How Stress Causes Hair Loss & What to Do

Hair loss is often considered a problem that only the genetically unfortunate experience. However, the truth is, hair loss is a stress-related problem, in which a few lucky people can be genetically protected against. But more often, the person who retains their head throughout life is often considerably less stressed than the person who loses it, across many markers. 

To clarify, when we use the term "stress", we are referring to the underlying cellular or biological stress the body experiences as a result of impaired energy production that leads to cellular damage. This process can be triggered, accelerated and progressed by a broad range spectrum of events, including psychological stress, environmental stress, dietary, chemical and other exogenous events.

In this article, we want to talk about some of the specific ways that various stressors can contribute to hair loss, as well as some simple ways of inhibiting the damaging effects of stress.

First, let's cover some of the primary ways stress results in hair loss...

How Stress Contributes to Hair Loss or Aging Hair

  • Hormonal Imbalances: One of the major ways that stress can cause hair issues it by first causing hormonal imbalances unfavorable to hair growth. In the body, stress starts with hormonal imbalance; usually with a down regulation of the thyroid and stimulation of the adrenal-pituitary driven stress metabolism. When the body is undergoing too much stress for the body to keep up with, meaning it cannot produce enough energy to handle the stress, then the body goes into alert mode. Physiologically speaking, this means the adrenal and pituitary glands are stimulated and secrete various stress hormones, mostly cortisol, adrenaline, prolactin and aldosterone. Combined these hormones have various anti-hair growth effects. Cortisol can impair the hair follicles ability to consume glucose, resulting in a starved hair follicle. Prolactin can interfere with the overall metabolism of the hair follicle and adrenaline and aldosterone also have known hair growth inhibiting effects. In fact, studies have varied that these hormones are all elevated in people with "androgenic alopecia". For example, one study has found people with androgenic alopecia or MPB (male patterned baldness) have high blood pressure and elevated aldosterone levels, indicating a highly stressed state. 1

  • Oxidative Stress: Behind most of the aging process is oxidative stress. Reactive oxygen species or free radicals are generated by both endogenous and exogenous challenges. These highly reactive molecules can directly damage cellular structural membranes, lipids, proteins, and DNA. As we age, the production of free radicals increases, while our internal antioxidant capacity decreases. This imbalance leads to the progressive damage we observe as aging, and the ageing hair is of no exception. The stress or aging, environmental stressors and various others  can increase the production of free radicals that damage the hair follicle and lead to decrease of melanocyte function (graying) and can even  decrease hair production causing hair loss. 2

What To Do About It 

You've likely heard that stress causes hair loss, but perhaps this is the first time you've heard exactly how. With this knew-found data comes new solutions. Ultimately, hair is a highly stress driven issue and therefore correction should be focused on lowering stress. 

That being said, here are some simple solutions to consider:

  • Relax: The most prevalent sorts of stress seem to be physiological for people. In a high paced, high pressure society, everyones hair and health could benefit from more relaxation. This is easier said than done for some, but still worth noting. If you struggle with hair loss and ever wish to stop it, finding ways and creating time to relax is essential. This might look different for each person, but generally, anything that comes to you without effort or resistance is a good place to start. Make sure you dedicate a large portion of your day to effortless, resistance-less, relaxing time, be it time spent in nature, walking, reading a good book, or simply just being. 

  • Balance the Stress Hormones: At the root of hormonal imbalance is some sort of stress, being it mental/emotional, dietary or environmental, etc. Finding the cause for your stress is step one in order to balance the hormones. That being said, we recommend enrolling in our Forever Healthy Hair program to discover all possible sources of stress. While you work on that, simple herbs such as Ginkgo Biloba and Ashwagandha are clinically proven for lowering stress hormones like cortisol and prolactin, which is very beneficial for hair growth. 

  • Antioxidant Herbs: Because stress can induce oxidative damage, and since reactive oxygen species are known to be elevated in hair loss, the use of antioxidant herbs may prove to be very helpful in combating it. Herbs like He Shou Wu, Pine Pollen, amongst many other herbs are known to scavenge free radicals and may protect the hair follicle from oxidative damage. There are also many other botanicals that have this effect, as seen in this study. 

In Conclusion

Hair loss is a system issue, with many causes and contributing factors that all ultimately result in a stressed hair follicle. Yes, a small percentage of people seem to be genetically protected from this damage, just as some may not gain weight despite stress. However, any person struggling with any form of hair loss or aged hair can benefit from this information. Not to mention, any person's health may also benefit from applying these tips.

To learn more about the true causes and solutions for hair loss, be sure to check out our Forever Healthy Hair course for a science-backed, physiological approach to regrowing your hair.  

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