Legend has it that in 1793, the night before she was beheaded, Queen Marie Antoinette’s hair lost its color and turned completely white.
Although the tale about the last hours of France’s last queen lacks historical evidence, the idea that stress can cause hair to prematurely gray is a good one in science.
But American researchers are reporting good news for young gray hairs.
According to a new study from Columbia University in New York (USA), published in the scientific journal eLife: When the source of stress is removed, hair can return to its natural color.
“We have been trying to understand the effect of stress on gray hair for decades, and this is the first study to show a clear association between psychological stress and graying,” explains Martin Pickard, MD, professor of behavioral medicine at the College of Physicians. and surgeons Vagelos of Columbia University, co-author of the study.
The team of researchers was able, in part, to establish the relationship between the two workers using a method that allows them to study the color of each hair in detail and quantify the amount of pigmentation loss.
The researchers analyzed strands of hair from different parts of the body of a group of 14 volunteers of different ages. Participants had to record their weekly stress levels in their diaries.
Thus, they found that among the younger participants, when the stress was gone, the hair regained its color.
A notable example was the man who recovered the color of five analyzed strands after spending two weeks on vacation.
Pickard explains that the color change doesn’t happen when the hair is outside the hair follicle, but when it “grows into this kind of micro-organ under the skin.”
According to the researcher, the loss of color is likely due to changes in the mitochondria, the cell organelles that provide most of the energy to activate the cell’s biochemical reactions.
“Psychological stress affects energy processes in the mitochondria, and when mitochondria do not function well, hair loses pigment,” he explains.
Although the hair may temporarily regain its color in some cases, this does not happen in all cases, especially in people who have had gray hair for a long time.
“There is a kind of biological threshold, and when the hair approaches this threshold, stress can affect the hair and turn it white,” says the scientist.
“When the source of stress is removed, the hair can go back and regain its previous color. But when the hair crosses that limit decades ago, it is very unlikely that it will go back to another color,” he adds.
This means that the stress-reducing benefits may not have an effect on hair color returning to its previous state.
Pickard says the research paves the way for investigations of other aging-related processes that are affected by stress and how they can be reversed.
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