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.