Have you ever noticed that when a person feels stressed-out, their hair often looks frazzled and fried? Or that a depressed persons’ hair often looks dull and lifeless, as if to match the way they feel. This is no coincidence. Our hair reflects our emotional state. There is no denying that stress affects the condition of our hair and can ultimately lead to hair loss.
Stress causes actual physiological changes in our body. These changes throw off our entire equilibrium, and affect every system of our body. Hair is very sensitive to any disturbances or changes within our body. If the disturbance is severe or prolonged the hair growth cycle becomes disrupted, causing excessive hair loss and delaying new growth.
Healthy hair growth is dependent on an intricately balanced hormonal system. An over or under production of certain hormones is a common cause of hair loss. When our body perceives stress, our glandular system responds by producing additional stress hormones.
Our body is well equipped to handle stress as long as there is plenty of time to recover between incidents. Unfortunately our busy hectic lifestyles provide little, if any recovery time between stressful events. This type of chronic, cumulative stress causes harmful effects to the body. Hair loss is often the first symptom.
Cortisol is one of the main hormones involved in combating stress. Too much or too little cortisol can cause hair loss. Cortisol is produced from the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands can become dysfunctional trying to keep up with the demands of stress. Any adrenal gland disorder can lead to hair loss.
Another stress hormone involved in hair loss is corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH). When stress is perceived, CRH signals the sebaceous glands to produce excessive oil. This oil called sebum creates a waxy substance on the scalp, making it difficult for new growing hairs to permeate. Excess sebum can create weak, thin, slow growing hair and hair loss.
Long-term, chronic stress weakens the entire immune system. When the immune system is suppressed the body is less able to fight off bacteria, yeasts, parasites, viruses, and other invading pathogens. This produces a hazardous environment within the body. Under these conditions the hair often responds by falling out.
Stress can also cause the immune system to lose its ability to turn off when it is no longer needed to fight off invasions. An over-activated immune system can trigger or worsen autoimmune conditions and inflammatory conditions. Hair loss is a symptom of many of these types of conditions.
Stress is known to decrease the release of acid in the stomach and to impair digestion. Hair loss is a symptom of gastrointestinal disorders such as Chrons and Celiac. When the digestive system is not functioning properly we may not absorb the nutrients needed to support hair growth. Large amounts of vitamins, minerals and proteins are secreted in the urine before they have a chance to reach our scalp. Extreme stress depletes important nutrients such as selenium and zinc. A deficiency of these nutrients can lead to hair loss.
Stress hinders proper circulation. Muscles become tense and stiff, restricting blood from flowing to the scalp. The scalp depends on blood flow to bring oxygen and nutrients to the hair follicles, and to remove toxins and environmental pollutants from the scalp.
Cumulative stress can cause cells to age faster and to eventually stop dividing. Hair is formed from cells at the base of each follicle. These cells multiply and differentiate to form each individual strand of hair. Cellular regeneration must occur in order for new hair to form.
Stress is a major factor in many of the medical conditions in which hair loss is a symptom.
Acute stress, when dealt with effectively has no negative effects on hair growth. It is the chronic, cumulative, prolonged stress that is so destructive to our system. This type of stress causes hopelessness, anxiety, depression, insomnia and bad habits. Often the first place this harmful stress shows up is in our hair. Significant changes in hair can be a warning sign of stress that has gone out of control. Hair loss caused by stress responds well to natural therapies such as massage, aromatherapy or reflexology.
Melanie Vonzabuesnig is the author of Hair Loss in Women… Getting to the Root of the Problem. She is passionate about empowering women with information and solutions involving female hair loss
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