Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) has various functions. Besides being linked to hair production, it is linked to benign prostatic hyperplasia (enlarged prostate) and prostate cancer too.
Androgens are responsible for the biological characteristics of males, such as:
During fetal development, dihydrotestosterone plays a vital role in the development of the penis and prostate gland.
It is made through conversion of the more commonly known androgen, testosterone. Almost 10% of the testosterone produced by an adult each day is converted to dihydrotestosterone, by the testes and prostate (in men), the ovaries (in women), the skin and other parts of the body.
DHT is more powerful than testosterone. It attaches to the same sites as testosterone, but more easily. Once there, it remains bound for longer.
Dihydrotestosterone is thought to have fewer effects in women and, as a result, it is believed they are relatively unaffected by having too little dihydrotestosterone. It is possible, however, that the start of puberty may be delayed in girls with too little dihydrotestosterone and the amount of pubic and body hair present in adult females may also be reduced.
In contrast, low levels of dihydrotestosterone in men can have dramatic effects. If there is too little dihydrotestosterone whilst male foetuses are still in the womb, for example, they may not be 'masculinized' and their genitalia may seem similar to that seen in girls of the same age. Later, boys with too little dihydrotestosterone may undergo some of the changes usually seen in puberty (such as muscle growth and production of sperm) but will not develop normal body hair growth and genital development.
Too much dihydrotestosterone, often resulting from excess testosterone production, has variable effects on men and women. It is unlikely that levels of dihydrotestosterone will be raised before the start of puberty. It is also unlikely that adult men with too much dihydrotestosterone would undergo recognizable changes. Women with too much dihydrotestosterone may develop increased body, facial and pubic hair growth (called hirsutism), stopping of menstrual periods (amenorrhoea) and increased acne. Abnormal changes to the genitalia may also occur in women with too much dihydrotestosterone.
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