Stress really does turn your hair grey

Stress really does turn your hair grey

The study is the first to actually confirm pressure at home or work triggers greying - and show how it works.

When Marie Antoinette was captured during the French Revolution, her hair reportedly turned white overnight.

Shayla Clark and Christopher Deppman, two neuroscientists from the University of Virginia, penned an editorial in the journal Nature, accompanying the publication of the new study. In the hair follicles, certain stem cells are reservoirs of pigment-producing cells. Norepinephrine drives rapid depletion of melanocyte stem cells and hair greying.

"When we eventually realized the sympathetic nervous system was driving the process, that was really a surprise", Hsu wrote in an email. "We are now able to investigate, in very precise detail, how systemic changes in the body affect specific stem cells-and that's what we did here".

Now, Harvard scientists have discovered how stress can suddenly sap hair of its color.

The researchers initially suspected that an stress-induced immune attack might be targeting the melanocyte stem cells, but that hypothesis did not pan out. They eliminated all but one of the options. They then explored whether the hormone cortisol, elevated under stress, might be the culprit, but that also was a dead end. That includes our skin, where these nerves envelope each individual hair follicle. At closing, the researchers discerned that a sympathetic anxious response became once causing the stem cell overload accountable for the grey hairs.

The Harvard Gazette reports this is caused by a chemical, called norepinephrine, which is released by nerves when a body goes into a fight-or-flight response. The stem cells all convert into pigment-producing cells, prematurely depleting the reservoir. "In a short time, there are none left".

"After just a few days, all pigment-regenerating stem cells were lost".

"Once stem cells are gone, they are gone", Hsu wrote in an email. It's hard to tell how big of a role other factors, such as age, might play in causing us to lose pigment.

"While we are hopeful the relationship will be close, we do not have definitive evidence at this point", she cautioned. But until now there has been no answer to the question of how stress whitens hair.

The finding, which may not pan out in humans, highlights the negative side effects of the fight-or-flight response, the researchers said. Over the decades, scientists have started to unpack the many ways that stress can be a double-edged sword to our health. "That's why it is so important to understand how stress affects stem cells, because the changes will be permanent".

Hsu said the findings may also help shed light on the effects of stress on various organs and tissues, and pave the way for new studies that seek to modify or block the damaging effects of stress.

"By understanding precisely how stress affects stem cells that regenerate pigment, we've laid the groundwork for understanding how stress affects other tissues and organs in the body", Hsu said.

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