Is There a Link Between ED and Hair Loss?
Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
As a man, your sexual performance is a matter of pride. So is your appearance. Assuming you were forced to make a choice between losing your hair or losing your sexual stamina, which do you think you would choose?
Unfortunately, for many men, it is not a choice at all -- instead, it’s a one-two-punch to their ego that they’re forced to struggle with on a daily basis.
According to research, approximately 40 percent of men in their 40s are affected by some level of erectile dysfunction, or ED.
According to the American Hair Loss Association, about two thirds of all American men display some degree of hair loss by the age of 35. By the time men reach 50 years of age, as many as 85 percent have significantly thinning hair.
Both of these statistics are disheartening, but their similarity begs the question -- is there a link between erectile dysfunction and hair loss?
The Basics of Erectile Dysfunction (ED) and Hair Loss
Erectile dysfunction and hair loss are both common problems -- very common, in fact. However, both are topics that are misunderstood by much of the public, both in terms of their causes and the options available to treat them.
Before we get into the various causes of erectile dysfunction and hair loss, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page when it comes to what we’re actually talking about.
Most guys view erectile dysfunction as the inability to get an erection, but it’s actually more than that.
ED can vary in severity. Some men with erectile dysfunction can’t get an erection at all, even in situations where they’re sexually aroused. Others might be able to develop an erection, but not one that’s firm or long-lasting enough to have penetrative sex.
It’s common and normal to occasionally deal with some degree of sexual dysfunction. After all, we all have our off days. But when not being able to get or keep an erection becomes a major issue, it can have an impact on your self-confidence and relationships.
Although it’s an entirely different condition, hair loss can also affect your confidence and lead to problems in your personal, professional and social lives.
There are several different types of hair loss. However, by far the most common -- as well as the most consequential -- is male pattern baldness.
Clinically referred to as androgenetic alopecia, this form of hair loss is the one most men start to notice as they get older. It’s responsible for the classic M-shaped receding hairline and bald spot around the crown that can appear during your 20s, 30s, 40s or 50s.
What Causes Erectile Dysfunction and Hair Loss?
Erectile dysfunction and hair loss are distinct, separate conditions. You can go through your life with a full head of hair and deal with persistent ED, or go bald early and face no sexual function issues well into your 40s, 50s, 60s or 70s. Some men get both, while others get neither.
With this said, there are a few areas where the causes of ED and hair loss can overlap, at least a little.
Erectile Dysfunction Causes and Risk Factors
The causes of erectile dysfunction can generally be divided into two categories -- physical and psychological.
Physical causes of erectile dysfunction include heart disease, atherosclerosis (clogged arteries), hypertension (high blood pressure), chronic kidney disease, type 2 diabetes, Peyronie’s disease and damage to the penis and surrounding area from injuries or surgery.
These issues can contribute to ED by reducing blood flow to your penis or damaging the nerves that cause you to feel sexually stimulated.
Some medications can also contribute to ED. For example, antidepressant medications, cancer medications and drugs for high blood pressure can all affect sexual function. Even alcohol and the nicotine and other chemicals in tobacco can affect your erections and performance in bed.
Psychological causes of erectile dysfunction include sexual performance anxiety, guilt related to sex, low self-esteem, stress and depression.
Hair Loss Causes and Risk Factors
When it comes to hair loss -- at least male pattern baldness -- the main causes are your genes and the effects of male sex hormones called androgens.
Over time, the androgen hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT) can attach to receptors located in your scalp and damage your hair follicles. This process shortens the anagen stage of your hair growth cycle, leading to hair thinning.
The thinning caused by DHT usually starts around your hairline before progressing. Eventually, the affected hairs may fail to even penetrate through your skin.
The genetic part of the term “androgenetic” comes from the fact that not all guys are equally as genetically susceptible to the pattern hair loss effects of DHT.
This is why some men go bald early, while others are able to maintain a full head of hair into old age. Our full guide to DHT and male hair loss explores this process in more detail.
As for other types of male hair loss, they have a range of causes. Some, like telogen effluvium, can be caused by stress, illnesses that lead to fever, surgery, trauma, nutritional deficiencies or medication. Others are caused by fungal infections or autoimmune disease.
Are Erectile Dysfunction and Hair Loss Related?
Erectile dysfunction and hair loss don’t seem to be directly related. By this, we mean that there isn’t any shared genetic factor that causes both ED and male pattern baldness, at least that we know of right now.
