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    How Does Stress Cause Hair Loss?

    stress-and-hair-lossIt is well-known that chronic stress has a number of health risks.  What may be less understood is how stress can cause loss of hair.  While it is normal to lose as many as 50 to 100 hairs a day, excessive hair loss and thinning of the hair due to stress only adds yet more stress and discouragement when life already may seem overwhelming.

    Of course, genetics does play a role, as does the normal aging process when hair becomes gray and also more brittle over time. Hereditary thinning of hair is not so much caused by abnormal amounts of hair falling out, but by the gradual failure of the hair to regrow.

    Other than hereditary hair loss, extreme stress may be a primary cause for unexplained hair loss.  Overstress such as injury, major surgery or illness can cause hair loss when growth of new hair goes dormant.

    Stress related hair loss and temporary dormancy of new hair growth can also be triggered by metabolic changes such as pregnancy and hormonal changes when going on or off birth control. Another trigger for unexplained hair loss is rapid weight loss of fifteen pounds or more. Extreme stress from bereavement, job loss or financial issues or relationship problems can also cause hair loss.

    The hair loss often occurs six to twelve weeks after the stressful experience.  In most cases, once the stress has passed, the hair will once again grow normally within six to nine months.

    Another stress-related cause of hair loss is when the body’s own immune system attacks the hair follicles.  Known as alopecia areata, in this condition the white blood cells turn against the body, and the hair often falls out in patches, or may involve the whole scalp.  Each individual is different; in some  cases the hair grows back normally while other cases may need medical treatment by a dermatologist.

    There may be hair loss due to dietary deficiencies such as chronic iron-deficiency anemia.  Hypothyroid conditions also can lead to hair loss.  In both these cases, treatment involves correcting these deficiencies, which are also stressing the whole body and have other negative health outcomes.

    There is considerable physical stress on the hair as a result of styling techniques that are directly damaging to the hair.  The first thing to do to protect the hair and scalp is to use a gentle organic shampoo that is free of detergents such as  laurel sulphate which is commonly added to create suds. These are skin irritants and are drying to the hair. The whole idea is to be as gentle to the hair as possible so it doesn’t dry out and tend to break.

    Heat from hair dryers are also a physical stress on the hair shaft that should be avoided. If they must be used, use a low setting.  Chemical dyes and permanent wave solutions are also damaging to the hair, causing the hair to break off rather than falling out due to metabolic changes.

    Stress may also cause dandruff, because stress causes increased levels of corticosteroids that create changes in the cells on the scalp which may lead to the growth of the fungus Malassezia which is the cause of dandruff.  A 2007 study discovered that 82% of patients suffering from depression and anxiety had excessive dandruff.

    For those times that are especially stressful, there are some natural herbal treatments for the hair that are simple to create in the kitchen and may help maintain a healthy scalp. Of course, staying hydrated, making sure to get enough sleep and avoid the added stress of sleep deprivation, avoiding processed foods and selecting highly nutritional meals and snacks are always  best practices, and especially so when the body is especially tasked by circumstances.

    One beneficial hair treatment uses plain yoghurt, organic apple cider vinegar, and either basil, rosemary, thyme, nettle or sage herb used singly or blended.  Apple cider vinegar has a long history as a treatment for dandruff. Use natural, organic apple cider vinegar to get the best therapeutic value.

    1. Wash the hair using a small amount of gentle organic shampoo that is detergent-free.  Remember that soap is drying to the hair and skin so be conservative

    2. Using plain yoghurt, massage the yoghurt into the hair and scalp. Leave in the hair for 10-15 minutes and rinse out.

    3. Wash again using as little shampoo as possible.

    4. Do a final rinse with an infusion, as suggested by the Mountain Rose blog Daily Herbal Musings; to 8 ounces of apple cider vinegar add three or more Tablespoons of either nettle, sage or thyme. Add the herbs to the cider vinegar in a jar, cap tightly and allow to sit for two to three weeks. Slowly pour the infusion over the hair and massage into the scalp. Catch the infusion in a bowl and repeat the application several times.

    5. Or, as a final rinse, use an infusion of three or more Tablespoons of dried herbs and pour two cups of boiling water over the herbs and allow to sit eight hours or overnight.

    The basics of stress management apply to having healthy skin and hair also; good hydration, high quality food and outdoor exercise. I always remember one summer when some friends went to work on an organic vegetable farm. Every day they dined on organic fruits and vegetables fresh-picked that day. Within a week or two, they noticed their skin and hair took on a vibrant glow from the high-quality nutritional value of the fresh produce.

    What are your favorite healthy hair treatments? I would love to hear from you about your best practices for managing stress in the Comments area below.

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