Why does your hair turn gray?
The idea that stress turns hair gray has been around for many years. But it was always based on anecdotal evidence. People might point to pictures showing U.S presidents before and after holding office, or refer to stories of people who got gray hair practically overnight after being through a traumatic experience. But no one really knew how stress affects your hair colour, and many scientists were skeptical that there was even a connection.
But recent research has revealed how it happens. Scientists put black-haired lab rats through stress tests which caused them to start sprouting gray hairs within a few days. The scientists were then able to identify the mechanism behind how it happens.
First, here is a little background on why your hair can turn gray as you age.
Normally, your hair follicles use stem cells to produce colour. That’s because stem cells can be converted into pigment-producing cells. However, your body can’t replenish stem cells so the supply gets used up as you age. When those stem cells are finally depleted, your hair loses its colour.
The Stress Connection
It turns out that stress speeds up that process. When you’re feeling stressed, it causes a release of stress hormones that are meant to prepare you to deal with threats. Those hormones include norepinephrine, which boosts your heart rate, increases blood flow to muscles, and acts as a neurotransmitter to increase your alertness and reaction time.
However, the new study revealed how this chemical also affects your hair follicles. The researchers found it causes the hair follicles to go into overdrive, and to quickly use up a flood of stem cells, depleting the supply and causing premature gray hair.
Dealing with Stress
So while your hair turns gray as a normal part of the ageing process, you can take some measures to avoid stress-induced graying.
It’s also important to keep in mind that gray hair is only one of the many effects of frequent or prolonged stress. For example, the stress hormones your body releases can also impact your blood pressure and heart health. Therefore, it’s a good idea to think about stress management. Some techniques for reducing stress include, aerobic exercises, breathing exercises, talking to a close friend, and yoga.
If you’re ready to get advice or professional help for stress management, contact your healthcare provider or try out our Mental Health Program.