If you’re experiencing thinning hair or a general decline in hair
health, can you identify a moment of stress 2-3 months ago?
Stress. What is it and what is its role in hair health?
The human body is a masterpiece; hundreds of functions operating simultaneously, each serving the next, a powerhouse where innumerable systems coexist in a perfect and delicate balance to convert, transfer, regulate, produce and serve.
Within this architecture, hormones are our chemical messengers, forming part of the body’s information superhighway.
They regulate our:
- growth and development
- water and electrolyte balance
- sexual function and reproduction
Whether male or female, within us there are over 50 different hormones, working together in a delicate balance.
They’re produced, released and regulated by our endocrine system and other organs and tissues. You might have heard of glands such as the pituitary, thyroid, parathyroid, adrenal, and pineal glands; along with our reproductive organs (ovaries and testes), pancreas, hypothalamus, thymus, kidneys, stomach, liver, small intestine, skin, heart, fat tissue and placenta; in a healthy body, these all work harmoniously as conductors of this delicate symphony of hormones.
When it comes to hair, we know that it grows from our follicles – the sheaths surrounding the roots of our hair – and we need our hair follicles functioning correctly for optimum hair health.
Hormones like cortisol influence the type and quality of hair developed by our follicles.
Hormones are also involved in supporting structures of the hair; for example, our sebaceous glands in our scalp produce sebum (oil) to lubricate, hydrate and protect the hair.
When the balance of hormones is interrupted, we have an imbalance – and a direct result of this imbalance can be seen in our hair health.
Cortisol – the stress hormone – and hair
Cortisol, a hormone directly related to hair health, is released during times of stress to prepare the body to adapt to that stress.
Cortisol affects the function and regulation of our hair follicles, giving legitimate biological basis to the adage “my hair is falling out from stress”.
Acute stress from an accident or undergoing surgery, as well as chronic stress from a marriage breakdown, workplace stress or moving home can influence hair loss and is known as telogen effluvium.
With acute stress, hair loss tends to happen 2–3 months after the period, almost like clockwork.
Telogen effluvium will first become obvious by an increase in the shedding of the hair, and is exacerbated by a slowing of hair regrowth. The more chronic the stress, the longer the slowed hair growth.
Stress is also responsible for the generation of free radicals in the body. Free radicals are unstable atoms that can damage cells and are linked to ageing and a host of diseases. When the levels of free radicals versus antioxidants is out of whack, our body experiences oxidative stress, which speeds up the ageing process with free radicals attacking the DNA cells and proteins important for keeping our skin, hair and nails in prime condition. Free radicals tend to gather in pockets within the body, making hair follicles, the pocket in which the hair root sits, a prime location. When here in abundance, free radicals may lead to hair loss and / or greying.
The impact of cortisol on other hormones is one to be aware of too.
Stress can trigger other types of hair loss like androgenetic alopecia and autoimmune hair loss because of cortisol’s relationship with other hormones.
How can we combat hair conditions associated with stress?
Is there a one-size fits all approach?
If we consider that hair health is one piece of a larger picture (the body), and that different bodies require different approaches and nutrition and stress-relief, there isn’t, nor will there ever be, a ‘one size fits all’ solution.
As a minimum, look to find some ‘unwind time’ in every day, eat nutritiously and, where required, supplement with targeted nutrition.
Getting to know the root cause of your stress is always beneficial too. Stresses have their unique set of causes and accelerators, and therefore treatments.
Always work with a healthcare practitioner to identify the cause of any hair health challenges, obtaining personalised advice to help you overcome them.
Addressing the root cause as opposed to just the symptoms will help treat the challenge longer-term.
Given that hormonal issues are systemic in nature, the most effective treatments are internal.
Stress hair and supplements
In terms of supplements, consulting with a naturopath, hair nutritionist or trichologist and using high quality Australian-made supplements can help you manage your condition.
Apotecari’s intensive hair growth and repair supplement MANE EVENT is an option too, formulated to improve hair follicle proliferation and helping to fight off free radical damage with a daily dose of antioxidants.