Stress disrupts virtually every natural process in the human body.
From your energy levels to your sleep patterns to your skin, and even your hair, continuously high-stress levels can worsen almost every aspect of your health.
Hair loss is especially stressful because it’s so visible. Think about the last time you were in the shower and pulling out clumps of hair or when you last woke up to a nest of hair on your pillow.
Even though hair does grow back, it takes time. So what if it feels like your hair is falling out faster than it has a chance to grow back? And why is hair loss, a “symptom” related to aging, happening to so many adults earlier in life?
The answer, unsurprisingly, is stress. In this article, you’ll learn about the potential connections between stress-related issues, like adrenal fatigue, and hair loss.
What’s Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is far more common than we realize. But its signs and symptoms mimic many other conditions, so primary care physicians often have a hard time diagnosing adrenal fatigue.
As the name suggests, adrenal fatigue is a chronic condition that occurs when the adrenals, which are two, triangular-shaped, tiny glands that sit on top of the kidneys, become “overworked.”
The irony is that, if you feel burnt out, it’s probably because your kidneys are, quite literally, working overtime.
Common adrenal fatigue symptoms include:
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Mental exhaustion
- Brain fog and memory issues
- Insomnia or trouble sleeping
- Exhaustion when waking up
- Mid-afternoon “slump” of energy
- Salt and sugar cravings
The main function of the adrenal glands is to regulate major hormones that then trigger other bodily functions. For example, a significant hormone connected to everything from our energy to the way our body’s tissue repairs itself is cortisol.
Cortisol also happens to be the “big kahuna” of adrenal gland functionality. During moments of stress, the adrenal glands respond by releasing cortisol, and these levels rise in the body.
It cascades and sets off other hormones, such as adrenaline, which then control how we respond to the phenomenon in front of us — will we choose to fight or choose flight?
You can see why stress — and the behaviors it sets off in humans — is a very natural and necessary evolutionary response. Without it, we wouldn’t make snap decisions meant to preserve our lives.
But, these days, our decisions don’t mean life or death. Our decisions usually revolve around how to craft an email asking our boss for a deadline extension, or asking that cute guy or girl we’ve been eyeing out for coffee.
The primary function of cortisol is to stimulate a physiological response in our body and brain. However, when we face stress today, it’s mostly mental and we don’t find healthy ways to balance out our body’s needs.
When your body is working as it’s supposed to, cortisol reduces inflammation and helps with memory function, among other benefits. However, if your adrenal glands don’t have a chance to rest because you’re always in a state of stress, your cortisol levels spike.
Eventually, cortisol accumulates in the body, which reverses its positive effects.
That’s why continually stressed-out people experience inflammation, which could trigger dermatitis, eczema, insomnia, fatigue, brain fog, and more. They also have an increased risk of developing diseases like Cushing’s and Addison’s.
Does Adrenal Fatigue Cause Hair Loss?
The connection between adrenal fatigue and hair loss can be hard to spot because you only feel the effects of stress and fatigue over time. And hair loss, as well, can be something that creeps up on you.
However, you should know that there is a direct correlation between stress and your hair growth cycle. Like adrenal fatigue, hair loss occurs because of an imbalance of hormone levels. So regulating hormones like cortisol can lead to healthier hair.
Here’s how science says adrenal fatigue and hair loss works:
- Among the many bodily functions that cortisol controls, it regulates your hair follicles' growth cycle.
- However, prolonged stress exposure interrupts cortisol production, which then disrupts cell signaling that controls the transitions of the hair follicle growth cycle.
- This disruption can prematurely arrest the hair’s cycle, moving it into a “resting” phase, rather than a regular growth phase. In a few months, affected hair will fall out while you’re brushing your hair or even washing your hair.
This is a common stress-related hair loss condition known as telogen effluvium.
You might be wondering, though, how do you know if you know you have telogen effluvium and that your “hair loss” is not simply part of the natural cycle of hair growth and shedding?
The signs are specific. And if you’re already experiencing adrenal fatigue, the chances of telogen effluvium are even higher.
Here are common signs of telogen effluvium (or stress-related hair loss):
- Sudden or abrupt onset of hair fall, especially after a period of high levels of continuous stress. Your body could be reacting adversely to medication, severe illness, or even emotional and mental changes around significant events (e.g. childbirth).
- “Diffuse thinning,” which means that the hair loss doesn’t follow a specific pattern, such as female or male pattern hair loss. Instead, you just seem to notice that there’s less of your hair when tying it up or brushing through it. If you do have telogen effluvium, you may lose up to 50% of your hair around your house, on your clothes, and on your pillow. But, fortunately, you shouldn’t experience complete baldness.
- Sluggish hair growth rate, which means that your hair’s growth cycle is still in the process of returning to its natural state. This could be as little as less than half an inch a month. For some people, adrenal fatigue hair loss might mean they’ll never regain their original hair density.
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Recovering From Adrenal Fatigue
Even though hair density does decrease with age, telogen effluvium can speed up the process. While many cases of this particular do clear up on their own, adrenal fatigue-related hair loss won’t necessarily resolve itself without your intervention.
The good news is that you can reverse telogen effluvium and support overall hair health if you adjust a few lifestyle factors.
#1: Adjust Your Diet
Adjusting your diet is the easiest way to reverse adrenal fatigue and hair loss.
Generally, food filled with antioxidants, iron, vitamin D, and biotin are best known to promote healthy hair growth. But then again, each body requires different nutrients and minerals.
For instance, people who need biotin the most can best benefit from eating eggs and other B-vitamin foods. Whereas the best choices for those lacking iron, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids include nuts and seeds such as almonds, chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, and more.
If you need more guidance on how to create a diet that supports hair growth, read our guide on simple snacks for adrenal fatigue as a starting point.
#2: Supplement Smart
Of course, it may be challenging to get enough nutrients, vitamins, and minerals from just your diet alone. Sometimes, you need some extra support from natural supplements that target the specific nutritional deficiencies causing your hair loss.
Our Vegan Collagen Builder, for example, is filled with 35 powerful plants that promote healthy hair, skin, nails, and joints, as well as boost your body's natural production of collagen, keratin, and elastin. And you can also use other natural herbs like Ashwagandha to keep your body’s energy levels up and stress levels low while healing from adrenal fatigue.
For more on supplements for adrenal fatigue, check out our dedicated article.
#3: Exercise Consistently
Once you’ve adjusted your dietary intake and energy levels, it’s time to get moving. Exercise for adrenal fatigue is a very reliable strategy for healing.
Studies show that regular, low-impact exercises can help you feel more energized, bringing your body’s hormones back into balance. Regular exercising also increases blood flow and circulation throughout the body, which causes more nutrients and oxygen to reach the scalp. This can help nourish hair follicles and boost hair growth.
#4: Avoid Stimulants
When we’re feeling stressed out, we use up the body’s energy and resources. Then, we expect the body to keep functioning at peak performance. That’s how adrenal fatigue creeps around.
When things start to “shut down,” we reach for stimulants, like coffee, to perk us up, or alcohol, to “relax” us. But all this does is throw the body’s natural cycle further out of sync.
There is no direct link between alcohol and hair loss. However, too much drinking does cause dehydration, which leads to brittle hair, and hormonal imbalances, which we now know lead to thinning hair.
There’s no area of life that adrenal fatigue does not touch and negatively affect. That’s why it’s so important to heal using proven methods that empower your body’s natural cycles rather than keep you on a never-ending hamster wheel of fatigue.
The good news is that both adrenal fatigue and hair loss are reversible, so start making the right choices for your overall wellness and your body will begin to take care of itself.