Myth busted: Do your hair and fingernails really continue to grow after you die?

We’ve all heard that when we die, our organs stop functioning and our blood runs cold, but our nails and hair continue to grow.

So, just how true is this, and what evidence is there? The experts at House Call Doctor tell you everything you need to know.

Evidence

Unsurprisingly, there isn’t any available evidence from studies recording the measurement of fingernails and hair after death.

To determine whether fingernails and hair really do continue to grow after death, transplant surgeons can only use their experience in calculating the time it takes for different cells to continue to function after death to find the answers.

The facts

According to the BBC, the production of new cells is needed for fingernails to grow, and this process relies on glucose. The average rate fingernails grow daily is 0.1mm, though this slows down as we get older.

Finger nail growth happens when the germinal matrix (a layer of tissue beneath the nail) produces cells which form the newest-grown part of the nail.

These new cells then push the older cells forward and make the nail look as if it’s grown from the tip. When we die, there’s a stop to the supply of glucose and fingernail growth.

Similar to fingernails, hair growth starts in the follicle. At the bottom of this follicle is a group of cells which divides to produce new cells, therefore making hair strands longer.

This cell division requires energy, which comes from the burning of glucose. Though, this can only be achieved when oxygen is present. Therefore, once the heart stops pumping oxygen, the cell division needed for hair growth also stops.

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