Did Stress Cause Sarah Palin’s Hair to Fall Out?
Why the famous do isn’t doing so well
-Dr. Lissa Rankin, M.D., Betty’s OB/GYN on Call
Was Sarah Palin under so much stress from her vice-presidential campaign and ensuing personal and political troubles that her hair started falling out? The New York Times reports that her hair woes landed her in the beauty parlor of Wasilla hairdresser and close friend Jessica Steele, where “her hair had thinned to the point that she needed emergency help.”
Whether you agree with her political views or not, we can certainly empathize with the stress Sarah’s been under this year. Haven’t we all experienced times of intense stress- divorce, loss of a loved one, infertility, unemployment, a new baby, an empty nest- that push us past what we thought we could endure?
But can that kind of stress really cause hair loss? Maybe so.
The most common type of stress-induced hair loss is telogen effluvium, a condition in which many hairs in their growing phase get pushed abruptly into a resting phase by a shock to the system. What happens when this occurs? Hair anarchy (and a whole lot of hairs on the floor of the shower).
Healthy hair grows, rests, sheds and regrows. It’s normal to shed about 100 hairs per day.
Normally, about 10 percent of hairs may be in the resting phase, waiting to fall out. But those with telogen effluvium may have 70% of their hairs suddenly pushed into the resting phase from stress or other triggers. New evidence suggests that the old hair may shed, even if the new hair hasn’t started growing. Then BOOM. 70% of your hair is suddenly gone, and you find yourself pulling out fistfuls of hair and seeking out the help of a Wasilla hairdresser who is trying to cover up your bald spots. (Sorry, Sarah. We feel for you, sister.)
Telogen effluvium is known to be triggered by physiologic stressors such as acute illness or trauma, chronic illness such as cancer, hormonal changes like pregnancy or childbirth, crash diets or anorexia, medications, dietary deficiencies or allergies.
Relax to Retain Your Tresses
But what about psychological stress such as, uh, a vice-presidential campaign, having a child with Down’s syndrome, suffering through the breakup of an unwed daughter from her boyfriend, and enduring a media frenzy? Many doctors and patients believe stress can manifest itself in physical symptoms like hair loss, although the jury’s still out. Studies on mice suggest that emotional stress can precipitate telogen effluvium, but human studies have yet to confirm this.
The interval between the inciting stress and the hair loss can take anywhere between one and six months, which makes Sarah Palin’s recent stressors well within the window.
Personally, I believe the human body is a highly sensitive organism, and the ways in which our emotional stress manifests in our body and sends signals is vast and fascinating. Funny how our bodies communicate when we’re not paying attention to the more subtle signals. (Sarah, your body may be trying to speak to you. Listen up, girlfriend!)
Other Possible Ailments Afflicting Sarah
What else could be causing Sarah Palin’s hair loss? Although, at 45, she’s young, menopause could be triggering menopause-related androgenic alopecia (the female version of male-pattern baldness), which can occur on the crown from the hormonal changes associated with menopause.
Other potential causes include alopecia areata, an autoimmune condition in which white blood cells attack the hair follicles, leaving bald patches.
And then there’s always the issue of those fancy up-do’s…
To remedy her locks, first, it would serve Sarah well to see a doctor, to make sure there’s no underlying medical cause. Chances are, if she has telogen effluvium, her hair will grow back when she relieves the underlying stressors.
Hey Sarah, Your Hair Will Thank You for This
In the meantime, it’s time for Sarah to start getting in touch with what she really wants for her life. Don’t want to be governor? Fine by us. Don’t let anyone else tell you who to be.
The campaign put Sarah into a political box that launched her into the national limelight. If she wants to relieve the stress that she’s endured, she needs to figure out who she really is and what she wants to accomplish in this life. Hair loss is only the first of many physical and psychological conditions that can plague you if you’re not being true to who you are and what you want your life to reflect.
Own who you are and heal from the inside out. Your hair (and all the rest of your body parts) will thank you for this.
Lissa Rankin is a gynecologist and author. She blogs at owningpink.com, and you can follow her on Twitter at @lissarankin.