Stress can 'turn your hair grey'

·2-min read

It seems the old wives’ tale may have been true – stress really can make your hair turn grey.

We’ve all heard the story that your locks can bear the brunt of your anxiety when life gets tough, but a new study has offered evidence of a link between psychological stress and greying hair.

However, on a more positive note scientists have also found that hair colour can be restored when stress is eliminated.

"Understanding the mechanisms that allow 'old' grey 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," said the study's senior author Martin Picard, PhD, associate professor of behavioural medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.

"Our data add to a growing body of evidence demonstrating that human ageing is not a linear, fixed biological process but may, at least in part, be halted or even temporarily reversed.

"Just as the rings in a tree trunk hold information about past decades in the life of a tree, our hair contains information about our biological history. When hairs are still under the skin as follicles, they are subject to the influence of stress hormones and other things happening in our mind and body.”

Experts developed a new way to capture detailed images of tiny slices of human hair to measure the extent of pigment loss, or greying. The study examined hairs from 14 volunteers who completed a diary to rate their level of stress on a weekly basis, and the hair slices were aligned with the diary entries to see if there was a link.

Researchers discovered some grey hairs were able to naturally return to their original colour.

"There was one individual who went on vacation, and five hairs on that person's head reverted back to dark during the vacation, synchronised in time," Picard revealed.

“Reducing stress in your life is a good goal, but it won't necessarily turn your hair to a normal colour.”

The findings from the study, which was published in eLife, contradict a recent study that claimed stress-induced grey hairs are permanent in mice.

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