen levels, inflammation, and oxidative stress.
Overall, DHT is involved in many stages of AGA progression.
- DHT contributes to the perifollicular scarring and blood vessel calcification that contribute to follicle miniaturization characteristic of AGA. This is mediated by androgen-dependent expression of TGF-β.
- DHT also increases sebum production which allows P. acnes to readily colonize the hair follicle, leading to increase inflammation and oxidative stress that influence AGA development.
- DHT may also cause scalp tension that further exacerbates elevated androgen levels, inflammation, and oxidative stress.
- DHT is involved in many stages of AGA progression.
What Causes DHT to Increase?
Researchers haven’t yet pinpointed the primary cause of increased DHT activity and the subsequent hair loss.
However, there are a few plausible root issues.
For one, oxidative stress and inflammation may play a role in DHT’s enhanced activity.
The presence of free radicals leads to the accumulation of transcription factors called Sterol Regulatory Element-Binding proteins (SREBs) in the nucleus (4). Here, they increase the expression of ARs through gene transcription (5).
DHT activity is dependent on the number of ARs present. Because of this, one way oxidative stress may encourage increased DHT action is through AR expression.
Oxidative stress also stimulates the translocation of Hic-5/ARA55 to the nucleus (6). Hic-5/ARA55 is the co-activator that connects activated ARs to genetic transcription. In other words, it allows activated ARs to effectively influence TGF-β. Without Hic-5.ARA55 nuclear accumulation, this doesn’t happen.
Additionally, prostaglandin D2 (PGD2), an inflammatory mediator released in inflammatory states, is elevated in AGA scalps increases androgen synthesis (7). The main mechanism behind this is free radical signaling.
Scalp tension, as previously mentioned, could be the cause of initial oxidative stress and inflammation that leads to increased DHT activity (2). However, other factors like sun exposure and poor diet could also be involved.
Another cause of elevated DHT activity is increased expression of 5α-R enzymes and increased 5α-R output.
In women especially, elevated levels of insulin called hyperinsulinemia could be a culprit of elevated DHT (8). Insulin not only enhances 5α-R expression but also exacerbates their activity, leading to more DHT output.
Insulin can be elevated in response to high-glycemic carbohydrates like sugar and low-fiber content carbohydrates (9). This also puts the body in a state of hyperglycemia that further stimulates free radical production.
Additionally, elevated insulin decreases sex hormone-binding globulin levels (SHBG), the protein responsible for binding and essentially deactivating sex hormones (10). Less SHBG allows for enhanced androgen activity.
A condition called insulin resistance may also contribute to elevated insulin (11). Although hotly debated, oxidative stress and inflammation could possibly be involved in the development of insulin resistance (12).
In this way, oxidative stress and inflammation may also indirectly influence 5α-R activity through insulin resistance.
Research also suggests that an increase in DHT might be in an attempt to lower inflammation (2). So, factors that contribute to chronic inflammation may also contribute to excess DHT levels.
Despite the abundance of theories, however, no conclusion has been made as to how DHT levels increase.
- Researchers haven’t pinpointed the exact cause of elevated DHT yet.
- Oxidative stress may enhance DHT activity through promoting the expression of AR receptors and translocation of androgen co-activators to the nucleus. PGD2 is also known to increase androgen synthesis by the skin through free radical production. Scalp tension, sun exposure, and poor diet may contribute to oxidative stress.
- Increased expression and activity of 5α-R enzymes can also stimulate DHT activity. Elevated insulin levels, especially in women, encourage 5α-R expression and activity. Insulin also decrease SHBG which further exacerbates androgen activity.
- Insulin resistance contributes to elevated insulin. Oxidative stress and inflammation may contribute to this condition, indirectly increasing 5α-R activity.
- DHT may also increase in response to chronic inflammation.
- Despite the abundance theories, however, no conclusion has been made as to how DHT levels increase
How to Remove DHT from Your Scalp Naturally: DHT Hair Loss Treatments
Removing DHT from the scalp is no simple task.
But, there are some potential ways you can lower it naturally.
Foods that Reduce DHT In Scalp
Considering current research, there are many proposed natural remedies for elevated DHT. Unfortunately, very few of them have been tested in clinical trials.
Pumpkin seed oil is one of the most closely studied and hopeful ways to reduce DHT naturally (13). In one clinical trial, 400mg of PSO for 24 weeks increased hair count by 40 percent on average. Conversely, the placebo only resulted in a 10 percent increase.
Note: The supplement used was Octa Sabal Plus®. This supplement contains PSO but PSO is not it’s only ingredient. As such, the true effects of PSO on hair growth are still unknown.
In animal studies, reishi, a medicinal mushroom demonstrated significant 5α-R inhibitory activity (14). As of yet, no human studies have confirmed this finding.
Green tea contains polyphenols and flavonoids known to inhibit the conversion of testosterone to DHT (15). But, no clinical trials have directly examined the effects of green tea on DHT and hair loss.
Saw palmetto has also been touted for its DHT removing properties. However, research does not actually support the use of saw palmetto, despite its widespread use (16). Results from studies are actually quite contradictory and limited.
- The most well-studied anti-androgen is pumpkin seed oil. Participants in a clinical trial of pumpkin seed oil had an average 40 percent increase in hair count compared to 10 percent in the placebo.
- Reishi is a medicinal mushroom with documented 5α-R inhibitory properties in animal studies. However, no human studies have confirmed these findings.
- Green tea’s polyphenols and flavonoids are known to have anti-DHT properties but have not been confirmed in humans.
