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Does Taking Finasteride for Hair Loss Affect My Fertility?

More than 80% of men will experience some level of hair loss during their lifetime. Whether we’re talking about a slight thinning on top, a receding hairline or complete baldness, hair loss is one of the main body image issues impacting men – and it can have a huge effect on their self-esteem.

However, nowadays there seems to be a never-ending list of treatments and products that can help guys restore their locks to their former glory – in fact the global hair loss products market is set to cross $4 billion by 2025.

But can hair loss treatments have a detrimental effect on sperm health? What’s the link between taking finasteride and fertility? Let’s find out.

 

Common treatments for hair loss

 

In the past hair loss was an embarrassing situation that men struggled to talk about, and the options for solutions were pretty limited – think poorly fitting toupees or less-than discreet wigs. But nowadays the approach has changed dramatically, with many successful brands bringing both treatment for and conversations around hair loss into the mainstream.

A quick Google search for ‘hair loss treatments’ will throw up countless options for affordable at-home remedies. Some of the most popular include Minoxidil sprays and Finasteride tablets.

 

What is Finasteride?

 

Finasteride is a medication which underpins some of the most common hair loss treatments on the market. It’s usually taken as an oral tablet and is often sold in combination with a Minoxidil spray. The drug was originally developed to help treat BPH (benign prostatic hypertrophy), a condition where the prostate gland is enlarged. In higher doses, it’s still used to treat BHP, but in 1997 it was approved to treat male-pattern baldness and this has become one of the most popular uses of the drug to date, and it’s easy to see why.
Finasteride treatments are an affordable way to stimulate hair growth whilst also reducing hair loss – and it seems to work. A study from 2011 found that over 87% of men saw an improvement in hair growth after using the drug.

 

How does finasteride work?

 

So what’s actually happening in your body when you take finasteride? To understand that, you have to understand the role of testosterone in hair loss.

When you produce testosterone, around 10% of it is converted into something called DHT (dihydrotestosterone). DHT plays an important role in your development as a male – and is especially active during puberty. However, as you get older, DHT seems to collect in the prostate and you can end up with too much of it in your system (and an enlarged prostate!), Men with higher levels of DHT are more likely to experience male pattern baldness – potentially because DHT can shrink hair follicles.

Finasteride works by reducing the amount of DHT that is converted from testosterone. This can be helpful for reducing the size of your prostate (hence why it was originally used to treat BHP) but it’s also why it’s become a seriously popular drug for tackling male pattern baldness.

 

How does finasteride impact male fertility?

 

As finasteride works by playing around with your hormones, you might be concerned that it could also play around with your sperm health – and you would be right.

Testosterone is obviously one of the most important hormones involved in sperm production. Putting anything synthetic into your body that impacts your T levels (such as steroids) always has the potential to affect your fertility.

There is mounting scientific evidence to support the theory that finasteride can have a negative impact on male fertility. A study conducted in 2020 found that within 6 months of using finasteride, the male participants’ sperm count and testosterone levels had reduced.

Whilst research into exactly how the drug impacts sperm health is still ongoing, early indications from a 2021 study show that finasteride interferes with prostaglandin – a hormone involved in signaling in sperm, which can impact functions like motility, as well as sperm production itself.

 

Is the impact permanent?

 

This is something that is still up for debate. As we know, sperm regenerates every 72 days or so – so often lifestyle changes you make can be reflected in improved sperm health within around 3 months. Some research indicates that this is the case when it comes to stopping finasteride. The study found that sperm counts returned to normal within 6 months of stopping the medication.

However, a study in 2012 analysed a small group of young, healthy men who experienced ongoing sexual and reproductive side effects from taking finasteride. For 89% of the men in the study, these side effects persisted well over a year and were classed as sexual dysfunction.

 

I’m been trying for a baby – should I stop taking Finasteride?

 

The short answer here would be – yes. Whilst there is still a lot more research that needs to be done into the impact of finasteride on male fertility, there is enough scientific evidence to indicate it’s not great for sperm health.

If you have been using finasteride – don’t panic. It’s not guaranteed that it will have an adverse effect on your fertility, and even if it has, the chances are that you will be able to give your sperm health a boost by stopping taking the medication and following a healthy lifestyle (see our top tips for sperm health here).

 

What can I use for hair loss instead of Finasteride?

 

If hair loss is a huge concern for you, there are alternative therapies to finasteride which could help. Research has shown that Minoxidil – another popular treatment for hair loss – is less associated with reproductive health issues when compared to finasteride.

There are also non-hormonal treatments to consider – like laser treatments, hair plugs or hair transplants – but these can often come with a hefty price tag that might not be suitable for everyone.

Lastly, it’s worth looking at your diet. Whilst what you eat won’t necessarily cause or prevent hair loss, there are some studies that indicate nutritional deficiencies could contribute to male pattern baldness. Some of the best things to eat to support healthy hair include fatty fish, leafy greens, eggs and nuts and seeds – which also all happen to be great for sperm health!

If you’re concerned about your fertility for any reason, getting tested proactively such as with the ExSeed home sperm test is a great way to put your mind at ease and empower you with the knowledge needed to make improvements.

