Science is here to rescue your mane, as researchers discover how stress causes greying hair

Stressing about your greying hair will only give you more greys. So chill out and read what science has to say on the matter.
hair ageing
Stress can cause your hair to get grey and even science approves. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
IANS Updated: 17 May 2021, 17:23 pm IST
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Remember that first grey hair that popped up on your head? Remember the panic that it caused? And if that greying spree hasn’t stopped and your raven black hair is rapidly becoming snow white–then ladies, we feel your pain.

There could be a lot of reasons why you have greying hair–right from genetics (yes, you can rightly blame your mum for this) to nutritional deficiencies. But there’s another reason why those annoying grey hairs are cropping up: stress!

In fact, a Harvard University research–published in the journal Nature–is explaining the role of stress in damaging the pigment-regenerating stem cells in hair follicles.

Also, read: This basic crash course on stress management is what every millennial woman needs in 2020

So, how does stress cause our hair to turn grey?
Well, according to the researchers stress activates certain nerves in the body that are a part of the fight-or-flight response. Now this is what causes irreparable damage to the above-mentioned pigment-regenerating stem cells.

While your hair might be the casualty of the stress you take, it’s not the only victim. In fact, your whole body falls prey to the ill-effects of the stress hormone, cortisol. So, the researchers–who conducted the study on mice–first had to narrow down which body system was responsible for connecting stress to hair colour.

“Stress always elevates levels of the hormone cortisol in the body, so we thought that cortisol might play a role,” said study senior author Ya-Chieh Hsu.

“But surprisingly, when we removed the adrenal gland from the mice so that they couldn’t produce cortisol-like hormones, their hair still turned grey under stress,” Hsu added.

After systematically eliminating different possibilities, researchers honed in on the sympathetic nerve system, which is responsible for the body’s fight-or-flight response.

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Sympathetic nerves branch out into each hair follicle on the skin. The researchers found that stress causes these nerves to release the chemical norepinephrine, which gets taken up by nearby pigment-regenerating stem cells.

In the hair follicle, certain stem cells act as a reservoir of pigment-producing cells. When hair regenerates, some of the stem cells convert into pigment-producing cells that colour the hair.

Researchers found that the norepinephrine from sympathetic nerves causes the stem cells to activate excessively. The stem cells all convert into pigment-producing cells, prematurely depleting the reservoir.

To connect stress with hair graying, the researchers started with a whole-body response and progressively zoomed into individual organ systems, cell-to-cell
interaction and eventually all the way down to molecular dynamics.

The bottom line for stressed-out folks like us?
We know how much you’ve been preached to when it comes to the effects of stress on your body. And while stress remains an inevitable part of the lives we lead and we can’t really avoid it as much as we like–we can inculcate some stress management skills in our lives in order to offset its effects.

Meditating, practicing relaxation techniques, exercising regularly, and listening to calming music can all help you stressful situations and put a pause to your greying hair. So, for the sake of your hair–keep calm and don’t stress out!

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