- Saw palmetto is touted for its anti-androgen properties, but research is contradictory and limited despite its widespread use.
Foods that Help Balance DHT
Another way to remove DHT from the scalp is to promote balance in overall DHT levels.
You may be able to accomplish this by resolving the underlying root causes of elevated DHT. This is a safer approach as opposed to specifically attempting to lower DHT, which can result in hormone imbalance.
Considering oxidative stress can be a contributor to increased androgen activity as well as insulin resistance, incorporating foods that combat the oxidative load could be helpful.
Resveratrol is one powerful antioxidant that has been tested in a number of clinical trials (17). It is known to promote mitochondrial function and skeletal muscle blood flow, both of which reduce insulin levels.
Clinical trials show that resveratrol helps lower insulin, but the optimal dosage hasn’t been determined yet.
Other antioxidant-rich foods that may be beneficial for DHT excess include:
- Tea (green, white, black, rooibos)
- Wild-caught salmon and shellfish
- Leafy greens
- Pasture-raised eggs
- Yellow and orange-colored fruits and vegetables
Anti-inflammatory foods could also be a useful tool in preventing possible DHT spikes.
Two omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA, are powerful anti-inflammatories (18). They lower inflammation in a variety of ways. When consumed in the correct ratio of omega-3 to omega-6, omega-3s help counteract the production of generally inflammatory molecules.
They accomplish this by downregulating the enzymes responsible for creating these inflammatory molecules and replacing them with anti-inflammatory or less inflammatory molecules.
They also promote the production of resolvins and protectins, two molecules that help reduce inflammation.
Through this powerful anti-inflammatory action, omega-3s may lower insulin resistance and possibly DHT excess. This can be seen in PCOS patients, where studies show omega-3s successfully improve insulin sensitivity (19).
Turmeric is another powerful anti-inflammatory. Clinical trials show that curcumin, the active constituent of turmeric, is effective at reducing glucose spikes after meals (20). This reduces the need for insulin and thus, reduces insulin levels.
When consumed in conjunction with a healthy diet and lifestyle, these potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatory foods may be beneficial for reducing DHT.
- Antioxidants and anti-inflammatories may be beneficial for preventing insulin resistance-related DHT increases as well as enhanced androgen activity.
- Resveratrol has been shown to improve insulin resistance in some clinical trials. No dosage has been established for the treatment of insulin resistance.
- Antioxidants from other sources may also be beneficial.
- Omega-3s DHA and EPA are powerful anti-inflammatories that have been shown to improve insulin resistance in PCOS patients with elevated androgens.
- Turmeric’s active constituent, curcumin, reduces glucose spikes after meals, resulting in lower insulin levels.
- A healthy diet and lifestyle that incorporates these foods may be beneficial for reducing DHT.
Topical Treatments to Reduce DHT
Local inflammation and oxidative stress on the scalp enhance DHT activity.
For this reason, using antioxidant treatments on the scalp may help counteract factors that influence DHT increases.
One possible way to lower inflammation and neutralize free radicals on the scalp is through oil masking.
Plant oils are high in vitamin E, a powerful fat-soluble antioxidant that is easily absorbed into the skin. Some oils, like olive oil and hemp seed oil, are also rich in antioxidant polyphenols that can reduce oxidative stress.
The linoleic acid content of oils is also important. When applied to the skin topically, linoleic acid has anti-inflammatory effects (21). This is because linoleic acid is a major component of the skin and its protective barrier. Topical application may help provide the building blocks needed to maintain this barrier, leading to a healthier, less-inflamed scalp.
A combination of high linoleic acid and high polyphenol content is likely the most beneficial. For this reason, hemp seed oil is a great option.
When sourcing oil for oil masking, it’s important that you purchase organic, cold-pressed oils. This will ensure you avoid any toxic chemicals and that the integrity of the oil is preserved in processing.
Additional commercial topical treatments formulated with antioxidants could also be beneficial. Rosemary extract (a powerful antioxidant), for example, has been shown to promote hair growth and possesses anti-androgenic properties (22).
Together, these topical treatments may improve conditions that underpin elevated DHT.
- Topical use of vitamin E, linoleic acid, antioxidant-rich oils like olive or hemp seed oil may be beneficial for reducing oxidative stress and inflammation on the scalp. This could help reduce scalp DHT levels. Always source organic, cold-pressed oils.
- Commercial topical treatments formulatd with antioxidants could also be beneficial. Rosemary extract, a powerful antioxidant, may promote hair growth and possesses anti-androgenic properties.
- Together, these topical treatments may improve conditions that underpin elevated DHT.
How to Remove DHT from Your Scalp Naturally: Is It Possible?
Although it hasn’t been extensively studied, you may be able to remove DHT from your scalp naturally.
The premise of lowering DHT naturally is targeting the root cause of the imbalance in the first place. Although no direct cause has been established for elevated DHT yet, insulin resistance, oxidative stress, and inflammation may play a role.
Reducing scalp tension is shown to boost blood flow, and with increased blood flow comes increased oxygen, therefore reducing the amount of testosterone converted into DHT.
The conversion to estradiol is favoured in high oxygen environments, thereby blocking DHT.
See our review of the growband as a way to help reduce scalp tension.
Using both food-based and topical tools may be effective at removing DHT from the scalp, however, very few studies actually support their use. Nonetheless, these approaches generally have a low risk of adverse side effects.
Have you used natural DHT blockers? How have they worked for you? Leave a comment below.