Stress Can Make Hair Gray, But Calm Can Reverse It
July 7, 2021 – Gray hair, jokingly referred to as stress highlights, is a visible sign of aging that has long been linked to personal pressure, but the theory is difficult to prove. Now researchers say they can measure what happens when hair turns gray and provide early evidence that it can sometimes be reversed.
Hair color is lost and strands turn gray as melanin, a pigment found in the skin, eyes, and hair, decreases.
Before the hairs emerge from the scalp, they grow under the skin in follicles that receive chemical and electrical signals, including stress hormones, from the body. Once they emerge, the hairs harden and their molecular structure is preserved and is reflected in their pigment.
Using high-resolution scanners, scientists can now detect small color changes in strands of human hair.
The researchers measured the loss of color in the strands of human hair of 14 volunteers who kept diaries to document their weekly stress levels. The results were striking: as the volunteers had more stress, their hair lost pigment. But as the stress subsided, their hair regained color, says Martin Picard, PhD, associate professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City, who led the research.
The researchers used a method to capture images of hair fragments so tiny that they represent 1 hour of growth. The technique, which allowed researchers to assess pigment loss, was developed by Ayelet Rosenberg, a research assistant at Picard’s lab, who is the study’s first author.
And when the hair color changed, the team saw variations in 300 proteins.
They developed a mathematical model to predict what might happen to human hair over time and suggest that there is a point in a person’s life when stress can temporarily induce color loss, but it can be. reversed if the tensions subside.
These findings add to a growing body of evidence showing that aging is not a linear, fixed biological process; it can be interrupted or even temporarily reversed.
With a better understanding of the biological basis of pigment loss, it’s possible that gray hair can one day be reversed with a visit to the doctor instead of the salon.
The research was funded by grants from the Wharton Fund and the National Institutes of Health.