There is absolutely nothing fun about hair loss. That experience of washing your hair in the shower, or brushing your hair before bed, and having clumps of hair fall out, it just downright stinks. I experienced significant hair loss after both pregnancies, and then again when I navigated adrenal fatigue.
I had no idea that my high-stress, fast-paced lifestyle was contributing to my hair loss. It was summer of 2018 and my dad had passed away unexpectedly a few months prior. I barely gave myself time to grieve, was juggling work, working out 5 days a week, running on very little sleep, renovating a house and had two small children. Often, I tucked my grief and emotions into a little box and continued to press on, until my body started to fall apart.
I continued on a few more months until I hit my breaking point. I knew something had to change, I was exhausted. Emotional. My hair was thinning. My sleep was awful. I was resentful and downright angry with life. It was at that time that I made the decision to pull back from my work (you can read the blog post on that here), and focus on my health and family. It was hands down one of the best decisions I’ve made.
A note: This blog post does not take the place of medical advise or consultation with your doctor. I am not a medical professional, nor do I claim to be. This post is for informational purposes only. Please consult your doctor before implementing new health practices.
What is an adrenal gland and how does it contribute to fatigue?
Your adrenal glands are small, triangular shaped glands located on top of both kidneys. They’re a part of your endocrine system and produce hormones that regulate your metabolism, immune system, blood pressure, response to stress and other essential functions.
When your body is under constant stress, this causes the adrenals to overproduce hormones, which can lead to adrenal fatigue and many other health issues. Adrenal fatigue is technically not recognized as a diagnosable condition in the medical community. It’s characterized by certain symptoms and is a result of chronic stress that depletes the adrenal glands.
Adrenal fatigue is thought to occur when the adrenals have become overtaxed by excess cortisol release and can no longer produce levels of cortisol necessary for optimal body function.” (1)
Why are your adrenals important?
Your adrenals signal the “fight or flight” response, which is your body’s response to stress. Fight or flight causes the adrenals to release cortisol and adrenaline. “Cortisol is a hormone released by the adrenals for use in the regulation of blood pressure. In response to stress, the adrenals release greater amounts of cortisol.
They’re pretty darn important to overall health and unfortunately we don’t realize that our lifestyle choices and habits can have a detrimental impact on our adrenals. When we don’t nourish and protect our adrenals, it can lead to a slew of health issues, negatively impact thyroid hormone production and slow the metabolism.
What are other signs of adrenal fatigue besides Hair loss?
- Fatigue, especially upon waking. Slow to start in the morning.
- Poor stress response and mood regulation
- Brain fog or other cognitive issues like forgetfulness
- Increased energy in the evenings
- Cravings for salty and/or sweet foods
- Overuse of caffeine
- Weakened immune system
- Digestive issues
- Depression and/or anxiety
- Weight gain
- Low sex drive
- Cold hands and feet
- Low body temperature (read blog post on using body temperature to understand your fertility and metabolic health here).
What does stress/cortisol have to do with hair loss?
When we experience ongoing stress, those spiked stress levels can disrupt the hair’s natural growth cycle. A disruption in your hair’s growth cycle can lead to excess shedding and thinning of the hair.
“Extended stress leads to longer periods of high cortisol levels. While the adrenal glands are busy making extra cortisol, they make less of the hormones which support healthy hair growth. Sustained high cortisol levels can also lead to other health problems, including a decrease in cell regeneration, impaired mental function, decreased metabolism, and a weakened immune system.” (2)
A delicate balance of hormones to prevent hair loss.
Hormones operate best when they are in a delicate balance. “The androgens (testosterone, androstenedione, dihydrotestosterone DHT, dehydroepiandrosterone DHEA and DHEA sulfate DHEA-S) do not need to be raised to trigger a problem. Their counterpart female hormones, when lowered, give an edge to these androgens, such as DHT. Such an imbalance can also cause problems, including hair loss.” (3).
In a woman’s body, one of the main purposes of androgens is to be converted into the female hormones called estrogens. Hair loss can also be caused by an imbalance of thyroid hormones or pregnancy, disease, and certain medications, which can all influence hair’s growth and shedding phases (3).
Ways to reduce stress, lower cortisol, reduce adrenal fatigue & stop hair loss
I encourage a “root cause” approach that has us look inward and evaluate our daily habits and stressors, and seek to understand how they are impacting our overall health.
A few habits that are important to implement and can nourish adrenals and thus support hair growth include:
- Avoid long periods of fasting.
This can cause a dip in blood sugar and a spike in stress hormones. Aim to eat every 3-4 hours to keep stress hormones calm.
- Balance the plate with nutrient dense protein, carbohydrates and fat.
By doing this, you’re supporting balanced blood sugar and providing adequate fuel for your metabolism. Nutrient dense foods include animal protein, dairy (raw if possible), root vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, fruits such as apples, berries, bananas, tropical fruits, coconut, honey.
- Eat enough calories!
MANY women don’t even realize they are underating for their metabolism. A 1200 calorie diet is NOT ENOUGH fuel to support thyroid, adrenals and overall metabolic health. Consider tracking your calorie intake & macros to ensure you are consuming enough calories.
- Avoid PUFA’S (polyunsaturated fats).
PUFA’s are known to slow the metabolism, can be inflammatory to your gut and hinder thyroid hormone production. PUFA’S are found in most nuts, seeds, legumes, cold water fish, industrial seed oils such as sunflower, soybean, palm, vegetable, canola, corn and more.
- Enjoy exercise but not too much.
Over-exercising is extremely stressful to the adrenals. Long periods of HIIT workouts and intense cardio/weight training paired with a high stress day and/or lack of nutrient dense food/under-eating is a recipe for adrenal fatigue. With that said, exercise is a fantastic way to offload stress as it can promote happy hormones such as endorphins!
