Stress Does Turn Hair Grey, Research Finds

New research found that psychological stress does turn hair gray but once eliminated, hair color restores itself.

HEALTH

PAULA TUDORAN

7/20/20212 min read

A new study conducted by researchers at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons is the first to showcase assessable evidence linking psychological stress to graying hair in people. While it may only seem natural that stress can advance graying, the experts were surprised to discover that hair color restores itself when people eliminate stress. This finding contrasts with a recent review indicating that stress-induced gray hairs are permanent.

Studying Hair as a Way to Investigate Aging 

The research has a more considerable significance than confirming the age-old hypothesis about the impacts of stress on hair color, the study's senior author Martin Picard, Ph.D., associate professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says.

"Understanding the mechanisms that allow 'old' gray hairs to return to their 'young' pigmented states could yield new clues about the malleability of human aging in general and how it is influenced by stress," Picard explains. "Our data add to a growing body of evidence demonstrating that human aging is not a linear, fixed biological process but may, at least in part, be halted or even temporarily reversed."

Although people have always believed that stress can speed up gray hair, researchers have argued the connection due to a lack of sensitive techniques that can accurately link stress with hair pigmentation at a single-follicle level.

The scientists assayed individual hairs from 14 volunteers and compared the results with each individual's stress dairy, in which the participants reviewed their calendars and rated their week's stress levels. The researchers noticed that some gray hairs regain their original color naturally - an aspect that has never been documented much.

To better comprehend the mechanisms behind gray hair, the scientists also measured the levels of many proteins in the hairs and how protein levels altered over the length of each strain. When the hair color changed, the team observed changes in 300 different proteins, which helped it develop a mathematical model that implies stress-triggered changes in mitochondria‚Äč may explain how stress turns hair gray. 

Hair Re-pigmentation is Possible, But Only for Some People

Reducing stress is a good aim, but it won't necessarily turn your hair to the original color. Based on the mathematical model developed by the researchers, the hair needs to reach a point before it becomes gray. So, for instance, in middle age, when the hair is close to that biological age threshold, stress will pass over it, transitioning the hair to gray.