Can Steroid Use Cause Hair Loss?
Steroids were once thought of as the “juice” that gave Arnold Schwarzenegger his titles as Mr. Universe and The Terminator. Once used mostly recreationally for body building, they are now becoming mainstream in the antiaging battle. So, it’s not surprising that you may be concerned about side effects from steroid use. Steroids got a bad reputation due to their previous abuse and the misconception that all steroids are used for is to help with muscle growth, but that’s definitely not the case.
There are two different types of steroids that are important to function and growth in the human body, anabolic steroids and corticosteroids. Each type of steroid has its own uses and their own side effects, but should you be worrying about hair loss if you’re taking steroids?
While hair loss is a listed side effect of taking steroids, the type of steroid you’re taking is going to have a major impact on whether or not you should be concerned about losing your hair.
Anabolic Steroids vs. Corticosteroids
What is an Anabolic Steroid?
Anabolic steroids are typically used for helping with muscle growth and to help with hormone imbalances in the body. As the body ages, the natural levels of testosterone decline and for some men this translates into sleep disturbances, inability to concentrate, feeling sluggish, depressed mood, lower sex drive and other symptoms. And while most of the time you hear about steroids being abused by weightlifters and athletes trying to improve their muscle mass or performance, they are prescribed more and more frequently by doctors to combat those unwanted symptoms of aging.
What is a Corticosteroid?
Corticosteroids are not used to help gain muscle mass, but instead used for things like allergies, skin conditions, rheumatologic diseases, Inflammatory bowel disease, blood disorders and other ailments. These steroids are the ones that you would be most commonly prescribed by your doctor to help clear up rashes or for use with an inhaler for allergies or asthma. The most common one is prednisone. You’re not going to find body builders or weightlifters using corticosteroids while in the gym because if used long term, they actually cause muscle loss and increased fat distribution especially in the face and upper back.
Which Types of Steroids Are More Likely to Cause Hair Loss?
While it is true that hair loss is listed as a side effect for both anabolic steroids and corticosteroids, you’re more likely to notice hair loss or thinning from anabolic steroids than from corticosteroids due to the increase in testosterone levels that anabolic steroids introduce to the body.
Your body produces anabolic steroids from the gonads (ovaries and testes) and the production increases during puberty to initiate the maturing process which includes muscle development and secondary sex characteristics (body hair, deeper voice, adult body changes, etc.). Both men and women produce testosterone in the body. In the case of body building, all anabolic steroids are forms of exogenous testosterone and they go by names like Anadrol, Dianabol, Trenbolone, Winstrol, and Anavar. When prescribed by a doctor, it is usually called Testosterone propionate and comes in gels, pills, injections, or pellets. All anabolic steroids are intended to introduce more testosterone into the body and with higher levels of testosterone in the body it will in turn increase levels of DHT. We know that DHT (dihydrotestosterone) and excess DHT can lead to an increase in hair loss in people.
DHT can signal some of your hair to start miniaturizing (thinning) or even fall out. Because of the effect that DHT can have on your hair follicles, this is why steroid use has been well known to cause hair loss.
Corticosteroids, like cortisol, are produced by the adrenal glands and is known as the “stress hormone” needed for fight or flight reactions. Without cortisol we would not be able to live because it is responsible for metabolism in your muscles, liver, and bones through the regulation of glucose. Corticosteroids also control how your body processes salt and your sleep/wake cycle, so they are vital to life. Synthetic corticosteroids, like prednisone are primarily used to reduce inflammation in the body in the skin, intestines, joints, lungs, or just about any tissue.
With corticosteroids you’re not introducing higher levels of testosterone into the body, but there is a small chance that they could still cause some level of hair loss. However, there are some instances where corticosteroids have been shown to actually help with hair growth BUT this is usually facial or body hair NOT scalp hair.
How to Treat Hair Loss from Steroids?
The good news when it comes to hair loss from steroid use is that it’s often reversable if you discontinue the use of steroids.
Because anabolic steroid use is the cause of the heightened DHT and testosterone in your system, discontinuing the use of those steroids will bring those levels back down to what they were before. If you hadn’t noticed hair thinning previous to your steroid use, then you should notice your hair begin to thicken back up once you stop using the steroids.
When it comes to hair loss due to medication or some outside force, there’s always a better chance that it’s reversible as opposed to when the hair loss is due to genetics. In a lot of cases once the medicine, stress, or trauma has been better managed or reduced, you will typically see your hair begin to grow back and return to its previous fullness.
Steroids and Hair Loss
Anabolic steroids are much more likely to cause hair loss than corticosteroids, but if you’re concerned about losing your hair after being prescribed any sort of steroid, it’s best to convey that concern to your doctor.
Your doctor will be able to listen to your concerns and help develop a plan if you do start to notice your hair thinning and are uncomfortable with the situation.
If you’re using anabolic steroids to help with muscle gain or to combat the effects of aging, it’s likely going to be a continuous treatment. Unfortunately, in this case you may have to choose between your hair and the other benefits. However, there are medications, like finasteride that could help. After using anabolic steroids for a while, you will inevitably need to continue to use them in order to maintain their effects whether that is better sleep, concentration, mood, higher sex drive, or bigger muscles. Once you supplement your body with steroids, the body will slow down production even further as your body learns to rely on outside sources. So, if you gain a lot of muscle, but then try to ween yourself off of the steroid due to hair loss, you will no longer be producing the same amplified amount of testosterone and your muscle gain will start to reverse or be harder to maintain… however, you should start to notice your hair beginning to thicken back up.
Our bodies need to maintain a balance of vitamins, nutrients, chemicals, and hormones in order for it to function properly, and by introducing amplified levels of testosterone to your body there are going to be some unwanted side effects.
Be sure to talk with your doctor about side effects about any prescribed medication so that you know what to expect and if they will be better able to suggest alternatives.