Grey hairs caused by stress can be reversed, study finds

Going grey too soon? (Photo: Healthline)

Sometimes life can get a little bit stressful, and if the sleepless nights and loss of appetite aren’t enough evidence of that, then here comes the grey hairs for everyone to see. Yes, BUZZ scientists have finally proven that being stressed causes hair to go grey.

But what a new team of scientists from Columbia University have found that the process can be reversed in hairs that have only recently turned grey.

And its not just the hair on your head, the study found that beard and pubic hairs can regain their colour shortly after going grey.

Scientists believe the root of the greying issue comes from changes to metabolic pathways which form proteins the body.

These pathways are heavily influenced by hormones produced when a person is stressed, and relieving stress can therefore undo the process. 

The researchers plucked hairs from the head of willing volunteers and created a new imaging technique that detects pigment throughout a hair, from the base to tip.  

Their new method of analysis is similar to the study of tree rings, where a section is linked to a specific period of time, the researchers say. 

Researchers were assessing the amount of melanin, which gives hair its colour, and what proteins were present in different parts of a hair.

Grey no more: Tips and tricks to deal with premature greying of ...
Instead of plucking, stop stressing! (Photo: Hindustan Times)

So they expected to see hairs greying at the base, as hairs grow from the scalp, not from the tip. However, when they took almost 400 hairs from 14 people, they found the opposite. Some hairs were grey at the tip, but were coloured at the base. 

This, the researchers explain, means a hair has greyed and then stopped greying and returned to its normal colour. 

Using the known growth rate of hair, researchers were able to specifically trace back when in a person’s recent history the hair went grey.  

Going gray. Young woman shows her gray hair roots (Photo: WebMD)

They found grey periods matched up with increased levels of stress and the transition from grey to coloured occurred when stress was alleviated. 

For example, one participant in the study went on holiday and this correlated with a switch from white hairs back to coloured hair. 

The study cannot prove the removal of stress caused the reversal in greying, but the scientists believe it is the most likely explanation. 

Writing in their study, they say: ‘Our data strongly support the notion that human ageing is not a linear and irreversible biological process and may, at least in part, be halted or even reversed.’ 

The research was published online as a pre-print and currently undergoing peer-review for publication in a journal.