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Does Stress Truly Cause Grey Hair? Evidence Shows It Does

Stress can turn hair gray

One of the ways to take care of your mental health is by reducing or managing stress. Not only does stress affect our mental health, but it could cause overall physical adverse effects. For example, we know that stress can cause wrinkles and make one look older.

Another physical effect of stress is gray hair. Studies have shown that stress could turn hair gray, which is irreversible. Interesting, right? One day, you go to bed with dark hair, stressing yourself over something, only to wake up with grey hair.
Of course, it may not happen exactly like that because hair that has already grown from the follicle cannot change color unless dyed. However, stress acts as a catalyst, speeding up graying of hair. The bad news is, once your hair turns gray, it cannot naturally regain its original color, not even you live without stress for the next five years.

How does stress cause gray hair?

Hair follicles get their color from stem cells, which convert into pigmentation when new hair is formed. Hair turns gray due to lack of pigmentation. The stem cells are limited, and they reside in a storehouse. Stress kicks you into fight-or-flight mode, causing the sympathetic nerves to release norepinephrine, which activates the stem cells. The stem cells move away from the storehouse as pigment. Once stem cells are lost, hair turns gray as it can no longer get pigmentation.

The study was done on mice, but it appears to be the exact replica of what happens in humans.

Of course, we all experience stressful situations but we don't go gray the same day -- or year -- of the experience. That's because the process is gradual. The more frequently and the longer your body experiences stress, the more stem cells get depleted. It may take a five years for pigmentation to be lost, causing your hair to turn gray. But suppose you were able to leverage stress management techniques to keep your stem cells from depleting, your beautiful dark hair may have remained so for the next ten years.

The study was published in Nature.

Stress isn't the only cause of gray hair

That said, stress isn't the only cause of gray hair. In fact, it plays a small role -- that of a catalyst. Genetics are the major culprits of hair turning gray. Pigment cells decline with age, so you will definitely go gray at some point. It's all a matter of when. However, going through more stress than is necessary will speed up the process and make your hair turn gray much earlier than it should have been.  Oxidative stress in the body, smoking, and other environment factors may also contribute to the process.

The bottom line

Stress can cause a lot of damage to your body, from mental and emotional problems to physical changes. If the color of your hair means a lot to you, then you really should get yourself out of that unending cycle of stress. If it seems like you're having difficulty managing stress on your own, reach out to us now.

At Hope Mental Health, we can help you combat stress from its roots and give more meaning to your life.

Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Hope Mental Health, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.  Ms. Woodland with her background in nursing, prefers a holistic and integrative approach to mental health care that addresses the mind and body together. While Ms. Woodland provides medication management services in all her patients, she believes in long-lasting solutions that include a number of psychotherapies, namely cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure and response prevention therapy, attention to lifestyle, evidenced based alternative psychiatric care and spirituality. If you’d like to gain control over your mental health issues, call Hope Mental Health at 208-918-0958, or use the online scheduling tool to set up an initial consultation.

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