A protective reaction to a stressor, the fight or flight response is evolutionary. It is mediated through the sympathetic nervous system (catecholamines) and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal hormone axis (cortisol). Normally, there are feedback loops in place to regulate and inhibit this response after the stress has subsided. Due to the fact that life-threatening stressors are less likely to be encountered today, most stress is insidious and chronic, which can lead to dysregulation of this response.
What does this mean for your hair? New research has been able to demonstrate how chronic stress and its associated hormones can trigger catagen in the hair follicle, transitioning it out of the growth phase. The pace and demands of our lives make completely avoiding stress nearly impossible. The good news is that there are natural treatments we can use to increase our stress adaptation and how our bodies respond to those stressors.
Get Hair, Health & Science News
Withania somnifera, commonly known as ashwagandha, is an adrenal adaptogen. Adaptogens help to protect the body from the physiologic effects of stress and improve the body’s adaptability by supporting the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. The main constituents in Ashwagandha that provide this therapeutic effect are withanolides. When choosing a supplement with Aswhwagandha, check to see that the extract has been standardized to contain at least 5% withanolides.
In research, Ashwagandha has been shown to help ease feelings of stress/anxiety, as well as lower serum cortisol. It has also been shown to improve sleep quality, support exercise performance and recovery, and promote optimal brain function.
Rhodiola rosea is another adaptogenic herb, like Ashwagandha. Not only does it help to promote stress resistance, it also aids in supporting circulation. When choosing a rhodiola supplement, look for capsules that have been standardized to 3% rosavin and 1% salidoroside. These particular constituents of the plant have been linked to its adaptogenic qualities. Research shows that it can reduce fatigue and improve capacity for mental work under stressful conditions. Rhodiola should not be taken if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Serving as a cofactor in over 300 different biochemical reactions in the body, magnesium is a very important mineral. It also seems to play a role in anxiety and can affect our stress response. Unfortunately, Western diets can be insufficient in magnesium intake. Studies have shown a correlation between low magnesium status and feelings of anxiety. Supplementing with magnesium can help attenuate cortisol release in response to stress. There are many forms of magnesium available: magnesium glycinate is a good form to try if you want to avoid the laxative effects experienced with many other forms of magnesium. It has been shown to be well-absorbed, easier on the stomach, and useful in treating feelings of anxiety. Doses of up to 350mg a day are considered safe.
Vitamin C is more than just an antioxidant! Oral doses of vitamin C well above the RDA can trigger cortisol release after intense physical exercise. Not only can it protect us from physical stress, but it can also help with feelings of stress. Researchers found that adults given 1,000mg of vitamin C before public speaking had lower cortisol levels, blood pressure, and reported less subjective feelings of stress. Doses of Vitamin C should not exceed 2,000mg per day. High doses can potentially cause gastrointestinal upset.