probably heard the phrase umpteen times.
“You’re giving me grey hairs”. While this
phrase is meant to make the offending party
feel guilty for adding more stress to a
person’s already complicated life, you may
have wondered if there’s any truth to this
association between stress and grey hair.
Can stress really cause grey hairs to form
earlier than expected?
association between stress and grey hair
isn’t necessarily a simple one. Your hair
has the natural color you were born with
because of the activity of special cells
known as melanocytes. These cells produced a
pigmented molecule known as melanin which
gives hair its rich, vibrant color. As long
as the melanocytes are successfully pumping
out melanin, hair retains its natural,
genetically determined color, whether that
be brown, black, or the less common shades
of red or blonde. As you might expect,
people with darker shades of hair have
melanocytes that produce more melanin than
those with fairer hair.
As you age so
do your melanocytes, and at some point they
stop producing melanin which causes grey
hairs to form. While you may see the hair as
being grey when contrasted with the rest of
your head, they’re actually colorless due to
the lack of pigment. You may have heard
people complaining of premature greying.
This phenomenon is usually genetically
determined. If you look back through that
person’s family, you’re likely to find other
family members who experienced loss of hair
pigment at an early age, sometimes as early
as high school.
So what about
the issue of stress and grey hair? While
it’s never been proven that stress causes
grey hair, chronic stress can lead to
changes in the levels of certain hormones
such as cortisol which cause a chronic
inflammatory state. When chronic
inflammation occurs, there can be formation
of free radicals which could prematurely
damage the pigment producing melanocytes.
This could theoretically, according to some
scientists, cause grey hairs to form earlier
than genetically expected.
Is there any
support for this theory for stress and grey
hair? Although there are no large studies
addressing this issue, one small
retrospective study carried out at Sinai
Hospital in Baltimore showed that patients
who had undergone several years of unusual
stress reported that their hair turned grey
more rapidly during that period. While this
is hardly a strong scientific endorsement,
it does suggest that stress could
potentially speed up the natural,
genetically determined process of premature
Are stress and
grey hair related? Some members of the
medical and scientific community seem to
think so, although there’s no hard evidence.
The answer, at least at this point, seems to
be a definite “maybe”.
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