Stress, Anxiety and Hair Loss

Stress related to work, school, family, finances, current events, and other issues impacts everyone from time to time. Chronic stress can suppress the immune, digestive, sleep, and reproductive systems. If left untreated, prolonged stress can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. Stress has been cited frequently as a factor in autoimmune diseases, however its role in hair loss has not been scientifically validated. While many alopecia patients say stress was an initial hair loss trigger, conclusive evidence showing stress is a causal factor is lacking.


The Science of Stress and Hair Loss


Experimental animal model studies suggest perceived stress can trigger neuroendocrine-immune changes, which impacts hair follicles. In humans, hair loss is often reported during periods of excessive stress. While hair loss can be a sign of an underlying disorder such as alopecia, in many cases, doctors cannot find an underlying cause. Experts believe stress activates the same circuits in humans as animals, which leads to an extended catagen phase when hair doesn’t grow.


Very few human studies have looked at the link between stress, immune response, and tissue regeneration in healthy humans exposed to prolonged, real life-stress. A recent German study analyzed the impact of stress on hair in a group of healthy female medical students preparing for and taking their final medical exam. Specifically, researchers looked at the impact of stress on cytokine balance. Cytokines are small proteins modulating cell-based immune responses, including hair growth.


In the exam group, cytokine balance was significantly tilted and hair growth was hampered. No differences in biological mechanisms were found between the exam and control groups. This implies stress-induced hair growth changes in healthy humans exposed to major exam stress occur concurrently with cytokine-balance changes. The good news is these changes are subtle and fully reversible.


Anxiety and Hair Loss


Anxiety often arises from long-term, persistent stress, which can affect the growth phase of hair. The most common type of stress-induced hair loss is called telogen effluvium. In response to chronic or traumatic stress (e.g. divorce, loss of job, natural disaster, etc.) the body shuts down production of hair since it isn’t necessary for survival. Instead, it devotes energy to repairing vital body structures. A 3-month delay often occurs between a stress-inducing event and the onset of hair loss.


Reversing Hair Loss


Unlike autoimmune disorders in which hair loss can be permanent, emotionally triggered hair loss is temporary. It can take an additional 3 months for noticeable regrowth of hair, so the hair loss cycle can last 6 months. The following tips can be key to reversing stress-related hair loss:


  • Eating a balanced healthy diet

  • Managing stress

  • Getting restful sleep each night

  • Reducing exposure to environmental toxins


Although managing stress can be challenging, especially when dealing with a serious illness, it is possible and can help many aspects of recovery.

 


 

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