If you’ve been researching male pattern baldness, you probably know that it’s caused by a genetic sensitivity to the hormone DHT, or dihydrotestosterone.
That’s why effective hair loss treatments like finasteride block DHT. But what if you want to hold on to the hair you have without taking prescription medication?
Well, you’d look into natural DHT blockers, of course. But just because a few guys on the internet swear that drinking green tea made all their hair grow back doesn’t mean you should start stocking up on tea bags (unless you just really like tea). That’s why we wrote this guide to help you figure out which natural DHT blockers have real evidence behind them.
The ingredient in pumpkin seed oil that’s thought to block DHT is a rare amino acid called cucurbitin, which is also found in other gourds like squash. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, participants who took pumpkin seed oil concluded the study with 40% more hair on average (compared to just a 10% increase for men who got the placebo). They also reported more satisfaction with their hair than the placebo group. Plus, the only reported side effects were itching and mild stomach pain.
While the studies look promising, there just aren’t enough yet to make the call.
Looking for an excuse to have an extra cup of joe in the morning? Look no further: Caffeine effectively promotes hair growth (even in the womb!), so you’ll find it on the ingredient lists of many grooming products. This study published by The British Journal of Dermatology in 2014 shows how caffeine can extend the growth phase of hair follicles. That said, few studies have looked into whether or not it’s an effective treatment for hair loss on its own—it’s usually studied in combination with minoxidil or other nutrients.
The essential oil derived from this popular herb is used as a homeopathic remedy for everything from mild aches and pains to mosquito infestations (no, really). Of the many nutrients and oils touted as natural DHT blockers, rosemary oil is one of the best proven. In a 2015 study, men applied either rosemary oil or minoxidil (an FDA-approved topical treatment for male pattern hair loss) to their scalps twice daily for six months. Surprisingly, the guys who used rosemary oil saw the same increase in hair thickness as those who used minoxidil. Still, it’s important to note that this study had a relatively small sample size of only 50 men. Other research has suggested that rosemary oil could also be an effective treatment for alopecia areata.
Green tea has plenty of beneficial nutrients in it, but only one of them is considered a potential natural DHT blocker: epigallocatechin-3 gallate (EGCG), which belongs to a class of antioxidants called catechins. Some studies suggest that EGCG might inhibit 5α-reductase (pronounced 5-alpha-reductase), the enzyme that helps convert testosterone into DHT.
Although this research is far from conclusive, it wouldn’t hurt to have a cup of tea once in a while. You can also get the same health benefits from green tea supplements, but you should talk to your doctor before trying those.
Saw palmetto extract, which is derived from a small palm tree native to southeastern states like Florida, is one of the most popular herbal DHT blockers. Like the catechin found in green tea, the extract is thought to target 5α-reductase. In one study of topical saw palmetto’s efficacy, 48% of participants saw increased hair growth, but the treatment made no difference for 36%. Another study comparing saw palmetto to finasteride found that the natural treatment boosted hair growth for 38% of men, while finasteride worked for 68%. The researchers also noted that the medication was more effective for the participants with more advanced male pattern baldness.
Despite its popularity, we’ll need to see more research before we can say for sure that this extract really works.
Pygeum, an herb that comes from the bark of the African cherry tree, has been studied as a potential treatment for the side effects of an enlarged prostate, another condition linked to DHT. The results of these studies have been mixed, and there hasn’t been much research into whether pygeum can treat male pattern baldness even if it is effective against prostate enlargement. Given all that, we’d recommend waiting for more evidence before giving pygeum supplements a try.
Lycopene is the nutrient that gives tomatoes, watermelons, grapefruits, and other fruits and vegetables their red pigment. It’s been studied as a natural treatment for prostate cancer because some researchers think it might moderate DHT levels. It’s also an antioxidant, which is great news because having too many free radicals (the dangerous molecules that antioxidants clear up) can accelerate hair loss.
Biotin, also known as vitamin H, helps your body make energy from food. Most people get enough biotin from their diets (it’s found in many foods, including bananas, almonds, and eggs), but pregnant women often take biotin supplements to stay healthy. A study published in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology found that women with thinning hair who took biotin supplements had thicker hair than those who took a placebo after 90 days, and experienced no side effects.
While we can’t say for sure if biotin blocks DHT, it’s known to help keep hair and skin looking their best, so it might be worth it to add a few bananas to your cart the next time you pick up groceries. However, taking biotin supplements can affect blood tests, so make sure to tell your doctor before you start taking them.
The extract of this plant, known for its painful impact on bare hands, is popularly considered an effective DHT blocker when applied to the scalp. That could be because some studies in rats and humans have concluded that nettle root extract can reduce symptoms of prostate hyperplasia (the scientific name for prostate enlargement). But other studies comparing nettle root and other herbal DHT blockers to finasteride have not replicated those results.
Our call on this spiky plant? Pass.
As we’ve said elsewhere, hair loss vitamins don’t work unless you’re actually deficient in that specific vitamin, so taking vitamin B12 or B6 alone won’t treat male pattern baldness. (If you’re interested, this review of the medical literature delves deeper into how vitamins affect hair loss.) But just because vitamins aren’t an effective hair loss treatment doesn’t mean they can’t make your hair healthier—just make sure you actually need them before you start taking them.
While there are plenty of reasons you might want to take a natural approach to treating hair loss, such as avoiding side effects, the truth is that you’re unlikely to get the same results from these remedies that you could expect from medication. (Not to mention the fact that some DIY treatments might end up doing you more harm than good.) Even for the treatments that look promising, there just aren’t enough studies yet on most of them to prove that they’re effective in general, let alone effective enough to be meaningful.
So if you’re seeing signs of hair loss and aren’t sure which treatment to try, complete an online consultation with a Keeps doctor today. Your doctor will the be the best person to tell you what’s right for your hair.
The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely upon the content provided in this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.
If you’re experiencing a mental health crisis, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency department. If you are contemplating suicide, call 911 or call/text the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988. These services are available 24/7.
If you would like to learn more about finasteride, please see the full prescription information here. You are encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit MedWatch: https://www.fda.gov/Safety/MedWatch/default.htm or call 1-800-FDA-1088.)
Photo by Lucian Novosel on Unsplash