Is stress turning your hair gray?
For years, we have watched people’s hair go gray and we used that as empirical evidence that stress can, indeed, cause gray hair. But does it?
A recent study conducted at Columbia University in New York found that while on vacation, gray hair may revert back to its original color, which suggests a link between stress and gray hair – with the exciting possibility that it may be reversible.
Additionally, a 2020 study conducted on mice found the connection between stress and gray hair may be plausible. Researchers found that under acute stress, hair in mice turns gray because an overactive sympathetic nervous system (“fight or flight”) can lead to the rapid depletion of melanocyte stem cells, the cells involved in creating pigment.
There are significant limitations to this study, (the major being that it was conducted on mice) but the general consensus among professionals suggests that stress, along with genetics and ethnicity, may contribute to the development of gray hair.
Does stress accelerate aging, gray hair?
While there may not be a direct link to stress and gray hair, there is strong evidence that suggests stress can lead to various health and cognitive issues.
found have discovered that the body’s fight-or-flight response plays a key role in turning hair gray.
Your hair color is determined by pigment-producing cells called melanocytes. New melanocytes are made from melanocyte stem cells that live in the hair follicle at the base of your hair strand.
As we age, these stem cells gradually disappear. The researchers showed that stress also leads to the loss of these pigment-producing stem cells in mice.
Nerves in your sympathetic nervous system—which is responsible for the body’s fight-or-flight response—go throughout the body, including into hair follicles. The study showed that stress causes the release of the chemical norepinephrine into the follicle.
Norepinephrine affects the melanocyte stem cells living there. It causes them to rapidly turn into pigment cells and move out of the hair follicles. Without stem cells left to create new pigment cells, new hair turns gray or white.