Most cases of hair loss are not primarily caused by stress
Hair loss, especially in men aged 40 and older, most often is of genetic nature. Some 95 percent of hair loss in men is triggered by an inherited genetic condition. Due to this genetic predisposition, too much of the body’s testosterone is converted into dihydrotestosterone (DHT). The DHT damages hair follicles and thereby causes hair loss. This form of baldness is called male pattern hair loss (androgenic alopecia).
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Androgenic alopecia also afflicts women and accounts for most of female hair loss issues. Of course, while up to 80 percent of men will start losing hair at some point, only 50 percent of women aged 65 or older face this problem.
While androgenic alopecia isn’t caused by stress, it can be intensified by stress. Stress boosts the body’s cortisol production, which is why cortisol is called the stress hormone. Cortisol, in turn, disturbs the regeneration cycle of hair follicles and slows down new hair growth. So, if you have inherited androgenic alopecia, it’s important to avoid stress, in particular, chronic psychological stress, as it may hasten your hair loss.
There are effective remedies for androgenic alopecia, such as Finasteride, that can stop baldness and even trigger hair to regrow. Talk to a dermatologist or other healthcare professional to learn more about different treatment options.
What is stress-related hair loss?
The main type of hair loss directly triggered by stress — that is not related to androgenic alopecia and also can occur at a young age — is called telogen effluvium. It manifests itself in widespread hair thinning across the entire scalp that typically happens within 6 to 12 months. This is mainly caused by physiological stress, not by psychological stress.
Malnutrition, such as insufficient carb or protein intake or long-term lack of iron, Vitamin D and other nutrients in the body is the most common reason. When your body doesn’t get the nutrients it needs, it will cut corners and stop providing for body parts that are not essential for survival, like nails and hair. This is why many women lose hair during pregnancy and breast-feeding: the body channels most nutrients to the child, depleting the mother’s reserves.
Fortunately, when the nutritional situation has improved, most if not all of the lost hair will regrow within a year. If you suffer from hair loss caused by a wrong diet or physiological stress, speak to your doctor to learn about dietary recommendations, supplements and other options that may speed up the recovery.
Another directly stress-induced form of hair loss is alopecia areata, which is an autoimmune disorder that makes the body attack its own hair follicles. This happens in random areas of the scalp and leaves circular bald spots — typically about 2 inches in diameter but sometimes also considerably bigger. Research hasn’t yet reached a verdict on how this autoimmune disorder exactly works, but it generally is believed to be triggered by extreme stress and sudden shocks, such as the loss of a loved one or a severe illness.
Alopecia areata is rare: studies show that it only affects about 2 percent of the U.S. population. An effective remedy has not yet been identified, but 34–50 percent of patients experience full recovery of their hair within one year’s time.
Another rare form of hair loss caused by psychological stress is hair-pulling disorder (trichotillomania). In this condition, severe depression, anxiety or other stress-induced trauma urges a person to pull out her own hair, which often is done subconsciously and at night. Trichotillomania is more common among women than men and can affect people of all ages, including children.
To stop the habit of pulling one’s hair, the first step is to get help from family and friends. Visiting a professional psychiatrist can also be helpful. Once the pulling stops, hair will regrow quickly.
What are remedies for stress-related hair loss?
If you are experiencing hair loss because of stress that is unrelated to androgenic alopecia or if stress worsens your androgenic alopecia condition, you’ll need to take steps to lower the stress level.
Whether with physiological stress (like malnutrition and sleep deprivation) or psychological stress (such as anxiety and depression), hair loss is not the only symptom you have to worry about. In fact, your body and health will be impacted in much more harmful ways, such as high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, etc.
So, to stop hair loss and improve your overall well-being, you have to learn how to reduce and better cope with stress. That’s easier said than done, but try seeking support from families and friends and think about how you can block the worst stress factors out of your life. Regular exercise, yoga, meditation, and a balanced, nutrient-rich diet also goes a long way to lower stress levels and teach you how to better withstand stressful situations.
- Miteva, Mariya, and Alexandra Villasante. “Epidemiology and Burden of Alopecia Areata: A Systematic Review.” Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, July 2015, p. 397, https://doi.org/10.2147/ccid.s53985. Accessed 26 Nov. 2019.
- Hadshiew, Ina M., et al. “Burden of Hair Loss: Stress and the Underestimated Psychosocial Impact of Telogen Effluvium and Androgenetic Alopecia.” Journal of Investigative Dermatology, vol. 123, no. 3, Sept. 2004, pp. 455–457, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.0022-202x.2004.23237.x. Accessed 27 Nov. 2019.
- Darwin, Evan, et al. “Alopecia Areata: Review of Epidemiology, Clinical Features, Pathogenesis, and New Treatment Options.” International Journal of Trichology, vol. 10, no. 2, 2018, p. 51, www.ijtrichology.com/article.asp?issn=0974-7753;year=2018;volume=10;issue=2;spage=51;epage=60;aulast=Darwin;type=3, 10.4103/ijt.ijt_99_17.
- Sharpley, Christopher F., et al. “Stress-Linked Cortisol Concentrations in Hair: What We Know and What We Need to Know.” Reviews in the Neurosciences, vol. 23, no. 1, 1 Jan. 2012, https://doi.org/10.1515/rns.2011.058. Accessed 26 Nov. 2019.