However, there are a few minor similarities between the risk factors for erectile dysfunction and the risk factors for hair loss.
One of these is age. As you get older, your risk of developing ED increases. This is largely due to the fact that lots of physical conditions that can cause erectile dysfunction, such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, become more common with age.
Age is also closely linked to hair loss. As you get older, the effects of DHT on your hair become more visible, causing everything from a receding hairline to near-total hair loss.
Some psychological causes of erectile dysfunction might also contribute to certain types of hair loss. For example, stress is a known psychological cause of ED, and it’s also a potential cause of telogen effluvium.
With this said, some factors that may contribute to hair loss may have a positive effect on your erections and sexual performance.
For example, male sex hormones, or androgens, are a major contributing factor that overlaps between sexual health and hair loss.
DHT, the major hormone that causes male pattern baldness, is created as a byproduct of the primary male sex hormone testosterone.
Although high levels of testosterone (and thus DHT) usually aren’t very good for your hairline, healthy testosterone levels are important for proper sexual desire and function. There’s also a weak but established link between low testosterone levels and erectile dysfunction.
From a hormonal perspective, one of the main culprits behind hair loss is also, well, a fairly big deal for maintaining a healthy sex drive and strong erections.
Put simply, it’s a little complicated. While some risk factors for erectile dysfunction are also risk factors for hair loss, others aren’t. As such, it’s best to think of erectile dysfunction and hair loss as very, very distant cousins, not as siblings.
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How Can I Treat Erectile Dysfunction?
The good news is that erectile dysfunction and male pattern baldness are both treatable. In fact, for most men who are affected by ED, treating it is as easy as taking the right medication shortly before sex.
Currently, the most effective options for treating hair loss are prescription medications known as PDE5 inhibitors. These medications work by making it easier for blood to flow to the tissue that’s found inside your penis, called the corpora cavernosa.
Our guide to the most common ED treatments and drugs goes into more detail about how these medications work, their potential adverse effects and how you can use to them to get relief from ED and improve your sexual performance.
In addition to using medication, making simple changes to your habits and lifestyle can also help to improve your health and reduce the severity of erectile dysfunction.
How Can I Treat Hair Loss?
Like ED, hair loss is treatable with medication. However, the best approach isn’t to take a single pill, but to use two medications together with other products to target the factors that cause hair loss from multiple angles.
The first medication for treating hair loss is finasteride. A prescription medication, finasteride is a 5-alpha-reductase inhibitor that works by preventing your body from converting testosterone into dihydrotestosterone, or DHT.
By stopping this conversion, finasteride reduces serum DHT levels by 70 percent, which is more than enough to slow down, stop or reverse the effects of male pattern baldness.
One point to note is that finasteride does sometimes cause side effects, one of which is erectile dysfunction. However, this only affects a tiny percentage of men who use the medication (just over one percent), and it’s often a temporary issue.
We offer finasteride online, following a consultation with a licensed healthcare provider who will determine if a prescription is appropriate.
The second medication for treating hair loss is minoxidil. Available over the counter, minoxidil is a topical medication that works by stimulating each hair follicle to enter the anagen phase of the hair growth cycle. It also promotes blood flow to the scalp, which may cause hair growth.
Used together, the combination of finasteride and minoxidil is highly effective at preventing hair loss and stimulating hair growth. In one study, 94.1 percent of balding men who used both hair loss medications experienced improvements over the course of 12 months.
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No matter the treatment plan, the best place to start is somewhere. Early action is the best hair loss prevention.
Get Help With ED and Hair Loss
Although ED and hair loss aren’t directly linked, they’re both conditions that tend to appear as you grow older.
If you’re suffering from erectile dysfunction or hair loss, know that you’re not alone. In fact, you have lots of company. Most guys deal with these problems at a certain point in life, and luckily, both are treatable issues.
Your first step is to acknowledge the problem, as well as its effect on your life. Once you’ve got this step out of the way, you can start taking action to solve the problem.
We offer several ED medications online, including science-based, FDA-approved drugs such as sildenafil, tadalafil and Stendra. We also offer proven hair loss medications, including finasteride and minoxidil.
Used effectively, these medications can help you to enjoy the best of both worlds -- great sexual health and a full, thick head of hair -- as you enter your 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond.