Study Finds Reducing Stress Can Reverse Gray Hair

The next time you spot a gray hair on your head, book a vacation. A unique study found gray hairs caused by stress can be reversed once the stress is removed. Researchers say that their findings shed valuable insight into the aging process.

Scientists at Columbia University Vagelos College of Medicine and Surgeons discovered that sometimes graying tresses don’t need a trip to a hair salon but can be revitalized once the stressor is eliminated, according to Eat This, Not That!

“Understanding the mechanisms that allow ‘old’ gray hairs to return to their ‘young’ pigmented states could yield new clues about the malleability of human aging in general and how it is influenced by stress,” said senior author Martin Picard, an associate professor of behavioral medicine. “Our data add to a growing body of evidence demonstrating that human aging is not a linear, fixed biological process but may, at least in part, be halted or even temporarily reversed.”

Picard compared the tell-tale rings of a tree trunk that reveal its age to the information stored in our hair follicles.

“When hairs are still under the skin as follicles, they are subject to the influence of stress hormones and other things happening in our mind and body,” he said.

There were 14 volunteers in the study that was published in eLife who were asked to keep a stress diary. Their hairs were analyzed by the researchers who found that some gray hairs returned to their original color when the volunteers reported reduced levels of stress.

“There was one individual who went on vacation, and five hairs on that person’s head reverted back to dark during the vacation, synchronized in time,” said Picard. Once beyond the scalp, the hair cannot change color, says Fast Company. But newly growing hair in the follicle can. The effect is thought to be from stress changes in the mitochondria, known as the powerhouses of cells, which scientists say act like little antennas picking up different signals, including psychological stress.

Picard emphasized, however, that there is no evidence that reducing stress in older people who have been gray for a while will revert their color back to normal.

“We don’t think reducing stress in a 70-year-old who’s been gray for years will darken their hair or increasing stress in a 10-year-old will be enough to tip their hair over the gray threshold,” he said. But for the age that most of us start going gray, less gray may be possible if your boss and family stay out of your hair.

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