- Cholesterol supports cellular function on many levels.
- Scientists have long known that abnormal cholesterol levels can cause hair loss.
- Drugs that affect cholesterol levels may cause hair loss in some patients.
- There is hope that someday we may be able to restore hair by optimizing cholesterol levels.
- If you’re concerned about your cholesterol levels, try an at-home testing kit.
The only obvious connection between high cholesterol and hair loss is that they’re both age-related conditions. Doctors suspect, however, that high cholesterol may cause hair loss. Science does not yet understand how cholesterol influences balding. But it’s fairly certain that there is a connection.
The Role of Cholesterol in the Body
Cholesterol has earned a bad reputation in popular culture. You have most likely learned about the existence of this “evil” compound through the complaints of your elders.
Far from being a net negative, cholesterol plays an important role in our bodies. Here’s why:
- Living tissue cannot exist without cholesterol.
- Cholesterol is an essential component of our cell membranes.
- It plays an essential role in scores of biochemical processes.
- It forms a barrier in our skin, protecting us from external chemicals and toxins.
- Our bodies use it to make hormones.
- It plays a role in defining the color of our skin.
When you hear someone complaining about high cholesterol, that person has elevated levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol. Low-density lipoprotein is the form of cholesterol that clings to the walls of your arteries and accumulates over time. Eventually, the buildup can clog your arteries, leading to life-threatening health problems.
High-density lipoprotein cleans up the cholesterol from your arteries, taking it back to your liver. HDL cholesterol is, therefore, the “good” cholesterol. When available in sufficient amounts, HDL cholesterol protects you from disease.
The worst cholesterol combination you can have is high LDL and low HDL. The best combination is low LDL and high HDL.
Cholesterol and Hair Growth/Loss
Scientists don’t yet understand how cholesterol affects hair growth, but they know that a connection exists between high cholesterol and male-pattern hair loss.
We have long known that if you are bald or balding, you are more likely to suffer from heart disease. Now researchers have figured out that if you suffer from hair loss, you are more likely to have abnormal cholesterol levels. The two are somehow connected.
Abnormal lipid levels are in some ways involved in hypertrichosis (abnormally abundant hair growth on the face and other normally hairless areas.)
When your cholesterol is out of control, it may contribute to scarring and permanent hair loss.
Doctors already understand some of the pathways through which cholesterol could theoretically affect hair growth.
How Can High Cholesterol Cause Hair Loss?
In addition to being a building block of our cell membranes, cholesterol also regulates cell signaling. It plays a part in biochemical processes that have a significant impact on hair growth.
These processes involve:
- The hedgehog protein. Cholesterol determines how much or how little hedgehog protein our body creates. The role of the hedgehog protein in the body is complex, but suffice to say that a shortage of this biochemical compound may result in hair loss.
- Wnt signaling. Cholesterol can turn Wnt signaling on and off. Wnt signaling plays a crucial role in hair growth and preventing hair graying. Researchers have even considered it as a possible pathway for fighting male-pattern baldness.
- The sebaceous gland. It would not be farfetched to assume that cholesterol can affect the functioning of the oil glands in our scalp. These tiny lipid-rich organs produce more oil in the balding areas of the scalp. Often, an oily scalp is the first sign of balding. In many hair-loss cases, abnormal oil production persists after the complete loss of the hair.
These cellular signaling pathways are only a few of many pathways that regulate hair growth and cycling. Cholesterol is involved in many more of them. It affects a type of protein that can delay stem cell activity in the hair bulb. It can delay the anagen hair phase of the hair cycle and extend the telogen phase.
The bottom line? High cholesterol can cause hair loss in more ways than science can currently comprehend.
High LDL Cholesterol Is Not the Only Problem
High levels of LDL cholesterol can cause hair loss in many ways. Evidence shows that low HDL cholesterol can have similar effects. A study performed on middle-aged women found a link between low HDL cholesterol and hair loss.
Granted, men experience hair loss differently than women, but the results are still interesting. If we consider that testosterone may lower HDL cholesterol levels in men aged 20-50, cholesterol starts to make even more sense as a reason for hair loss.
Can Cholesterol Medicine Cause Hair Loss?
Cholesterol plays many roles in hair growth and loss. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that drug therapies that target cholesterol can have devastating effects on your hair. Some of these drugs can make your hair fall out. Others can grow hair where you don’t want to have any.
Doctors are aware that statins, a class of cholesterol-lowering drugs, can cause hair loss as a side effect. Statins exert their action in the liver, blocking an enzyme the liver uses to make cholesterol.
Only about one percent of patients using statins have complained about losing hair, and we don’t yet understand how these drugs make hair fall out. To further complicate the cholesterol-hair loss link, researchers used simvastatin, a popular cholesterol-lowering drug, to regrow hair in some alopecia areata patients.
Can We Reverse High Cholesterol and Hair Loss?
We can manipulate our cholesterol levels to some degree through diet. We can eat foods that help raise HDL cholesterol levels and lower LDL cholesterol levels. We can avoid foods that spike LDL cholesterol.
By altering our cholesterol balance, we should be able to reverse some of the ill effects of abnormal cholesterol.
In a 2018 study, Johns Hopkins’ researchers fed mice a cholesterol-rich Western diet. In response, the majority of the test animals began losing hair.
The scientist then fed the mice a compound that interfered with the formation of cholesterol. They successfully reversed some of the damage the unbalanced diet had caused to the hair of the test animals.
A Final Word
Although we don’t understand how cholesterol impacts hair growth, we can answer the question “can high cholesterol cause hair loss?” with reasonable certainty. It can, and it does.
So watch what you eat. Keeping your cholesterol levels in check can save your life, and that mop on top of your noggin as a bonus.
Scientists may one day develop a solution that allows humans to reverse the damage of high cholesterol and restore hair. Until then, you can turn to FDA-approved solutions that already exist, like Propecia and finasteride.
If you’re concerned about your cholesterol levels, consider a cholesterol and lipids test kit that allows you to safely check your cholesterol at home.
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James spent the better part of the last decade studying and writing about the physiology of sleep and its correlations with dreams. He studied various drugs, natural substances, and hallucinogens that can impact the intensity and frequency of dreams.
For two years, he busted dietary supplement scams, analyzing various performance-enhancing compounds, nootropics, etc.