Study links sugary drinks to hair loss in men

Androgenetic alopecia (MPHL) is a gradual, non-scarring form of hair loss. The age of onset of MPHL has been decreasing while the incidence is increasing. Several studies have demonstrated the relationship between Western-style dietary intake and MPHL. new Nutrients A study in the Journal of Medicine explored the relationship between consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) and MPHL in young adults in China.

Study: The relationship between sugar-sweetened beverages and hair loss in young males.  Image credit: Landscapemania/ShutterstockStady: The relationship between sugar-sweetened beverages and hair loss in young males. Image credit: Landscapemania/Shutterstock


Various aspects of MPHL affect a person’s life, such as self-confidence, psychological distress, and physical health. Various factors can contribute to this, including sleep time, anxiety, genetics, age, and body mass index (BMI). According to research, increased amounts of added sugar in Western diets are associated with MPHL.

Young adults consume higher amounts of SSBs, such as juice, soft drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks, or sweetened tea/coffee. For example, 49% of adults and 63% of youth in the United States consume a harmful drink on a given day. The situation is similar in China, where SSB consumption is highest in the 13-29 age group (22.38%). SSB consumption has been linked to many health problems such as tooth decay, obesity, and emotional problems. However, epidemiological studies on the association between MPHL intake and SSB are still few, especially with regard to young adults. Therefore, this association must be confirmed by future research.

About the study

This cross-sectional study was conducted from January to April 2022 in mainland China. A total of 1,951 men aged 18-45 were recruited from 31 counties. A self-reported online questionnaire was used to collect data. Two attention-checking questions were deliberately added to the survey to ensure high quality of the survey. In addition, four types of participants were excluded: those with scalp infection, cancer, unreasonable physical data, and those who took less than 5 minutes to complete the survey.

The association between the amount/frequency of SSB consumption and MPHL was studied. The researchers used a binary logistic regression model with adjustments for confounders, such as sociodemographic factors, hair condition, dietary intake, lifestyle, and psychological factors.

Main findings

Scientists noted a significant association between higher SSB consumption and MPHL. This result can be justified by several possible direct and indirect mechanisms. The biochemical symptoms of androgenetic alopecia (AGA) in the scalp suggest the presence of an overactive polyol pathway. The high sugar content of SSBs leads to an increase in blood glucose concentration, which leads to activation of the polyol pathway. This reduces the amount of glucose available to the keratinocytes of the outer root sheath of the hair follicle, leading to MPHL.

High sugar intake is often associated with high fat intake, and MPHL has been observed to be caused by a high-fat diet. This phenomenon has been demonstrated in animal studies on mice. However, the association between SSBs and MPHL remained significant even after adjusting for the frequency of intake of oils, fats, and fried foods. This suggested that SSB may be an independent factor associated with MPHL. According to the study, chronic diseases and emotional factors also mediate the association between SSB intake and MPHL.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been seen to be significantly associated with MPHL. However, after controlling for PTSD, the association between SSB intake and MPHL was no longer significant. This result indicates that PTSD is a more important factor leading to MPHL than SSB intake.

Study limitations

An important limitation of the study is its cross-sectional nature, relying on self-reported data. Retrieval bias can make it difficult to consistently estimate causal and temporal relationships between MPHL intake and SSB. The question of synchronization, that is, whether SSB affects MPHL patients or MPHL patients consume more SSBs, was not evident in the study and should be investigated in future research.

Moreover, sampling bias cannot be ruled out since less educated individuals and those without internet access were excluded from the online survey. There was also no distinction between the different grades of MPHL. This was because very few individuals had moderate or severe MPHL.

Because MPHL is not clinically diagnosed, the study results have only a suggestive effect. Finally, the researchers did not collect data on the consumption of other sweetened products besides SSBs. Therefore, the exact effects of sugar on MPHL cannot be accurately estimated. However, the findings in this study need to be confirmed by further longitudinal and interventional studies to provide accurate information for future evidence-based health education.

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