Study finds that stress really can turn your hair gray – Khabarhub

Posted: January 27, 2020 at 7:41 am

Former President Barack Obama is pictured at the beginning of his presidency in January 2009 and at the end, during President Donald Trumps inauguration eight years later. Harvard researchers, for the first time, have discovered how stress turns hair gray. AP file photos

Back in 2009, a New York Times article appeared with the headline, After 44 days in the White House, Obamas hair is grayer. The article referred to a common trend of presidents hair turning dramatically gray during their terms in the Whitehouse.

This idea of stress turning hair gray has pervaded popular culture for centuries. Its often referred to as Marie Antoinette syndrome, in reference to an oft-told, but most likely apocryphal, story of the ill-fated French queens hair turning white overnight after being captured during the revolution.

While the idea of ones hair turning white in an instant after a sudden fright is an amusing cartoonish fiction, there is a solid body of anecdotal evidence describing instances where hair rapidly turns white after months, or even weeks, of stress or trauma.

In a new mouse study published in the journal Nature, scientists from Harvard linked the sympathetic nervous systemthe one thats behind your fight or flight responseto developing gray hair. When youre stressed out, your system releases the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which primes your body for action.

The researchers discovered that norepinephrine damages melanocyte stem cells, which help regenerate color within your hair follicles. As a result, if youre often stressed, you can prematurely develop gray hair.

During the study, researchers put mice through three different types of stress. All mice had some changes in their hair color, but only the ones who lost all of their melanocyte stem cells after intense stress developed white hair. Stress isnt the only factor: Previous research has also suggested that melanocyte stem cells are simply damaged with time.

When we started to study this, I expected that stress was bad for the body but the detrimental impact of stress that we discovered was beyond what I imagined, study author Ya-Chieh Hsu, Ph.D., said in a statement. After just a few days, all of the pigment-regenerating stem cells were lost. Once theyre gone, you cant regenerate pigments anymore. The damage is permanent.

Of course, this study was conducted on mice, not humans, but the idea works in theory for people, too, says Gary Goldenberg, M.D., an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.

Popular belief has always been that physical and emotional stress causes ones hair to turn gray. Weve known for a while that melanocytes in the hair follicles are a lot more sensitive than the same cells that reside in the skin, Dr. Goldenberg says. Therefore stress, whether oxidative, hormonal, or inflammatory, can cause destruction of these cells.

Finding ways to de-stress can do wonders for your whole bodynot just your hair. We know that stress has a negative impact on our health and skin in general, says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

He says that stress has been shown to impair wound healing, promote acne breakouts, and worsen skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. (Not to mention, it can also boost your risk of life-threatening conditions, like heart disease.)

Of course, stressing less could help improve your healthand possibly even slow down your graysbut thats simply easier said than done. Its not enough to say dont stress, since this is something most of us cant control, Dr. Goldenberg says. But helping your body diminish normal stress may be helpful.

He recommends doing your best to eat a nutrient-rich diet, hydrate often, and exercise regularly to be kind to your body and lower your natural stress levels. (Check out these science-backed ways to relax, too.)

And, if you develop gray hair anyway, embrace itits a natural part of getting older.

(with inputs from Agencies)

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Study finds that stress really can turn your hair gray - Khabarhub

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