FOR BOTH MEN AND WOMEN, EMOTIONAL AND PHYSICAL STRESS CAN LEAD TO HAIR LOSS CONDITIONS.
Daniel K. Hall-Flavin, M.D. writes in The Mayo Clinic Newsletter that emotional and physical stress can cause some hair loss conditions, including telogen effluvium and Alopecia Areata. But can the more common male pattern baldness – Androgenic Alopecia, also affecting women but expressed in overall thinning, not a pattern – be stress-induced as well?
To a certain extent yes, says Patrick Wanis, Ph.D., a neuro-linguistic programming practitioner and clinical hypnotherapist. “Every thought has a physical effect,” he says, pointing out how bad news or threatening events sometimes induce vomiting or incontinence. “Those are exaggerated examples of how our bodies react physiologically to emotional stress. It’s a vestige of the flight-or-fight response, a biological reaction to rid ourselves of what we don’t need in that moment.” The chain of events starts with the threat, followed by a biochemical response and later a return to stasis, he explains. When being chased by a predator – saber-toothed tigers, the Mongol Horde or someone the individual was not interested in procreating with – this might be an evolutionary advantage.
The body expects to return to a normal state when the danger has passed, which in early human development probably happened in a matter of minutes. But work, financial, relationship troubles and other perceived threats play out much more slowly. Imagine the family provider who loses his or her job, then falls behind on mortgage payments and goes through a multi-month bank foreclosure process. The stress is ever present, and it depletes the body of vitamins and minerals, which in turn affects adrenal glands, the thyroid and other vital organ function, says Wanis.
Revisit the mechanics of hair health and loss to see where this matters: poor nutrition and circulation deprives many body parts of necessary nutrients, including those needed by hair follicles. Wanis cites the experience of Holocaust survivors who at liberation were thin and bald. Eventually, with the stress of internment lifted and proper nutrition, their hair grew back.
More permanent Androgenic Alopecia happens when testosterone is converted to dehydrotestosterone (DHT), which binds to hair follicles, causes them to go into a “resting” phase that eventually thins the size of each hair. The key difference between individuals with hair loss versus those with hair retention is the degree to which DHT binds to hair follicles – likely, a cause rooted in genetics.
Where does this all fit together? A deficiency in pantothenic acid (Vitamin B5), due to poor diet or stress or both, can affect DHT production and reception as well, posits Wanis. The results include the number, thickness and lack of melanin (color) of hair follicles. He also cites the work of Andreas Moritz, MD, author of “The Liver and Gallbladder Miracle Cleanse: An All-Natural, At-Home Flush to Purify and Rejuvenate Your Body” (Ulysses Press, 2007). Moritz states that imbalances caused by behavioral and environmental factors cause congestion and aggravation of the liver, heart, small intestines, pancreas, thyroid and digestive systems, with hair loss and graying being symptoms of malfunction. Clear up these congestions – gallstones and other blockages – and better health is restored.
Rebalance and de-stress now
So it seems that when the head is out of whack, so too is the body. Regardless of established science to confirm this – the data accumulates but traditional medical authorities are conservative about drawing an absolute, conclusive connection – that’s a hypothesis that is not too hard to buy into. Who hasn’t experienced short-term anxiety symptoms and seen how wearying they can be? How much of a leap of logic is it to see how deficiencies of nutrition and the hormonal imbalances that result might affect hair health?
Restoring that balance, and ultimately a better state of health, can come about by many means. Yoga, walking, running, strength training, dancing, swimming and bicycling (non-stressful roads) all have their advocates. And any physical fitness activity has added benefits of increased circulation, socialization and better weight management. Of course, psychological counseling can help as well. While for others, a game of bridge, arts and crafts, gardening, furniture restoration or simple household projects can have a similar effect.
If your diet is out of whack – too many processed foods, too much fat, sugar and salt, excess alcohol – an adjustment there can make a big difference as well. See other articles here about hair loss and nutrition to address diet.
Dr. Wanis offers a free twenty-minute audio program that guides listeners through a stress management exercise through his website. It might be worth a try if current circumstances have you, almost literally, pulling your hair out.