Can alopecia areata be caused by stress
Stress & Alopecia Areata: Are They Related?
The answer to the question is, yes. Stress and alopecia areata can indeed be related.
Stress and Hair Loss
Stress does not necessarily mean only psychological stress; stress is the response of the body to any stimulus that is demanding more of it than it is capable of providing. This stimulus (stressor) can be environmental (diet, seasonal allergies), medicinal (vaccinations, birth control pills), physical (accidents, surgeries), or mental (abusive relationship, hostile work environment, chronic uncontrollable factors).
In fact, there are three types of hair loss associated with high levels of stress, which include:
- Telogen effluvium: This is a medical condition leading to hair loss in which hair typically falls off in handfuls, and up to 70% of the scalp hair can be lost through this condition. It doesn't actually cause hair to fall, but rather makes it stop growing by pushing large numbers of hair follicles into a resting phase, which fall out suddenly when simply combing or washing your hair.
- Trichotillomania: This is a disorder that involves a recurrent and irresistible urge to pull out hair from your scalp, eyebrows or other areas of your body. Hair pulling can be a way of dealing with negative or uncomfortable feelings like stress, anxiety, boredom, loneliness, or frustration.
- Alopecia areata: This is an autoimmune condition in which the body's immune cells mistakenly attack its own hair follicles, on the scalp or elsewhere on the body, leading to sudden, patchy hair loss. The exact reason for this is not known, but stress, infections, nutritional deficiencies, hormonal imbalance, etc can act as triggers for the immune system to misfire.
The good news is that stress and hair loss don't have to be permanent. If you can successfully identify your stressor and get it under control, your hair can grow back.
Stress and Alopecia Areata
One may argue that everyone suffers from stress, of some kind or the other, but not everyone has alopecia areata! Fair enough. It has been observed that those who process the stress stimuli by losing hair also belong to the 2% of the world's population that is also genetically predisposed to this disorder. Now calling that unfair would be fair, too.
Short-term stressors cause the body's immune system to prepare itself, actually boosting it, and avoiding any long-term effects. But long-term, chronic stressors involving life changes beyond a person's control can have a negative impact on the immune system.
So stress is not a cause of alopecia areata, it is a trigger for it, and for the immune system to receive faulty signals for attacking your hair follicles.
What research has to say
Research has determined stress to be a factor in autoimmune diseases, including alopecia areata.
- Hair follicles are highly innervated structures, so there are a lot of nerves in and around them. The actions of these nerves, as well as of various nervous system products called neuropeptides could affect the hair growth cycle.
- The human hair follicle is also able to synthesize and secrete cortisol, a stress-related hormone, explaining why the follicle may be able to respond to stress.
- Research and experiments are ongoing to better understand the relationship between alopecia and the nervous system since an improved knowledge about the nerve, neuropeptide, and receptor function in alopecia could lead to improved treatment therapies for it.
Prevention and Treatment for Stress-Related Alopecia Areata
Here, the prevention and treatment measures overlap, since treating stress can often be a way of preventing it as well, and vice versa. So if you're suffering from sudden, inappropriate hair loss, here's what you need to do:
- Educate yourself. That's always the first step in solving any problem correctly. Learn about the types of hair loss and their relation to stress and other factors. Deliberate on the likely cause for your hair loss.
- Consult the expert. Get your diagnosis and cause for hair loss confirmed by your dermatologist or trichologist. Your doctor will also ensure ruling out other causes or any serious underlying conditions, and then recommend ways to combat the hair fall.
- Be patient. Remember that it will only last as long as the stress does. So instead of worrying and paradoxically making your hair loss another stressor, which will lead to a never-ending cycle, stay calm.
- Sleep well. Lack of sleep can contribute and worsen both physical and mental stress. So follow a regular sleep pattern, and make sure you receive 8-9 hours of your beauty sleep at a stretch.
- Eat well. Hair is made up of a protein called keratin; also, being one of the fastest growing cells in the body, hair follicles need their share of calories. So follow a healthy diet, that includes the recommended daily allowance for proteins and calories.
Avoid processed, sugary foods. Eat more of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and foods high in monounsaturated fats such as avocados, oily fish, nuts and olives.
- Supplements. If your diet is falling short of providing you with the necessary nutrition, your doctor may prescribe multivitamins and other supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, etc to improve the health of the scalp.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise is greatly beneficial in alleviating emotional and mental stress by causing the release of endorphins, the happy hormones. Choose your own brand of exercise, may it be running, cycling, yoga, dancing, anything, but practice it regularly and welcome in a happier, calmer and more relaxed version of yourself.
- Counseling and therapy. Emotional and psychological stress can be difficult to deal with, especially without any release. Talking about it with a trusted friend or family member, or even to a therapist may feel cathartic and help you find some peace.
- Rest. If your body has been under physical stress, such as a surgery, accident, chronic illness, or even giving birth to a child, your body needs time to recover. Be patient and allow your body to heal; once it has, your hair will recover, too.
- Check your medications. Medications like blood thinners, blood pressure medication, some anti-inflammatory drugs, and certain other drugs can promote hair loss and worsen stress-related hair loss. If you discover you are on one of these, you can talk to your doctor about lowering the dosage and whether alternative medicine is possible.
Hair care. Only getting the triggers under control isn't enough. You must also actively take good care of your hair.
Follow a hair care regime using hair care products best suited to your hair type. Learn the right techniques of shampooing and conditioning your hair.
- Avoid washing your hair too often as it can strip it of natural oils, making it dry and brittle. Nourish your hair by massaging your scalp with your hands using oil to boost circulation and encourage growth.
- Get it trimmed every couple of months to eliminate split ends. Avoid over-styling your hair and minimize the use of styling tools.
Professionals at HairMD Clinic have years of experience in guiding individuals through combatting hair loss, related to stress and other factors. For any queries, consultation or treatment regarding alopecia, feel free to contact us.