Stress and gray hair go hand in hand


When Marie Antoinette was captured during the French Revolution, her hair is said to have turned gray overnight. And also that Karl Marx was so shocked by the death of his eight-year-old son Edgar that his hair turned white very quickly.

For a long time, such stories have been considered health myths. The graying is a natural process of aging, in which external factors have little influence.

Stress and hair color

Now, scientists at Harvard University have discovered how this process really works. Because stress affects the entire body, the researchers first had to define which body system is responsible for the connection between stress and hair color. The team landed, in the end, in the sympathetic nervous system, responsible for the body reaction of fight or flight.

The researchers discovered that when these nerves are stressed, they release norepinephrine, which in turn is absorbed by stem cells responsible for the regeneration of the pigment in the hair follicles. Norepinephrine can act as a stress hormone, which increases blood pressure and heart rate, and as a neurotransmitter.

Excessive release of norepinephrine leads to premature depletion of pigment producing cells. This process causes permanent damage to the pigment regenerating stem cells in the hair follicles, according to the study published in the journal "Nature".

"Acute stress, especially the fight or flight reaction, has traditionally been considered beneficial for the survival of an animal, but in this case acute stress causes permanent depletion of stem cells," says Bing Zhang, lead author of the study. .

"The first crucial step is to understand how our tissues change for stress in order to treat and stop or reverse the harmful effects of stress. We still have a lot to learn in this area," said Ya-Chieh Hsu, associate professor of stem cells. and regenerative biology at Harvard.

In 2018, a team of researchers from the University of Alabama and the National Institute of Health (INH), both from the United States, analyzed how an overactive immune system exterminates a certain group of cells called melanocytes, melanin producers, responsible for produce the color of the skin, hair and eyes. In addition, melanin production gradually decreases with age.

Gray-haired for a lifetime?

If the hair turns white due to age or genetics, you just have to dye it. There is no other solution. But if you have turned gray by a disease, a traumatic experience or an unhealthy diet, you can recover its original color if you follow a vegetarian alkaline diet, which provides the body with important vitamins and minerals.

Red wine, chocolate and blueberries are also beneficial, because they provide antioxidants to the body. These strengthen the immune system.

The anecdotes of Marie Antoinette and Karl Marx are myths about health, because the pigments do not suddenly disappear from the hair.