 

 

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Wearing tight pants and underwear

Studies show that men who wear looser underwear have higher sperm concentration and total sperm count compared to men who wear tighter underwear. So, lose the tight clothes and wear something loose to give your testicles some air.

CONCLUSION: learn more about how heat can affect sperm quality here.

Stress

Besides higher mortality rate and various diseases, stress is associated with low sperm quality. Stress is known to be associated with lower testosterone levels and oxidative stress with both playing an essential role in producing and maintaining healthy sperm cells.

CONCLUSION: If you feel stressed, we recommend you get some help so you can have a balanced mental health. For a stress management guide, download the ExSeed app for free and start your personalized action plan today.

Physical activity

Scientific studies show that men who are physically active have better semen parameters than men who are inactive. Fertility specialists also state that regular physical activity has beneficial impact on sperm fertility parameters and such a lifestyle can enhance the fertility status of men.

Prioritizing exercise can help improve your overall health and result in healthy, fast swimming sperm cells that have good chances of fertilizing an egg.

CONCLUSION: Try incorporating exercise in your weekly schedule to you ensure exercising at least twice weekly. We recommend a combination of cardio training and strength exercise. Read more about exercise and male fertility on our blog.

Nutrition

Fast Food
Processed foods damage the health of sperm-producing cells and cause oxidative stress, which lead to poorer sperm quality. Heavy consumption of junk food (every week) can increase the likelihood of infertility since men who consume vast amounts of unhealthy food are at risk of having poor sperm quality. Besides harming your fertility, junk food enlarges your waistline, harms your cardiovascular system, kidneys, and more.

Vegetables
Eating more fruit and vegetables can increase your sperm concentration and motility. It’s important that you consume a healthy diet filled with antioxidants and that you eat vegetables every day. Foods such as apricots and red bell peppers are high in vitamin A, which improves male fertility by nurturing healthier sperm. Men who are deficient in this vitamin tend to have slow and sluggish sperm.

Sugary snacks/beverages: several times a week Excessive consumption of high sugar items can lead to oxidative stress, which negatively impacts testosterone levels and sperm motility. Sugary snacks and beverages are also highly associated with obesity and low fertility.
CONCLUSION: To boost sperm quality, stay away from fast food, processed food, and sugary snacks or beverages. You need to implement a healthy prudent diet filled with necessary superfoods needed for good sperm production. Check out our guide to Male Fertility Superfoods. For personalized guidance and support on how you can start improving your sperm health, check out the Bootcamp.

Heat

Direct heat can inhibit optimal sperm production and cause Sperm DNA damage. Sperm cells like environments that are a couple of degrees lower than body temperature. Avoid overheating from warm blankets, seat warmers, heat from your laptop, hot showers, and saunas.

Cigarette smoking

The exposure to tobacco smoke has significant negative effects on semen quality. The damage of cigarettes and nicotine of course depends on how many cigarettes you smoke per day and for how long, but even low usage (up to 10 cigarettes / day) can inhibit healthy sperm production.  

CONCLUSION: Stay as far away from cigarette smoking as possible if you care about your general health and your fertility. Read more here.

Cell phone

When you have your cell phone in your front pocket, your testicles are exposed to electromagnetic radiation, which studies have shown to damage the sperm cells. Put your phone in the back pocket of your pants or in your jacket pocket.

BMI

There is a clear association between obesity and reduced sperm quality. At least part of the reason for this is that obese men may have abnormal reproductive hormonal profiles, which can impair sperm production and lead to infertility. 

A BMI higher than 30 can lead to several processes in the body (overheating, increase in oxidative stress in the testes, sperm DNA damage, erectile dysfunction) that can have a negative impact on male fertility. This can result in problems when trying to conceive.  

CONCLUSION: BMI is one of the risk factors that influence semen quality and, for example, sperm motility.  

Alcohol

A beer or glass of wine now and then do not really harm sperm quality. But excess alcohol drinking (more than 20 units per week) can reduce the production of normally formed sperm needed for a successful pregnancy.

CONCLUSION: If you want to stay safe, stay under 14 units of alcohol per week. For more information on how alcohol can affect male fertility, take a look at our blog: “Alcohol and Sperm Quality”.

Age

Studies show that women younger than 35 and men younger than 40 have a better chance of getting pregnant. Men can produce sperm cells almost through their entire life, but the sperm cell DNA is more fragile and prone to damage after the age of 40.

As men age, their testes tend to get smaller and softer resulting in a decline in sperm quality and production. These changes are partly because of an age-related decrease in testosterone level, which plays a very important role in sperm

production. Higher male age (>40 years) is not only associated with a decline in sperm production but also with increased sperm DNA fragmentation and worsened morphology (shape) and motility (movement). These negative effects make the sperm cells less qualified for egg fertilization.

CONCLUSION: with an age under 40, you shouldn’t have to worry much about age as a factor in itself. However, studies have shown a slow decline after the age of 30-35 years

and if you are above 40 years of age, your sperm quality can be affected due to increased sperm DNA damage resulting in a decrease of sperm motility and concentration. Remember that you cannot evaluate the quality of a sperm sample by just looking at it – this requires a sperm analysis.