- A new study suggests there may be a link between soda consumption and male pattern hair loss.
- Even one soda per day could be a problem, say the authors.
- However, experts say there are many factors involved in hair loss.
- Regardless of whether sugar affects hair loss, nutritionists say cutting sugar can help you stay healthy.
If you are a man concerned about losing your hair, the answer may be to quit drinking soda.
A study published in the journal Nutrients on January 1, 2023, indicates that drinking even one soda per day was linked to a greater risk of hair loss.
The presence of anxiety disorders, chronic diseases, obesity, or tooth decay might play some role in the process as well.
The researchers at Tsinghua University in Beijing write that male pattern hair loss (MPHL) is on the rise while the age of incidence continues to grow lower. It can sometimes occur as early as the teens or early twenties, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association. However, by the age of 50, half of all white men will have this type of hair loss.
The study authors note that MPHL is a progressive and non-scarring form of hair loss related to factors like genetics, anxiety, sleep time, age, body mass index, disease history, physical activities, and smoking.
Diet is also thought to play a role in its development, especially Western diets which prominently feature the consumption of added sugars. It is believed that high sugar intake might trigger polyol pathways, thus leading to hair loss.
Given that hair loss can be a significant source of psychological distress and low self-esteem in men, the research team sought to examine whether sugar-sweetened beverages — like soft drinks, juice, energy drinks, milk, tea, and coffee — might increase the risk for MPHL, noting that 63% of young people and 49% of adults in the U.S. drink these beverages each day.
The researchers looked at data gathered from 1,028 Chinese men between the ages of 18 and 45 that was collected between January and April 2022.
The men were asked to provide information about their lifestyle habits, including their consumption of sweetened drinks, as well as any hair loss that they might have experienced.
What the team found upon analysis of the data is that there was a significant association between drinking sugar-sweetened beverages and male hair loss, even with consumption as low as one drink per day. Also, higher consumption levels appeared to increase this risk even further.
Dr. Susan Massick, associate professor of dermatology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, urges caution in interpreting what these results mean.
“The study findings do not support the misleading conclusion that sugar-sweetened beverages increase the risk of male pattern hair loss …,” she said, pointing out that there are limitations in the study’s design.
“Diet does play a critical role in your overall health, particularly regarding risk for developing obesity, hyperlipidemia, diabetes, and hypertension; however, male-pattern hair loss is multifactorial. This study does not prove a causal effect that indulging in sugar-sweetened drinks induces male pattern thinning.”
The study authors concede this point as well, noting that additional research is necessary to confirm a direct link between sugar-laden drinks and hair loss.
At this point, there is only a statistical association between these two variables. It’s not clear whether one causes the other.
Massick explained that a holistic approach to treatment should be the primary goal in dealing with MPHL.
“Male pattern hair loss can be treated, but timing and early intervention are important,” she said.
One important step is to seek out a board certified dermatologist and start treatment early, said Massick. Drugs like topical minoxidil and/or oral finasteride can help to preserve your hair before you lose a significant amount.
Massick further points to generally looking after your physical health as an important step you can take.
“Reverse anything that is reversible and focus on preventive care and treatment management of any underlying medical issues, including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, thyroid conditions, and poor nutrition,” she said.
She also advises men to stop smoking and follow a well-balanced diet.
While it remains uncertain what role a reduction in sugar consumption might play in preventing hair loss, Shereen Jegtvig, who teaches nutrition at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, indicates that eating and drinking less sugar is an important part of being healthy.
Cutting out empty calories with little or no nutritional value like sugary soft drinks and energy drinks can improve your health in several ways, she said.
“This can help a man reach and maintain a healthy weight. Reducing sugar is better for teeth and can lower a young guy’s risk of tooth decay. It can also help settle down bouts of acne. And while a young man might not think about it much right now, reducing sugar can reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease later on in life.”
Jegtvig added that one way to reduce your sugar intake is to swap out sugary sodas and energy drinks for non-caloric versions or water.
“Vegetable juice is another good option with good nutrition,” said Jegtvig.
Jegtvig further advised that instead of snacking on candy or cookies, you can opt for whole fruits and vegetables which are low in calories but packed with nutrients.
You can also make a trail mix with nuts, granola, or dried fruits, she suggested.
“A lot of processed foods have added sugars too,” she concluded. “Check the ingredients label and grams of sugar on the nutrition label.”