What supplements are best for adrenal fatigue and hair loss
Supplements are a great way to “bridge the gap” in our diets. While I do think it’s important to focus on high quality, nutrient dense foods as a means of supporting our body, we must acknowledge the reality that our fruits and vegetables are not as nutrient dense as they once were.
“Unfortunately, the nature of modern farming practice is that the quality of vitamins and minerals in the soil have been gradually degraded over hundreds of years, meaning that less and less of these vital micronutrients are making their way into the food we eat. In fact, to get the same amount of vitamin A from an orange as our grandparents would have done, we would need to eat eight oranges today.” (4)
The following is a list of supplements that support adrenal health, thyroid, overall metabolism and thus hair regrowth! Please consult your doctor before starting new supplements.
Many of us are deficient in magnesium. This is the number one supplement I would recommend to someone starting out! This has a slew of health benefits including promoting better sleep, calming, can help with muscle/body cramps, supports healthy blood sugar levels, blood pressure, nerve function and more. Click here for a magnesium recommendation.
Adaptogens are herbs that can help to lower stress levels. They are typically found in powder form or capsules, sometimes you’ll see them infused into teas, coffees, etc. Popular adaptogens for adrenal support and stress lowering include ashwaganda, astragulus, cordyceps, eluethero root, licorice root, rhodiola rosea, holy basil and turmeric.
Here’s a few supplements/tinctures that are worth looking into. These are ones that I have tried personally and have enjoyed.
Four Sigmatic Adaptogen Blend Mix: this is a powder that dissolves into teas, coffees, drinks, etc. It has 10 different herbs and is said to support immune system and stress.
Mud/Wtr: this is a great alternative to coffee. It’s a powder infused with cacao, masala chai, turmeric, sea salt, cinnamon, chaga, cordyceps, reishi, lions mane. I mix with hot water and a little creamer in the morning, with some raw honey.
Adrenal Recovery Formula from Organic Olivia: “Adrenal Recovery Formula increases the body’s resistance to physical, mental, and environmental stress and helps to defend against conditions brought on by a high-stress lifestyle. Formulated with highly adaptogenic herbs, each plant works synergistically to enable the body to respond more appropriately to stress without exaggerating the response. This prevents overstimulation and allows you to take on challenging tasks with greater ease and pleasure. Things don’t feel as “big” and overwhelming all the time – you can handle the unexpected because the body’s innate response is improving and getting stronger.”
Hydrolyzed collagen powder
Collagen powder is an easy to digest protein that can be mixed into soups, juice, teas, coffee, smoothies, etc. It’s known to support gut health, improve joint function, promote strong nails, hair regrowth and improve skin. Click here to buy collagen powder.
Beef Gelatin powder
Gelatin benefits your joints, helps you sleep, makes your skin & hair healthier, heals your gut, and balances meat intake. Use it to make gummies, add to soups/stews, smoothies, coffee/tea, on ice cream, sauces/casseroles, oatmeal and more. It has no flavor to it! Click here to buy gelatin powder!
Dessicated oyster capsules
Oysters contain fifty-nine trace elements, twelve known vitamins, nineteen amino acids, and important fish oils EPA and DHA. They support good energy, increase vitality, immune system function, skin, hair, teeth, gums, nails, bone and joint health and more. If you are able to source raw oysters, that is preferable. For those of us that can’t, you can take them in capsule form. Click here to buy oyster capsules.
Dessicated beef liver capsules
Beef liver is a superfood that offers a nutrient dense source of high quality protein. It boosts energy, immune system, metabolism, improves digestion, supports healthy cholesterol, helps maintain a healthy blood sugar, and it’s packed with essential vitamins and minerals. It’s important to source beef liver from cows that are grass-fed, free of pesticides, chemicals and are untouched by hormones and antibiotics. I like dessicated beef liver from Perfect Supplements or Ancestral Supplements.
Can you test for adrenal fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is not a diagnosable medical condition. However there are various tests/labs you can do to assess your hormone levels, etc which will give you an indication as to whether or not something is off. Your cortisol levels are the clearest indicator as to the health of your adrenals.
Saliva tests for adrenal fatigue
The Cortisol/DHEAS Saliva Test measures the levels of the stress hormones DHEAS and cortisol in your saliva, and provides an evaluation of how cortisol levels differ throughout the day. Most saliva hormone tests can uncover biochemical imbalances that can be underlying causes of such conditions as chronic stress, adrenal fatigue, anxiety, chronic fatigue, obesity, diabetes, depression, insomnia, and many other chronic conditions. (5).
Most saliva tests require you to collect a saliva sample multiple times throughout the day as a means to measure the rise and fall of your hormone levels. ZRT Laboratory is a lab that offers hormone testing. You can access their website here, and search for a provider who will help you order your test and evaluate your test results.
blood tests for adrenal fatigue
You can have a provider conduct a blood test to check your cortisol levels, DHEA (which impacts to adrenal health) and other sex hormones but the saliva test tends to be the more accurate option.
At home tests for adrenal fatigue
The dutch complete: This test is a comprehensive assessment of sex and adrenal hormones and their metabolites. This test gives a fuller picture for more precise clinical diagnosis of hormonal imbalances and HRT monitoring (6). You must order your dutch complete test through a DUTCH provider, click here to search for providers.
The Bottom Line:
While Adrenal Fatigue can cause Hair Loss, with the right Treatment you can STOP it and begin the regrowth process.
Healing from adrenal fatigue takes time, and if your hair health takes a hit from excess stress, remember that this pause in your hair’s growth cycle is temporary. With focused nutrition, supplementation, and lifestyle changes, you can revive and restore your hair. In addition to the things I’ve referenced above, implementing a restorative hair care routine with supportive products is important as well.
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