Mental Health

How to Reverse Grey Hair? For Starters, Stop Stressing About it

People have long believed that stress can turn your hair prematurely grey. While only a few weeks ago, this was nothing more than just an unproven statement, new research suggests that it might be true after all.

By Adarsh Soni
16 Sep 2021

Hair greying is one of the earliest, most visible signs of aging, whose modulation by genetic, metabolic and nutritional factors has long attracted skin biologists, dermatologists, and the beauty industry. Greying is of profound psychological and commercial relevance in increasingly ageing populations, after all, the global market for hair colour is valued at around twenty three billion US dollars according to a report by Goldstein Research. But what if we told you that your hair could return to its natural state just by reducing your stress levels?

A 2021 research by Dr Ayelet M Rosenberg et al, Columbia University Irving Medical Center, Columbia University, New York, USA, found that stress can lead to grey hair and taking stress away appears to reverse the process, allowing white strands to return to the natural colour at the root. Your hair turning grey is not a linear, fixed, irreversible process, but is malleable so it can be ‘bent’ and perhaps reversed.

Stress can lead to grey hair

The research was conducted on a total of fourteen individuals with dark, white and bi-coloured hair, who don’t bleach their hair using chemicals and the aim of the tests was to study both the chemical structure of hair strands, as well as the mental health history of the participants. For example, in one of the retrospective assessments, participants were asked to identify the most stressful event or period over the last twelve months and later each hair segment was mapped to specific weeks or months along the stress profile.

Even before the hair strands emerge out of their follicles, they get influenced by stress hormones, but when they start growing out of the scalp, they harden and permanently crystallise these exposures into a stable form, leading to grey hair.

To get a closer view at how stress causes grey hair, the researchers measured levels of thousands of proteins in the samples and how protein levels changed over the length of each hair. Changes in around three hundred proteins occurred when hair colour changed, and the researchers developed a mathematical model that suggests stress-induced changes in mitochondria may explain how stress turns hair grey. The study states that mitochondria doesn’t just produce cellular energy but also responds to a number of different signals, including psychological stress. Which may mean that it has a part to play in the hair greying process.

De-stressing can reduce grey hair, but there’s a catch

One of the participants went for a relaxing vacation mid-research and the scientists discovered that exactly five hair strands on that person’s head had reverted back to dark upon arrival. This proves that chronic stress can harm our body in a lot of ways but with the help of certain stress-relieving activities, you can reverse its negative effects. Reducing stress not only decreases your chances of going prematurely grey but also helps you sleep better, lowers your blood pressure and boosts your immune system.

Even though the study sounds exciting, there are certain limitations to these findings. The research paper states that this effect is only possible when you fall within a certain age group, which is—young to middle-aged. Because that’s when the aging process is in its earlier stages. So, if you’ve had grey hair for many years, then a de-stressing session won’t bring you back your dark roots but you should still make it a priority to regulate your stress levels and relax as much as possible.


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