As it turns out, the myth about stress turning your hair grey holds some truth to it, according to a new study by US and Brazilian researchers. The study involved monitoring stem cells in mice after experiencing intense stress. What they found was dark-haired mice turned white within just a couple of days.
This is because stress naturally triggers a flight-or-fight response in the body, and in turn causes the melanocyte stem cells, which are responsible for producing melanin in skin and hair, to go into a frenzy and reduce in numbers over time.
“It was satisfying to question a popular assumption and to identify the mechanisms that now open up new areas of work,” said Ya-Chieh Hsu, a stem cell biologist at Harvard University.
According to the paper published in Nature, when the mice felt pain, their brains would release a mixture of cortisol and adrenaline, increasing their blood pressure as their hearts beat faster and faster, causing actual stress. The stress felt by mice during the experiment sped up the depletion of melanin-producing melanocyte stem cells, causing their hair to turn from black to almost fully white.
According to research author, Professor Ya-Cieh Hsu, from Harvard University, “I expected stress was bad for the body, but the detrimental impact of stress that we discovered was beyond what I imagined. After just a few days, all of the pigment-regenerating stem cells were lost, Once they’re gone, you can’t regenerate pigment any more – the damage is permanent.”
“We now know for sure that stress is responsible for this specific change to your skin and hair, and how it works,” says Prof Ya-Cieh Hsu, research author from Harvard University.https://t.co/B9Td1e5yjr
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In the second phase of the experiment, researchers discovered that they could mitigate the effects of stress by giving the mice an anti-hypertensive drug, which normally treats high blood pressure. The anti-hypertensive drug suppressed a protein known as cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK) which prevented a change in the colour of the rodent’s fur. This means scientists can now begin working on methods that target CDK to prevent the early onset of grey hair in humans.
“Our discovery, made in mice, is only the beginning of a long journey to finding an intervention for people, It also gives us an idea of how stress might affect many other parts of the body,” said professor Hsu.