JAN 23, 2020 4:01 PM PST

Yes, Stress Can Turn Your Hair Gray

WRITTEN BY: Tiffany Dazet

Stress and gray hair have always been closely associated, and now, scientists from Harvard have discovered the physiological mechanism that validates this association. This new study from Harvard’s Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology (HSCRB) was published yesterday in Nature. In a news release from HSCRB regarding the study, senior author Ya-Chieh Hsu said, “we wanted to understand if this connection is true, and if so, how stress leads to changes in diverse tissues. Hair pigmentation is such an accessible and tractable system to start with — and besides, we were genuinely curious to see if stress indeed leads to hair graying.”

The first step of this study was to narrow down which body system connected stress to hair color. Using mice, the team started with an initial hypothesis that stress led to an immune attack on pigment-producing cells. When that proved false, they turned to the hormone cortisol, which is typically elevated under stressful conditions. This also led to a dead end.

The researchers eventually discovered that the sympathetic nervous system—the body’s fight or flight response center—was the responsible party. In a hair follicle, some stem cells are a reservoir of pigment-producing cells responsible for hair color. According to the study, the sympathetic system nerves branch into hair follicles, and stress causes these nerves to release norepinephrine, which is taken up by nearby pigment regenerating stem cells. Excess norepinephrine from stress-induced cues depletes the natural reservoir of pigment-producing cells responsible for hair color. The authors state that once these cells have been depleted, they do not regenerate. Lead author Bing Zhang says that this is a “permanent depletion of stem cells caused by acute stress.”

The research team considers this study an essential exploration of the impact that stress has on body systems, organs, and tissues. In an online article from Time, Hsu stated that we don’t know enough about how stress affects cell biology and tissue turnover. She said that hair color was an easy starting point, “but different stem cells and different organs may respond to the signals of the sympathetic nervous system very differently, and we don’t know exactly how yet.”

Sources: Nature, HSCRB, Time
 

About the Author
  • Tiffany grew up in Southern California, where she attended San Diego State University. She graduated with a degree in Biology with a marine emphasis, thanks to her love of the ocean and wildlife. With 13 years of science writing under her belt, she now works as a freelance writer in the Pacific Northwest.
You May Also Like
AUG 24, 2021
Microbiology
Sugars in Breast Milk May Help Prevent Infections in Newborns
AUG 24, 2021
Sugars in Breast Milk May Help Prevent Infections in Newborns
Research has indicated that babies get many benefits from breastmilk, even if they are only fed that way for a very shor ...
SEP 01, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
Will Childhood Cancer Survivors Go On to Have Broken Hearts?
SEP 01, 2021
Will Childhood Cancer Survivors Go On to Have Broken Hearts?
Patients are seven times more likely to have a heart attack or stroke than the general population after receiving treatm ...
SEP 03, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Is a Venom-Like Molecule Involved in COVID-19 Mortality?
SEP 03, 2021
Is a Venom-Like Molecule Involved in COVID-19 Mortality?
Scientists have sought to learn more about why some people get severe COVID-19 while others have only mild cases. We kno ...
SEP 08, 2021
Earth & The Environment
The Invasive Species Coming for your Wine!
SEP 08, 2021
The Invasive Species Coming for your Wine!
Invasive species are a problem throughout the world. Globalization means that we are continuously accidentally introduci ...
SEP 14, 2021
Health & Medicine
The New Social Darwinists: It's All About Survival at Any Cost
SEP 14, 2021
The New Social Darwinists: It's All About Survival at Any Cost
Researchers have found that people who perceive social relations in general Darwinian terms tend toward various personal ...
SEP 14, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Record Activist Murders and Illegal Logging
SEP 14, 2021
Record Activist Murders and Illegal Logging
Last year, 2020, was the deadliest year for conservation activists. According to Global Witness, 227 environmental ...
Loading Comments...