Hair loss can be a distressing condition that affects both men and women. For many people experiencing premature hair loss or thinning hair, a common question is whether this is an inherited trait that runs in their family. Understanding the genetic factors associated with hair loss can help individuals determine their risks and treatment options.
Does hair loss come from your mom's or dad's side of the family?
Hair loss can be inherited from either or both sides of the family. However, research indicates that hair loss genes are more dominant from the mother's side. Specifically, genetic hair loss is linked to androgenetic alopecia, which is caused by a person's sensitivity to dihydrotestosterone (DHT). DHT is a hormone naturally produced in the body from testosterone. It binds to hair follicles and causes them to shrink, resulting in shorter and finer hair. The AR gene regulates how sensitive your hair follicles are to DHT. This gene can be inherited from either parent. However, the gene is located on the X chromosome, which you receive from your mother. So if your maternal grandfather had male pattern baldness, you would be more likely to carry the AR gene and develop androgenetic alopecia. That said, you can still inherit hair loss genes from your father. The gene can be passed down from generation to generation on either side. But the maternal inheritance often shows a stronger link and earlier onset of hair loss.
Genetic factors for female hair loss
For women, hereditary hair loss is again tied to the AR gene. Women with a family history of hair loss tend to experience thinning hair earlier in life. Female pattern hair loss can begin any time after puberty but typically starts after menopause. If your mother experienced female pattern baldness, you have a slightly higher chance of developing it too. However, hair loss in women is complex and can also result from hormonal changes, medical conditions, medications, or lifestyle factors.
Genetic factors for male pattern baldness
In males, the inherited trait for hair loss is stronger on the mother's side. Research shows that men with affected maternal grandfathers begin losing hair approximately 5 years earlier. The gene for androgenetic alopecia affects hair follicles' sensitivity to DHT. Men who inherit the gene from both parents tend to show hair thinning and baldness earlier in life and with greater severity. If male pattern baldness runs in your family, you have a 50% chance of inheriting the genes from your parents. The gene can pass down through generations from either side. But having an affected mother increases your predisposition, as you directly inherit X chromosomes from your mother.
Other genetic hair loss disorders
While androgenetic alopecia accounts for over 95% of hair loss, some rarer forms can also be inherited. These include:
- Telogen effluvium - temporary increased shedding often triggered by stress, illness, or hormonal changes. You may be genetically predisposed to telogen effluvium if your mother experienced excessive postpartum hair shedding.
- Alopecia areata - Patchy hair loss caused by an autoimmune disorder. You have a higher risk if a close family member had alopecia areata.
- Trichotillomania - Compulsive urge to pull out your hair. While not genetically inherited, you may learn the habit from a family member with trich.
Other factors that influence hair loss
Keep in mind that genetics are not your destiny. Even if hair loss runs strongly in your family, other factors can mitigate your risks, including:
- Hormonal changes related to puberty, pregnancy, and menopause
- Medical conditions like thyroid disorders
- Nutritional deficiencies in iron, zinc, vitamin D, and protein
- Medications including blood thinners, antidepressants, cholesterol drugs
- High stress levels
- Scalp damage or hair treatments like tight hairstyles, dyes, and bleach
- Smoking and tobacco use
The bottom line
Hair loss is often an inherited trait passed down on either or both sides of the family. Genetic hair loss is linked to a sensitivity to DHT, caused by the AR gene. This gene can be inherited from your mother or father. However, some research indicates hair loss genes may be more dominant from the maternal side. So if your mother's father had severe male pattern baldness, you have a greater chance of experiencing premature hair loss too. That said, many additional factors influence your actual risk, so a family history does not seal your fate.
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