Strength-training athletes can benefit from increased levels of testosterone, the male sex hormone that helps you to build muscle mass. In their desire to build better physiques or enhance performance, many young athletes resort to steroids and male hormone supplements. However, your body converts testosterone into dihydrotestosterone -- a form of male sex hormone that inhibits the hair growth on your head and contributes to male-pattern baldness.
What Is Male-Pattern Baldness?
Male-pattern baldness is characterized by lack of hair growth beginning at the top of your head. Over time, the baldness progresses, extending downward from the top of your head, until you've lost all of your hair. Two factors -- testosterone and genetic predisposition -- have to act in concert to influence this type of baldness, according to "Concepts in Medical Physiology" by Julian Seifter. A man who has a predisposition for male-pattern baldness but a low level of testosterone will not lose his hair. A woman who is genetically predisposed to developing this type of baldness will only lose her hair if she produces too much androgen.
The Role of Male Sex Hormones
A part of your hair follicle -- the dermal papilla -- absorbs nutrients from your skin’s capillaries and creates new hair follicles, promoting hair growth. The papilla also contains receptors for a male sex hormone known as dihydrotestosterone, or DHT. When those receptors pick up the DHT in your body, nutrients are prevented from reaching your hair follicle. Because it's getting no food, the follicle enters a state of rest. The inactive follicle gradually shrinks, causing your hair to thin out and lighten. Finally, the hair on top of your head will resemble the barely visible hair on a baby’s behind. The amount of DHT your body produces and the sensitivity of your hair follicles to DHT contribute to male-pattern baldness.
Steroids, Big Muscles and Baldness
Testosterone, the active ingredient in steroids, has two effects: anabolic and androgenic. For muscle building, the anabolic effects lead to an increase in muscle fibers, denser bones and a reduction in body fat, according to “Men’s Body Sculpting” by Nick Evans. By encouraging protein synthesis, steroids help your body to more efficiently use protein. The androgenic effects are seen in boys maturing into men -- hair and body growth, deeper voice and heightened sex drive. Because testosterone is converted into DHT, the elevated level of testosterone in your body from steroids exacerbates male-pattern baldness. While steroids have been banned from athletic competitions and are not sold legally in the U.S., males aiming to build muscle mass obtain them on the black market and use them.
The Danger of Supplements
In 1998, slugger Mark McGwire hit a record 70 home runs. He then publicly admitted to using an androgen precursor, or delta-4-androstenedione, according to “Hormone Use and Abuse by Athletes” by Ezio Ghigo. In comparison to steroids, this supplement was allowed to be sold over-the-counter by the Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act of 1994. Because your body can convert androstenedione into testosterone, an external supplement can produce the same effects of steroids. Because it’s a weaker androgen, you have to take higher doses of androstenedione to experience its muscle-building benefits. Male hormone supplements can raise the level of DHT in your body and contribute toward male-pattern baldness.
- The Encyclopedia of Men's Health; Glenn S. Rothfield and Deborah S. Romaine
- Clinical Forensic Medicine: A Physician's Guide; Margaret M. Stark
- Concepts in Medical Physiology; Julian Seifter et al.
- The Edge; Ben Weider et al.
- Hormone Use and Abuse by Athletes; Ezio Ghigo et al.
- Human Physiology: From Cells to Systems; Lauralee Sherwood
- Medical News Today: What is DHT (Dihydrotestosterone)? What Is DHT’s Role in Baldness?
- Men’s Body Sculpting; Nick Evans
- Sports Medicine; Anthony A. Schepsis and Brian D. Busconi, Editors
- ESPN: McGwire Apologizes to La Russa, Selig