How does stress prevent healthy hair growth?

Why does stress cause hair loss? You may not be surprised to hear that stress can cause hair loss, but have you ever wondered why stress causes hair loss?


There are many reasons that stress can contribute to hair loss, but I will share with you the three most common reasons that stress causes hair loss. 

And why does it matter? By understanding how stress contributes to hair loss, you can take a proactive approach when you are experiencing stress so that you can neutralise any effect that stress might be having on your health. 

And remember, not all stress is bad. Stress is a normal human reaction that happens to everyone. The human body is designed to experience stress and react to it. When you experience changes or challenges, your body produces physical and mental responses.

Here are some main reasons stress can contribute to hair loss. 

Telogen effluvium 

Firstly, there is a condition known as telogen effluvium. Telogen effluvium typically occurs after a stressful event such as significant weight loss, grief, surgery or infection and considerable lifestyle changes related to home and work.

However, in the modern world, everyday chronic stress may mean that you can suffer from telogen effluvium long-term and have continuous hair loss until you resolve the effects of the chronic stress on your health.

I have many clients coming to me who notice more hair loss in the shower, in their hairbrush and when they are vacuuming, and their hair feels thinner than it used to, which could be a sign of telogen effluvium.

So why does it happen, and what can you do?

A recent animal study found that chronic stress causes hair follicles to remain in a state of no growth, which means that if you continue to be chronically stressed, your hair will continue not to grow. 

The primary hormone responsible for this was identified as the stress hormone cortisol. And the stresses of daily life can contribute to the chronic release of cortisol. 

The study also found that when the stress hormone was removed from the animals, the hair stayed in the hair no-growth (resting) phase for a much shorter period, switching to hair growth.

Given the role of stress in hair loss, becoming more stress adaptable and resilient is crucial to support healthy hair growth. 

Identifying the stressors in your life is a critical first step to becoming more stress-resilient. And cultivating more self-awareness through mindfulness practices such as breathing exercises, mindful walking, journaling and meditation. 

If you are dealing with stress now, pick one mindfulness practice you can start doing this week and commit to it each day. You may feel a lot better by the end of the week. 

Nutrient deficiencies

One of the other reasons that stress can cause hair loss is that stress depletes you of all those hair-promoting nutrients, which can lead to nutrient deficiencies. 

Macro and micronutrients are significant elements in the normal hair follicle cycle and play an essential role in cell turnover and the strength of the hair follicle.

As nutrients help hair grow, in times of stress, you need to ensure you are obtaining enough of these in your diet and absorbing these nutrients sufficiently.

Nutrients and minerals such as polyunsaturated fatty acids, zinc, taurine and plant polyphenols are vital for hair growth. 

It would help if you also had adequate amounts of good-quality protein and antioxidants to protect the hair follicle from free radical damage, which can be exacerbated in times of stress. 

These restore a more balanced hair cycle, leading to decreased hair loss, increased hair density, and improved hair quality.

Make sure you eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods, such as seaweeds, organ meats, colourful vegetables and fruits, extra virgin olive oil, berries and oily fish when stressed to help restore the nutrients that you may have lost. 

I often test my clients experiencing hair loss or alopecia areata for nutrient deficiencies and how well they utilise nutrients at the cellular level for energy using the Metabolomix organic acid test.

And not just that, your body goes into fight or flight mode when stressed. In this state, survival is prioritised above all else, including digestion and hair growth. 

Taking steps to eat mindfully by taking a few deep breaths before eating, sitting at a table without distraction, and chewing food properly will give you the best chance of digesting the food you are eating optimally. 

Inflammatory response

Lastly, stress can aggravate an inflammatory response which is strange because the stress hormone cortisol is anti-inflammatory in nature.

However, when you are in a state of chronic stress due to work commitments, strenuous exercise, or fighting infections, cortisol becomes less effective as your cells become resistant to cortisol and its anti-inflammatory effects.

As a result, your immune response becomes dysfunctional, and sites such as the hair follicle, which should be protected from inflammation, become targeted. 

In addition, the cortisol awakening response (CAR) is a strong surge in cortisol when you first wake up. Studies have shown that CAR helps to detect and eradicate autoantibodies from the body. Autoantibodies are those anti-bodies which attack self-tissue such as the hair follicle. 

When someone has been chronically stressed for a long time or their circadian rhythm is out of sync, the CAR is significantly reduced, which may develop into autoimmune diseases, such as alopecia areata, Hashimoto’s or coeliac disease, which are all associated with hair loss. 

Eating food rich in nutrients which support immune tolerance, such as vitamin D, vitamin C, selenium, iron, and zinc, will help to keep the immune system in check. 

Waking up at the same time every day, keeping a regular sleep schedule and going outside in the first couple of hours of sunlight will help to regulate your circadian rhythm. 

When you are experiencing hair loss, many aspects might be contributing to it, including stress. By taking a holistic approach to your health, diet, lifestyle, movement and mindset, you can put your body in the best place to restore healthy hair growth. 

In my programme, The Hair Growth Reviver, you will learn about nutrient-dense foods and nutrients to help with hair growth and discover ways to promote healthy hair growth by making positive changes to your lifestyle and finding ways to help to manage stress. You will also learn about natural topical treatments that help to stimulate hair growth when you need it the most.

On top of that, you will receive a streamlined and structured approach to feel better with weekly meal plans, group coaching and actionable and educational modules. As well as guest presentations from complementary therapists to help you manage your emotions and feel more at ease during hair loss. 

If you would like to join us, you can sign up here.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London W1G & Harrogate HG1
Written by V. J. Hamilton, Autoimmune Disease Expert | BSc (Immunology), DipION, mBANT
London W1G & Harrogate HG1

After 25 years of suffering from multiple autoimmune conditions that affected her energy, skin
& hair, VJ discovered she could uncover the root cause of her issues to transform her health & live without symptoms.

VJ now uses these same principles to help women with autoimmune disease regain their strength & live a whole and symptom-free life.

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