For generations, people have accepted the belief that stress can cause hair loss. However, the reality is actually significantly more complicated. While there does seem to be some correlation between increased stress levels and accelerated hair loss in certain individuals, the actual mechanisms that cause this phenomenon can vary from case to case. For nearly forty years, The Griffin Center of Hair Restoration and Research has been dedicated to the study of hair loss in all its forms, and it is our belief that hair loss can be best treated only once we understand precisely what is causing it.
Simply put, approximately 90% of all hair loss is the result of androgenetic alopecia, or common pattern baldness, which is genetically inherited and not related to stress at all. However, this does not quite tell the whole story. Because the body’s different processes are all interconnected, chronic, low-level emotional stress can, over time, result in changes in your health and alter physiological processes like hair growth. For example, even though stress cannot actually make you sick, it can cause you to lose sleep and alter your appetite. These factors can then impact your immune system and make you more susceptible to disease. Emotional stress has been shown to lead to release of certain pro-inflammatory mediators in the body negatively affecting hair follicle growth.
The individual hair follicles on the scalp do not continuously produce hair, instead progressing through a regular growth cycle consisting of three distinct stages: anagen (growth phase), catagen (transition phase), and telogen (resting phase). At any given time, approximately 15% of the hair follicles are in the telogen stage, where the hair is shed over a period of three to five months in order to make room for new growth. However, an extreme physical or mental stressor, like traumatic injury, major surgery, or extreme weight loss, can cause the body to trigger a disproportionately large number of hairs to move into the telogen phase all at once. About three months later, this hair begins to fall out, causing diffuse thinning over the entire scalp. Fortunately, however, this form of hair loss, called telogen effluvium, is only temporary, and the removal of the physical stress allows the hair to return to its normal growth cycle over the course of the next six to twelve months.
Other, less common forms of hair loss can suffer from the effects of stress as well. Alopecia areata, an auto-immune disorder that causes the body to form antibodies that attack the hair follicles, is not directly caused by stress, but may be exacerbated by it. Stress has been shown, in some cases, to affect the immune system, compromising the body’s ability to defend itself against infection. Although stress can mimic the symptoms of more serious forms of hair loss, or even stimulate and worsen previous conditions, it does not cause the hair to fall out permanently.
If you have questions about your individual hair loss or any hair restoration treatments, please contact The Griffin Center of Hair Restoration to schedule a consultation. Be sure to also visit our website and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.