Caffeine & DHT

Close up of grey hair on top of elderly man's head
Applied topically, caffeine-rich lotions may slow hair loss. (Image: ColorBlind Images/Blend Images/Getty Images)

Dihydrotestosterone, or DHT, is a natural metabolite of the male sex hormone testosterone. DHT occurs naturally in both men and women, since both genders have testosterone, although in sharply varying amounts. DHT plays a significant role in androgenetic alopecia, a common cause of hair loss, according to hair and scalp specialist David H. Kingsley, Ph.D. If you’re waging a battle against hair loss, you might be surprised to learn that caffeine can help counteract the effects of DHT.

Functions of DHT

Like its chemical precursor testosterone, DHT is an androgen, a hormone that stimulates the development of male characteristics, according to the Society for Endocrinology. The prostate and testes in men and the ovaries in women, as well as other body systems in both genders, convert roughly 10 percent of each day’s testosterone production into DHT. The production of DHT in males ramps up before puberty and is believed responsible for the development of male genitalia and the growth of body and pubic hair. Although less is known about the role of DHT in women, it appears linked to the growth of body and pubic hair as well and may help to determine the onset of puberty.

Androgenetic Alopecia

Androgenetic alopecia, sometimes called male pattern baldness, can cause hair loss in both males and females. In this form of hair loss, the hairline gradually recedes, creating an “M” shape, according to PubMed Health, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Although there is a genetic predisposition for this form of hair loss, male sex hormones -- most notably DHT -- also play a significant role.

While hair follicles on the front and crown of the head have receptors for DHT, the hair follicles on the sides and back of the head do not, according to D.J. Verret, M.D., author of “Patient Guide to Hair Loss & Hair Restoration.” This accounts for the common patterns of hair loss, which tend to start with a receding hairline at the front and a noticeable thinning of the hair on the crown of the head.

Role of DHT in Hair Loss

Over time, DHT tends to shorten the growing phase of your hair’s cycle, which allows the cycle’s resting phase to grow longer, according to David H. Kingsley, Ph.D., author of “The Hair-Loss Cure.” The hormone also gradually reduces the size of the affected follicles, which causes those hairs to become shorter and much finer in texture. As this process continues and accelerates, so does your loss of hair.

How Caffeine Helps

A team of German researchers found that caffeine blocks the damaging effects of DHT on hair follicles and stimulates the growth of new hair. Researchers published their findings in the January 2007 issue of the “International Journal of Dermatology.” Researchers based their findings on an in vitro study of caffeine’s effect on hair follicle proliferation. However, drinking more coffee, tea and cola is probably not going to do much to save your hair, according to a Mail Online article by Pat Hagan. The author points that you'll need topical applications of a caffeine-rich lotion or cream to block the damaging effects of DHT and stimulate hair growth.

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