There is more to the adage that we grow gray hair in stressful situations than we would like. Because stress actually promotes the growth of gray hair: The "Fight or Flight" mode, which ensured our ancestors' survival, namely causes our cells to age - and thus also gray hair. However, a study by Columbia University in New York has now shown that this gray hair does not have to be permanent, but can actually disappear again.
To understand exactly how stress causes gray hair, researchers analyzed the content of proteins in hair samples and examined how this protein content changes over the length of each hair. The research team observed that the protein content changes with the color of the hair. So-called mitochondria, which are often referred to as the powerhouse of the cells, react like small antennae to signals such as psychological stress and can cause the cells (and thus also the hair) to age.
In the next step, the researchers were able to determine that gray hair can find its way back to its pigmented origin as soon as the stress subsides. As part of the research, the researchers analyzed the hair of 14 volunteers from Columbia University. Ayelet Rosenberg, a student, has developed a new method for capturing highly detailed images of tiny sections of human hair. In this way, the exact extent of pigment loss in tiny parts of the hair can be measured - similar to the age rings in a tree trunk. When comparing the hair sections with the stress diaries of the participants, the researchers found striking parallels between the specified stress phases and the graying of the hair. But also that gray hair was reversed when the stress subsided.
As remarkable as the study results are: Those who are already gray will unfortunately not find their way back to their original hair color. The proverbial individual gray hairs can color back again as soon as the stress subsides. This affects the regrowing part from the follicles - individual gray hairs can suddenly get a darker appearance again.
The bottom line, however, is that the study results provide much more substantial findings: “Understanding the mechanisms that enable 'old' gray hair to return to its 'young' pigmented state could provide new clues about the malleability of human aging in general and how it gets through Stress is affected, ”explains Martin Picard, lead author of the study. The data of the study prove that human aging is not a linear, fixed biological process, but can at least partially be stopped or even reversed.