Hair loss related to long-term stress
Stress causes the body to enter its ‘fight or flight’ mode. This natural, physiological response puts the body in a state of high alert – tense and ready to spring into action when it perceives any form of danger or potential threat. This causes the release of certain hormones into the blood stream, including cortisol, noradrenaline and adrenaline.
As the body stands by, primed for an ‘attack’, these hormones suppress the immune system, increasing blood pressure and blood sugar, in order to produce the rush of energy needed for physical defence. Some of the effects of these reactions include a quicker pulse, rapid breathing, and constriction of blood vessels around the body.
Other changes provide the body with the strength and speed it may require to ‘fight’ or take ‘flight’, with perhaps the most relevant to hair loss being the diversion of blood flow away from some parts of the body in order to increase blood delivery to the muscles. It is thought that this blood flow diversion away from the scalp can cause a number of hair follicles spread diffusely across the scalp, to prematurely enter the telogen (resting) phase of the hair growth cycle at the same time. This then results in noticeably increased shedding around one-to-six months after the stress became unmanageable.
In small, occasional bursts, the ‘fight or flight’ response is of little concern to hair production, however, should it become prolonged, for instance, in those who have on-going, untreated stress concerns, the chemicals this response creates can build up within the body. When a person is under intense levels of constant physiological stress, this can lead to a debilitating condition that causes chronic suppression of the immune system as well as hair loss.
Whilst proof of the precise human response has not yet been determined, it is understood that this type of stress manages to change the chemistry of the hair follicles, again, prompting a number of them to suddenly enter the telogen phase.
Despite a lack of human trial results, scientific animal studies have shown that stress can trigger the catagen phase of the growth cycle in mice. This phase is the short transition stage that lasts two-to-three weeks and follows the anagen (growth) phase, indicating the end of the active growth of a hair.