How does Stress impact our health and hair?

Stress is a common cause of hair loss. Long term stress leads to chronic inflammation within the body which can put an enormous amount of strain on hair follicles leading to hair loss/thinning, damage, breakage, dryness and a hostile environment in which to grow.

What is stress?

Well, back in the day, we needed a stress response to keep us safe when getting chased by tigers. Stress causes a release of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. The physical changes within our body when we are stressed are, increased blood pressure and blood clotting (so we don’t bleed out when the tiger eats us), increased blood sugar (to give us the energy to run away), a decreased immune system (because who needs to fight a cold when getting chased by a tiger?), low appetite and digestive problems (because who needs to eat and digest a roast dinner when getting chased by a tiger?) And the list goes on and on. This is an example of short term stress which could be life saving. It’s when these stresses and associated symptoms become long term that the strain on the body really starts to build up. Stress is just the body’s response to threat or danger - our bodies don’t know that when we’re feeling stressed because everyone and their dog is getting engaged and having babies and we can’t even afford rent - is in fact not a tiger chasing us.

Symptoms of stress:

  • Low mood/irritability 
  • Skin concerns 
  • Hair loss 
  • IBS
  • PMS
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Poor concentration 
  • Poor appetite
  • Low libido
  • Frequent illnesses

Emotional and physical health is so much more related than we ever knew. Stress not only takes an emotional toll but can manifest itself in physical ways too. Exercise can create a lot of stress on the body (there’s your excuse not to do it - you’re welcome), breaking a bone puts enormous stress on the body, in the same way that a poor diet can by constantly having to repair the damage we do to ourselves is stressful. Take sugar for example - sugar feeds the bad bacteria in your gut, this then causes a lot of inflammation; then these little blighters crave more sugar which leads to you eating more sugar and causing more inflammation. Vicious cycle! Eating more sugar also causes a blood sugar rollercoaster which is where blood sugars drop then stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline which have an impact on mood hormones ) increase. The same goes for highly processed foods, foods that have a lot of trans fats, alcohol etc etc, we all know what bad foods are. Anyway… this chronic inflammation can affect the health of your hair

Modern lifestyle is really stressful. Everything has been created to make our lives easier but for some reason it’s not. Social media, stressful jobs with hours sitting at a desk, financial difficulties, relationships, not to mention a freaking pandemic, the list is endless - and we really don’t need to be reminded. 

So what can we do? 

Relax - easier said than done. This could be part of your morning, lunch break, evening/night time routine. Meditation, journalling, stillness, walking, a bath, whatever it is that relaxes you. I like no phones before breakfast - it gives me time with my thoughts before the day begins. 

Exercise - I do apologise, I know I said above that it can cause stress but some gentle exercise might be what your need to get those good vibes flowing. Take it easy and do what feels good for you.

Magnesium - speaking of baths above, why not add some Epsom salts to your bath? Or a foot soak if a bath is not your thing. This is magnesium that gets absorbed through your skin - zero effort involved. Leafy greens, nuts and seeds also contain good amounts of magnesium. Magnesium is released when we are stressed and therefore can quickly become depleted. Adequate amounts of magnesium can help to regulate the stress response within your body.

Healthy fats - supports a healthy brain - nuts, seeds, oily fish, avocado, olive oil all help to lube up the cell membranes in the brain, potentially leading to better, more stable moods.

Antioxidants - get some blueberries and beetroots down ya. Dr Chattergee has a great rainbow chart that you can print out and fill in everyday to check that you’re getting all the colours that you need in everyday. Anti-oxidants can lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, mop up free radicals and therefore reduce stressors in the body. 

Probiotics - The gut and the brain are so super interlinked, it is definitely beneficial to support the good, healthy bacteria in your gut. You can do this with fermented foods such as kefir, sauerkraut and Kombucha. Up to 90% of serotonin (happy hormone) is produced in the gut, so it’s not a bad idea to protect this.

Vitamin D - good old fashioned sunlight - we all know that we feel happier when it’s sunny. The NHS suggests taking a vitamin D supplement in winter months so if its not summer and you’re feeling a bit glum this could be the ticket. 

There are so many different things that can affect your moods and in turn hair growth and hair quality and the ideas outline above are just a very small handful of things you can try. If you’re feeling super stressed out, it’s not a bad idea to go to a health professional - you may need some talking therapy or some medication to help you snap out of your funk and thats ok! Listen to your body, and look after it.

 

Article Written by Alex Capadose - RGN & Nutritional Therapist in training | @alexcapadosenutrition

 

References 

Vitamin D - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2908269

Inflammation and stress - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5476783/

Blood coagulation and stress - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4386736

Immune system and stress - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1361287

Gut and stress - https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-gut-brain-connection

Symptoms of stress - https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/understanding-stress/

Exercise causing stress - https://portlandpress.com/biochemsoctrans/article-abstract/30/2/280/63512

Diet causing stress - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4214609/

Sugars, the gut and inflammation - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7284805/

Inflammation and hair - https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/hair-thinning-get-to-the-root-of-the-problem

Exercise for stress - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3632802/

Magnesium - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507250/

Healthy fats - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6120115/

Anti-oxidants - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27738491/

Dr Chattergees' rainbow chart - https://drchatterjee.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Rainbow-Chart.pdf

Probiotics - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6531156/ - https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/09/190906092809.htm

Vitamin D - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2908269