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Can Stress Really Cause Hair Loss?

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People have long been known to willfully pull out their own hair owing to anxiety, but it’s widely believed that chronic stress can cause inadvertent hair loss as well. Although androgenic alopecia, better known as male/female pattern baldness, is the primary culprit for shedding in most, physiological changes spurred by frequent, intense stressors can also lead to clogged shower drains.

To understand how stress can make our hair fall out, we have to look into how hair grows to begin with. The life cycle of a hair plays out in three stages. The first of these, anagen, accounts for 90 percent of our hair and is the active phase in the process, during which cells in the follicle root divide and form a fledgling hair. This new hair continues to grow and pushes the old hair above it (known as a club hair) up the follicle and out. The new hair will grow at about half an inch per month during this phase, which lasts anywhere from 2 to 6 years.

When the next stage, catagen, kicks in, the hair has stopped growing and it enters a 2 to 3 week transitional phase where it becomes a club hair. At any one time, 3 percent of our hair is in this phase. Here the root sheath in the follicle shrinks and attaches to the base of the hair. As the hair is no longer attached to a blood supply, it stops growing and enters the next phase, telogen. Some 8 percent of our hair is typically in this stage, at rest. Hairs hang out here for about three months, and are then shed in the course of normal daily activity. (A shed hair in telogen will have a telltale hard, white bulb at the root, which means it has lived a normal life.)

Bad Hair Days

In tracing stress-related hair loss, telogen is the key phase. When someone is faced with a powerful stressor, like divorce or illness, or goes through a life-changing event, like childbirth, the body can inexplicably trigger much of their hair to enter this resting period, causing it to fall out pretty much all at once a few months later. Known as telogen effluvium, doctors believe it’s simply the body’s way of taking a time-out while larger problems, be it recovery or coping, are addressed. So, a relentlessly trying week at work won’t cause you to lose your hair, but a relentlessly difficult year might. Luckily, once the stressor is addressed or eliminated, the growth process will often regain its normal rhythm and the hair lost during the stress event will come back, though it can take up to nine months.

Some of the physiological stressors commonly linked to hair loss include rapid weight loss/gain, caloric deficiency, and, in women, hormone fluctuations following childbirth or switching/stopping oral contraceptives. Even though physiological change is the underlying cause of stress-related hair loss, added emotional stress can exacerbate the effects, leading to a more pronounced bout of shedding. As we age, the growing cycle slows like most other body processes, so periods of stress during middle age and later in life can make it that much harder for the hair to fully recover.

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Words
Why Is 'Colonel' Spelled That Way?
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English spelling is bizarre. We know that. From the moment we learn about silent “e” in school, our innocent expectations that sound and spelling should neatly match up begin to fade away, and soon we accept that “eight” rhymes with “ate,” “of” rhymes with “love,” and “to” sounds like “too” sounds like “two.” If we do sometimes briefly pause to wonder at these eccentricities, we quickly resign ourselves to the fact that there must be reasons—stuff about history and etymology and sound changing over time. Whatever. English. LOL. Right? It is what it is.

But sometimes English takes it a step too far, does something so brazen and shameless we can’t just let it slide. That’s when we have to throw our shoulders back, put our hands on our hips and ask, point blank, what is the deal with the word “colonel”?

“Colonel” is pronounced just like “kernel.” How did this happen? From borrowing the same word from two different places. In the 1500s, English borrowed a bunch of military vocabulary from French, words like cavalerie, infanterie, citadelle, canon, and also, coronel. The French had borrowed them from the Italians, then the reigning experts in the art of war, but in doing so, had changed colonello to coronel.

Why did they do that? A common process called dissimilation—when two instances of the same sound occur close to each other in a word, people tend to change one of the instances to something else. Here, the first “l” was changed to “r.” The opposite process happened with the Latin word peregrinus (pilgrim), when the first “r” was changed to an “l” (now it’s peregrino in Spanish and Pellegrino in Italian. English inherited the “l” version in pilgrim.)

After the dissimilated French coronel made its way into English, late 16th century scholars started producing English translations of Italian military treatises. Under the influence of the originals, people started spelling it “colonel.” By the middle of the 17th century, the spelling had standardized to the “l” version, but the “r” pronunciation was still popular (it later lost a syllable, turning kor-o-nel to ker-nel). Both pronunciations were in play for a while, and adding to the confusion was the mistaken idea that “coronel” was etymologically related to “crown”—a colonel was sometimes translated as “crowner” in English. In fact, the root is colonna, Italian for column.

Meanwhile, French switched back to “colonel,” in both spelling and pronunciation. English throws its shoulders back, puts its hands on its hips and asks, how boring is that?

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Love Scratching Furniture?
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Allergy suffering aside, cat ownership has proven health benefits. A feline friend can aid in the grieving process, reduce anxiety, and offer companionship.

The con in the cat column? They have no reservations about turning your furniture into shredded pleather. No matter how expensive your living room set, these furry troublemakers will treat it with the respect accorded to a college futon. Do cats do this out of some kind of spite? Are they conspiring with Raymour & Flanigan to get you to keep updating home decor?

Neither. According to cat behaviorists, cats gravitate toward scratching furniture mostly because that love seat is in a really conspicuous area [PDF]. As a result, cats want to send a message to any other animal that may happen by: namely, that this plush seating belongs to the cat who marked it. Scratching provides both visual evidence (claw marks) as well as a scent marker. Cat paws have scent glands that can leave smells that are detectable to other cats and animals.

But it’s not just territorial: Cats also scratch to remove sloughed-off nail tips, allowing fresh nail growth to occur. And they can work out their knotted back muscles—cramped from sleeping 16 hours a day, no doubt—by kneading the soft foam of a sectional.

If you want to dissuade your cat from such behavior, purchasing a scratching post is a good start. Make sure it’s non-carpeted—their nails can get caught on the fibers—and tall enough to allow for a good stretch. Most importantly, put it near furniture so cats can mark their hangout in high-traffic areas. A good post might be a little more expensive, but will likely result in fewer trips to Ethan Allen.

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