Does Enduring a Divorce Increase Hair Loss in Women?




There’s been a lot of media attention on some research presented in September 2011 at the annual conference of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and showing that some lifestyle stressors were predictors of increased hair loss in women. The study’s lead author, plastic surgeon Bahman Guyuron, M.D., presented interesting findings from a retrospective study done on 150 sets of twins who had varying degrees of hair loss. The research found that spousal loss through death or divorce was one key lifestyle factor that seemed to affect women’s hair loss.

“You can’t make the generalization that divorce, alcoholism or smoking causes hair loss, but the study did clearly show that androgenetic alopecia [pattern hair loss] in men and women is not purely genetic, or it would appear 100 percent the same in twins, so there is some suggestion of environmental and physiological factors independent of genetics,” comments Jodi LoGerfo, New York City hair loss specialist and nurse-practitioner at Orentreich Medical Group. LoGerfo goes on to explain that women and men handle stress differently and that stress levels are also subjective.

What physiological factors do affect hair follicles and cause hair loss?

“People look to blame hair loss on stress, but there have been few studies that have proven the correlation, says LoGerfo. “Everybody has some degree of stress, and not everybody has hair loss. One study on stress and hair loss found that they were actually not related. But as dermatologists know, emotional stress can worsen inflammatory skin disorders. And we know that stress triggers blood pressure increases and physiologic responses, which can lead to cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.”

Both conditions are associated with hair loss. One study done on male pattern hair loss tested men with early hair loss based on insulin resistance and associated risk factors, such as elevated lipids, abnormal glucose metabolism, high body mass index and elevated systolic blood pressure, and found that early onset hair loss was a marker of insulin resistance and cardiovascular disease.

LoGerfo explains that insulin resistance increases testosterone levels, which in turn raises DHT (dihydrotestosterone) levels in the hair follicles, causing them to shrink and stop growing — the main mechanism in male pattern baldness. “What we don’t know is much about the causes and mechanisms of women’s hair loss; there need to be more studies on that aspect. One Finnish study of women in their 60s showed a definitive correlation between insulin resistance and increased risk of hair thinning, especially when a subject had a paternal history of hair loss,” she says.

While there is a lack of studies investigating the cause of hair loss in women, most unhealthy behaviors such as a sedentary lifestyle, alcohol abuse, smoking and poor nutrition are related to either cardiovascular disease or insulin resistance.

“If you know you have some sort of hereditary hair loss predisposition, you might as well do everything you can to promote healthy hair follicles and healthy hair for as long as possible,” advises LoGerfo.

Healthy hair lifestyle dos and don’ts

  • Do nourish your body properly
  • Do get enough sleep
  • Do exercise daily
  • Do engage in healthy relationships
  • Do nurture emotional well-being
  • Do keep your scalp clean and healthy
  • Do wear a hat to avoid excessive sun exposure
  • Don’t smoke
  • Don’t abuse alcohol or drugs, even prescription drugs
  • Don’t ignore early or abnormal signs of hair loss

As for divorce, LoGerfo says it does not generally cause hair loss, and all women experience and rate their stress in varying degrees. “The research has not been published, to date, after that initial presentation, and the preliminary findings suggest that a further prospective study following the sets of twins throughout their lifetime with more specific stress criteria might be more helpful in determining how lifestyle stressors affect hair loss in women.”