When my editor asked me to do a story about soft drinks being a newly discovered possible cause of male pattern baldness, I couldn’t help but wonder why I was the one she approached. Then I looked around the office and realised I am the only one on the YourLifeChoices team who is, shall we say, ‘follicly challenged’.
I felt the urge to respond with, “Listen Janelle, just because I’m bald, it doesn’t mean I’m an expert on hair loss.”
But I resisted the temptation. And besides, I was curious – could there really be something in this? How could excessive consumption of sugary drinks lead to baldness? And was I indeed excessive in my consumption of them in my youth?
Read: Surprising causes of hair loss
So, being the consummate professional that I am, I took on the challenge, all in the name of science and education.
The potential link between soft drinks and baldness is the subject of a new paper published in Nutrients. The authors set out to investigate the association between sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and male pattern hair loss (MPHL) in young men.
And they did indeed find a link. In an analysis of more than 1000 study participants, they found that men with MPHL consumed almost double the sugar-sweetened beverages of those without the condition.
Read: Causes of damage to the liver include soft drinks and too little water
The researchers, from Tsinghua University in China, found that people with MPHL consumed an average of 4.3 litres of sugar-sweetened beverages per week compared to just 2.5 litres among those without the condition.
So what is it about sugary soft drinks that might lead to hair loss? The first thing to note is that the authors clearly point out that the findings show correlation, not causation, and that further research is needed to confirm the link.
But one of the authors, Dr Ai Zhao, did speculate on a possible reason for the correlation. Studies show that higher sugar consumption increases blood sugar concentration, which triggers polyol pathways, which convert glucose to other sugars. This, in turn, reduces the amount of glucose in the outer parts of hair follicles, which may lead to MPHL.
Read: Long COVID can cause hair loss and reduced libido
Dr Zhao adds that sugar intake is often accompanied by excessive lipid intake, which is also linked to MPHL.
What about artificially sweetened drinks?
In bad news for my adult son, who one could describe as a connoisseur of ‘diet’ soft drinks, the correlation remains. “In addition,” the study notes, “artificially sweetened beverages have a significant association with MPHL, which alerts people to the negative effects of non-nutritive sweeteners on hair growth.”
However, the study found that it wasn’t just soft drink that has a link to hair loss. Those with MPHL consumed more deep-fried food, sugar and honey, sweets and ice cream, and fewer vegetables than those without the condition.
All of which is to say that a healthier diet overall might give you a better chance of maintaining your luxurious locks. It’s no guarantee, of course, because, as is well known, genes also play a part in MPHL.
So next time you’re thirsty, reach for the tap rather than a soft drink. It might help save your health – and your hair.
Do you have male pattern baldness? Were you a big soft drink consumer when you were younger? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?