November 19th, 2010
08:43 AM ET

Can heavy weight exercise cause hair loss?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Friday, it's Dr. Melina Jampolis, a Physician Nutrition Specialist.

Question asked by Maddy of Boston, Massachusetts:

Can exercising with heavy weights make one lose hair?

Expert answer:

Hi Maddy. According to the American Hair Loss Association, by the age of 35, two-thirds of American men will experience some degree of appreciable hair loss and by 50, some 85 percent suffer from significant hair thinning.

In 25 percent of men, hair loss may begin as early as 21. Ninety-five percent of male pattern baldness, the most common form, is genetic and can be passed down by either parent. Other less common causes or contributors to hair loss include medication, severe and prolonged stress or illness and malnutrition causing severe nutrient deficiencies including protein, zinc, magnesium, calcium and iron. In women, hair loss is common after childbirth, I'm discovering.

To answer your specific question, I turned to Dr. Jeffrey Rawnsley, clinical associate professor of facial and plastic surgery at UCLA and director of the Rawnsley Hair Restoration Clinic.

He explained that testosterone is converted to dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which can shrink hair follicles in genetically susceptible individuals.

However, because of the extended duration of hair growth cycles (three to five years), it is unlikely that this effect would be seen soon after starting a weight lifting program. In addition, weight lifting causes a transient increase in testosterone after each weight lifting session, which is not likely to have a long term effect on hair loss.

On the other hand, weight lifters taking anabolic steroids or supplements designed to increase testosterone levels could see an acceleration of normal male pattern hair loss if they are genetically predisposed. In addition, supplements containing too much vitamin A could contribute to hair loss.

So it is very unlikely that your weight lifting program is contributing to hair loss. More likely, your hair has been thinning over time and you are beginning to notice as a critical level has been reached, usually about 50 percent, according to Rawnsley.

If you are very concerned, you may want to consider Propecia, a popular treatment for hair loss, which blocks the formation of DHT and can slow or even reverse hair loss in some cases.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.