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Body Building and Hair Loss

By: Jennie Kermode - Updated: 12 Oct 2014 | comments*Discuss
Body Building Hair Loss Body Builder

The cliché of the body builder losing his hair is often seen in art and cinema, so we may not take it too seriously, but anybody who spends a lot of time in the gym will meet real people it has happened to. Why is this? What causes it, and is there any way to build muscle and stay in shape without it happening?

Hormones and Hair Loss

Why do body builders risk losing their hair? As you probably suspect, testosterone is at the heart of the problem, but not just testosterone. The hormone that 'ages' hair follicles and stops them working is dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which is made when testosterone interacts with an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase. Premenopausal Women don't produce much of this enzyme, which is why they're less likely to suffer hair loss even if pumping iron raises their testosterone levels.

Because DHT acts by ageing hair follicles, the damage it causes is usually irreversible. It only affects hair follicles which would eventually have stopped working anyway. This is why male body builders usually lose hair from the tops of their heads first, like older men, while female body builders are more likely to experience an even thinning of their hair.

Because you need high testosterone levels in order to put on muscle, there is no simple way around this. Treatments that protect your hair by reducing your testosterone levels will interfere with your bodybuilding.

Anti Hair Loss Drugs and Body Building

If you are desperate to find a drug that will protect your hair with minimal impact on your strength, your best bet is to try a 5-alpha reductase inhibitor such as finasteride. This won't reduce your testosterone levels but will reduce the amount of testosterone that is converted into DHT. Some people find it very effective at protecting hair and even encouraging regrowth in bald areas.

The downside is that even this type of drug will reduce your strength over the long term. This is because, while testosterone can help your body to maintain muscle, DHT is important to building new muscle (this is one if the reasons why men find it easier to bulk up than women do). As old muscle fibres come to the end of their natural life they won't be replaced as effectively.

Finasteride and related drugs are generally not recommended for women as they can cause health problems. Because they can also cause heart problems in susceptible men, anyone thinking about taking them should consult a doctor first.

Protect your Hair when Body Building

Although there is a limited amount you can do about the systemic effects on your body of working out, there are things you can do at a localised level. That is, though you may not be able to control your overall hormone levels, you can take action to protect your scalp.

This is possible because hormone levels in the body are not constant, but fluctuate in cycles. Testosterone is produced in large quantities when you are actually working out, so it is at this point that your hair comes under most stress. When you shower after finishing your workout, you should pay special attention to your hair.

Special Shampoos are available that draw out DHT from your scalp. Using these regularly (washing your hair at least every two days) will help to slow your hair loss, but it is especially important to use them right after working out. Follow up with a nourishing conditioner that can provide your hair with the nutrients it needs directly, as your shampoo can also remove useful chemicals from your scalp.

Unfortunately, body builders suffer from other forms of balding just like everyone else. This means that, even with the best protection, you may still be unable to keep your hair in the long term. Good hair care, however, means that it is by no means impossible to combine big muscles with luxurious hair.

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