Stress is known to have a wide range of effects on our physical appearance as well as our overall mental health. Legend has it that the French Queen Marie Antoinette’s hair turned white overnight before her execution in 1793. Today, Marie Antoinette syndrome describes a condition in which a person’s hair suddenly loses color.
Up until recently, the medical community was conflicted about the idea of stress turning hair grey. However, a new study from America’s Harvard University is the first to show a clear link between stress and greying hair .
The Grey Area
On an average, humans have 100,000 hair follicles, and a wide range of hair colors can be found across the population. The hair’s color comes from melanin, the pigment that gives the skin its color. Every hair follicle has a set number of melanin-producing cells called melanocytes. Hair turns grey when the melanin production in the follicle slows down and stops working.
As we get older, the pigment cells in our hair follicles begin to die, which cuts down on the melanin production. This results in the hair strands turning white and is completely devoid of melanin. Apart from aging, there are several factors that bring about premature greying. These include deficiencies in protein, vitamin B-12, copper, iron, and of course stress.
Researchers from Harvard believe that they have been able to identify the chemical process that causes the hair to change color during stressful situations. The study, which was published in the journal Nature, used mice to find out that premature greying is linked to the body’s ‘fight-or-flight’ reaction in instances of threat.
The nerves responsible for this reaction are called the sympathetic nervous system. This system is vital for modulating several bodily functions, including respiration and increasing the flow of blood to muscles. However, under stress, they release a chemical called norepinephrine that affects the hair follicles.
Norepinephrine excessively activates cells in the follicle that have the reservoir of color pigments (based on original hair color). This means that the cells discharge this reservoir faster than usual, causing the hair to whiten.
Catalase And Greying
Premature graying can also be caused by oxidative stress, which reduces the production of catalase. Catalase is the enzyme that breaks down the natural buildup of hydrogen peroxide in the hair follicles into water and oxygen.
Hydrogen peroxide has been long used for its bleaching effect, but it’s also a chemical that your hair cells make naturally. Without the enzyme, the accumulated hydrogen peroxide bleaches the hair gray. However, catalase isn’t the only enzyme that breaks down hydrogen peroxide. Glutathione peroxidase, which is produced by the liver, also gets the job done. However, glutathione production lowers as you get older, which is why it’s a good idea to take glutathione supplements.
Preventing Grey Hair
The damage caused by stress and other factors is permanent. We can’t restore hair that’s already gone grey, but we may be able to delay the inevitable by making a few lifestyle changes. Here are seven tips that can help prevent your hair from prematurely greying.
- Increase Vitamin B12 Intake: Vitamin B-12 deficiency is one of the most common causes of prematurely greying hair. Foods rich in vitamin B12 include salmon, tuna, lamb, yogurt, lamb, and milk. If you’re not getting enough of the vitamin through your diet, consider taking supplements.
- Manage Your Stress: Take some time for yourself daily to help you put things into perspective. Practice deep breathing or meditation to help you wind down after a busy day. Journaling is also a great way to manage stress and anxiety.
- Keep Your Thyroid In Check: An underactive or overactive thyroid can result in premature greying of hair strands. Studies  show that thyroid hormones directly alter hair follicles, including the areas that encourage the production of melanin. Regular checkups are important to make sure the thyroid gland is working as it should be.
- Avoid Heating Tools: Excessive heat can destroy the color-producing pigment, turning the hair grey or white. The use of heating tools should also be avoided to prevent splitting and breakage.
- Healthy Diet: A well-balanced meal makes sure that the hair is getting all the nutrition it needs to stay healthy. Include foods with vitamin B12, Folic Acid, and Omega 3 to your diet as they are effective in preventing hair from greying. Consume antioxidant-rich foods such as berries, grapes, sweet potato, and dark leafy greens to keep your hair healthy.
- Take Multivitamin Supplements: Grey hair is often a result of some or the other nutritional deficiency. Multivitamin supplements can also help address such vitamin and nutrient deficiencies, preventing premature greying.
- Increase Your Glutathione Levels: Also known as the mother of all antioxidants, Glutathione helps reduce oxidative stress by combating free radicals in the body. Eat foods rich in vitamin C, which raises glutathione in red blood cells. Regular physical exercise also boosts your body’s antioxidant levels, including glutathione. Additionally, you can take glutathione supplements to address any deficiency.
We must keep the fact in mind that the overall success somewhat depends on genetics. As the hair turns grey, it becomes brittle and weak because it has been stripped off of the pigment, therefore keeping your hair moisturized and conditioned goes a long way in the journey to a healthy mane.