how stress makes hair turn white
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Do you have grey hair? If yes, then you should be familiar with this saying, “stress makes hair turn white.” But have you ever wondered why?

Scientists claim that they might have discovered why stress makes hair turn white. Also, they have come up with a potential way to stop this without reaching for hair dye.

Researchers observed that the stem cells that control skin and hair color in mice became damaged after intense stress. In an experiment, dark-furred mice turned completely white within weeks.

This new research could further be developed into a drug that prevents the greying of hair from aging.

The greying of hair can start at any time during the mid -30s in both men and women. While most cases of greying are due to genes or natural aging processes, some cases could be because of stress too.

But how does stress affects the hair color was a mystery till date.

Researchers from the Universities of Sao Paulo and Harvard published their new findings in Nature. They believe that it is the melanin-producing melanocyte stem cells linked to the effects of stress. They are the cells responsible for hair and skin color.

They stumbled across the evidence that confirms this hypothesis during their experiments.

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Prof Ya-Cieh Hsu, a research author from Harvard University, said that they now know it for sure that stress makes hair turn white and cause changes in skin color and how it works.

Acute stress was created in mice by inducing pain, which triggered the release of cortisol and adrenaline, increasing the rate of heartbeat and affecting the nervous system.

This acute stress accelerated the depletion of melanin-producing stem cells in hair follicles.

Prof Hsu said that he had expected that stress could be harmful to the body. But the impact of stress they observed was beyond imagination. All of the pigment-regenerating stem cells were depleted just after a few days. The damage caused by stress was permanent. The pigments cannot be regenerated anymore.

how stress makes hair turn white
The mouse before the pain was induced (top) and some time afterward (bottom image). Credits: WILLIAM A GONCALVES

The scientists found that the changes can be blocked by treating the mice with an anti-hypertensive, which is used for the treatment of high blood pressure.

They also identified the protein involved in causing the damage to the stem cells by comparing the normal mice with pain-induced mice.

The change in fur color was also prevented by suppressing this protein cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK)

These new findings on how stress makes hair turn white could help scientists to develop therapies that would delay the onset of grey hair by targeting CDK with the drug.

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Prof Hsu told the BBC that the findings are not a treatment or cure for grey hair, but it is only the beginning of a long journey to find treatments for people. This also gives the scientist clues about how stress can affect other parts of the body.

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