Sperling Prostate Center

Reflections on Going Bald, Consuming Sugar, and Men’s Health

This blog is not about prostate cancer (PCa), multiparametric MRI, real-time MRI-guided targeted biopsy, or focal PCa therapy. However, it’s definitely on target with my convictions about men’s health.

We can’t choose the genes we inherit, but we can make choices that enhance wellness on all levels: physical, emotional, mental, social and spiritual. I frequently post about diet, exercise, stress and other lifestyle practices. However, when I came across a study on male pattern hair loss—the most common cause of men’s baldness—I realized I’ve overlooked a psychological health issue: self-esteem. Part of self-esteem is related to image, and part of image is hair. How much hair we have and how we style expresses how we see ourselves and gives us confidence.

Thus, for many men, balding affects how they feel about themselves. Hair loss is a normal part of aging. It affects the majority of men to a greater or lesser degree. Nonetheless, many men dread seeing thinning hair in the mirror. No matter how common balding is, it can affect self esteem. Psychiatrist Dr. Max Pemberton writes, “It’s actually more unusual not to go bald. Yet despite how common male pattern baldness is, it causes untold distress and anguish to men.”

Now, you may not think of low self-esteem as a life-threatening condition in the same way that physical illnesses like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease are. In the case of hair loss, however, there’s a lifestyle choice that absolutely threatens physical wellness—and surprisingly, it may also be connected with a man’s vanity about his hair. This brings me to the new study I found on male pattern hair loss.

Sugar consumption

To my astonishment, the 2023 paper by Shi, et al.[i] linked sugar consumption with an increased rate of male pattern baldness in younger men! Specifically, they define sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) as any drink to which a form of sugar has been added. This includes “sodas/soft drinks, juice with added sugar, sport drinks, energy drinks, sweet milk, and sweet tea/coffee. In the USA, 63% of youths and 49% of adults drink an SSB on a given day.” The authors found that the more SSBs consumed, the greater the risk of hair loss.

Before I go further, I want to point out that the article is not saying that there is necessarily a causal relationship. What the authors found was a correlation, but it was strong enough to suggest a need for more research to determine if sugar consumption does, in fact, lead to hair loss. Their goal was to explore this relationship in order “… to provide scientific evidence to improve the dietary habits and promote the health of young people.”

In other words, they were not as concerned about how balding affects a man’s image as they are about how sugar impacts health in general. But their work has implications for a way to use personal image as an incentive to practice better dietary health. Their study design was multifactorial, using detailed considerations to analyze patterns in relation to each other: demographics, body mass index (BMI), hair status and hair care habits, dietary intake (food and beverage), lifestyle (exercise, sleep quality, smoking), family history, and psychological factors including anxiety and post-traumatic stress.

The researchers found that men with male pattern hair loss generally tended to be older, less physically active, have poorer sleep quality, a family history of male pattern balding, use harsher hair products (e.g., dye, bleach, permanents, etc.), have lower education levels, and greater likelihood of smoking and drinking. However, they adjusted for these factors and other confounders in their statistical model, leading to findings of a significant correlation between high consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and greater rates of male pattern hair loss.

They bemoan that younger males are drinking more sweetened beverages than ever because despite increasing public information, they seem unaware of the physical damage done by sugary drinks: higher mortality rates, greater incidence of cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, and dental problems. The authors observe that thinning hair is occurring more frequently at younger ages, and of all the factors in their study, the most prominent culprit is sugary beverages. They briefly describe the possible biological processes by which high sugar intake affects hair production/growth and scalp health.

The topic of sugar consumption and male hair loss has rarely been addressed, and certainly not with such thoroughness and care as this study. Not only is it original, its concluding thought is quite novel. Recognizing that sugar consumption has become a global health issue, and medical institutions and governments seem powerless to reverse its trend, the authors suggest that emphasizing that sugary drinks could have a negative impact on a man’s appearance “…could catch the attention of the young population and promote a reduction” in sweetened drink consumption. If appealing to a man’s vanity could help reduce the attraction of sugar, not only would men’s self-esteem get a boost, in the long run they can lead longer lives with better health. It seems like a sure win-win. Hair’s looking at you!

NOTE: This content is solely for purposes of information and does not substitute for diagnostic or medical advice. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing pelvic pain, or have any other health concerns or questions of a personal medical nature.

[i] Shi X, Tuan H, Na X, Yang H et al. The Association between Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Male Pattern Hair Loss in Young Men. Nutrients. 2023; 15(1):214.


About Dr. Dan Sperling

Dan Sperling, MD, DABR, is a board certified radiologist who is globally recognized as a leader in multiparametric MRI for the detection and diagnosis of a range of disease conditions. As Medical Director of the Sperling Prostate Center, Sperling Medical Group and Sperling Neurosurgery Associates, he and his team are on the leading edge of significant change in medical practice. He is the co-author of the new patient book Redefining Prostate Cancer, and is a contributing author on over 25 published studies. For more information, contact the Sperling Prostate Center.

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