Instead of settling for socks, coupons, or tacky sweaters, families all across the nation have been giving each other a more exciting holiday gift — DNA testing kits. In addition to assessing your ancestral history, these kits also test for the presence of different genes that range from the trivial — whether you prefer salty foods — to the more serious, like your likelihood to get Parkinson’s Disease.
23andMe, one of the more popular DNA testing kits, also looks for the balding gene and the chance of hair loss in men. There’s plenty of myths surrounding hereditary hair loss that cause men to panic and freak out for no good reason. For this installment of myth busting, we will explain hereditary hair loss and unpack how accurate these widely popular DNA testing kits actually are.
You’ve probably heard this myth: if your mother’s father is bald than you’re most definitely going to lose your hair. Sometimes, the myth gets more specific — if your grandpa started going bald when he was 25 than you should expect to start losing hair by then; so buckle up and enjoy college. Before you start frantically asking your mom for grandpa’s old photos, there are some things you should know.
First, there’s some truth to this myth. Male pattern baldness, medically referred to as androgenic alopecia, does mostly come from genetics. A study demonstrated that 79 per cent of male pattern baldness is heritable and another study found that the androgen receptors (AR) gene, (which cause baldness) can be found on your X chromosome. In a research paper, 23andMe and scientists from the University of Bonn concluded that the X chromosome also carries other hair loss biological factors like “melatonin signalling, fat cell differentiation, and the growth phases of the hair.”
Biological males have both an X and Y chromosome, while biological females have two XX chromosomes. Since men get their X chromosome from their mothers, looking into maternal genetics makes sense. When a trait gets passed to the X chromosome in men, the likelihood of it expressing itself is larger because it won’t get balanced out by another X chromosome. Women, on the other hand, need genetic traits to pop up in both X chromosomes to express itself. Mothers carry one X chromosome from their fathers, making their grandfather’s genetics a likely indicator for what traits they will pass on to men. That being said, it would be reductive to claim that hair loss just comes from your mom’s genetics.
Here is why:
Despite being popular, DNA testing kits are new terrain for science. With 23andMe, theoretically all you have to do is spit in a tube, send it to a lab, and then wait a few weeks to see your risk for going bald. Though this process may seem super convenient, it’s not one hundred per cent accurate. 23andMe — and other testing kits — are also prone to errors.
For some non-caucasian ethnicities, the data is also limited and could lead to flawed results. The company warns customers that just because variants are present in their DNA, it doesn’t mean those variants will always express themselves. This is a prediction, not a diagnosis. There’s a difference between being a carrier of a gene and having the symptom or disease. You could likely pass down the balding gene to your children without going bald yourself.
If your DNA test says you’re likely to go bald, remember that it’s one of many factors that lead to hair loss. Even though the majority of cases of male pattern baldness do stem from genetics, there are other factors that can’t easily be determined from DNA testing kits. Remember, it’s important to contact a physician if you start experiencing hair loss because it could foreshadow serious health issues.
These factors can’t be treated by the medications and in the specific cases of telogen effluvium and trichotillomania, may require psychological or psychiatric assistance.
Unfortunately, you can’t simply delete the balding gene. If you start experiencing signs of hair loss, however, there are steps you can do to prevent it from worsening. For all of its folklore, most hair loss comes from chemical reactions in the body. Hereditary hair loss is caused by dihydrotestosterone (DHT), an androgen that’s produced from testosterone. All biological men make DHT. When you are genetically bound to go bald, DHT shrinks and subsequently destroys your hair follicles — resulting in hair loss. Luckily, there are treatments that can stop this by blocking DHT. The medication Finasteride inhibits DHT production in the scalp, preventing you from losing more follicles.
Finding out your genetically predisposed to losing hair can be scary and nerve wracking. But it’s important to put DNA testing kits and old family photos of your grandpa in perspective.