in photo: Former US President Barack Obama, before and after his term. Credit: Harvard University

A fairly common and “accepted” statement indicates that it is stress makes it become gray ours hair, however, the scientific evidence supporting this popular truth is hiding. An example supporting this effect could be Marie Antoinette syndrome, an alleged medical condition capable of transforming the hair of those affected. In simple terms, legend has it that the queen consort of France, when she was imprisoned during the French Revolution, lost the color of her hair overnight due to very strong stress (in view of the beheading). First of all, it should be specified that the hair already escaped from the follicle do not change color, secondly the Marie Antoinette syndrome would be a consequence ofalopecia areata, which under certain conditions – such as significant stress – can cause all pigmented hair to fall out, leaving only the gray / white ones in sight. But this is an extreme case. So it is true that stress, in addition to natural aging process, can it make our hair gray? According to a new study this is not only true, but it is also possible that the hair will return to its original color after the source of stress.

This link between hair graying and stress was determined by an international research team led by scientists from Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center, who collaborated closely with colleagues from the New State Psychiatric Institute. York, the School of Medicine of the University College of Dublin (Ireland), the Department of Dermatology of the University of Miami, the University of Manchester (England) and the Monasterium Laboratory (Germany). The scientists, led by Professor Martin Picard, Professor of Behavioral Medicine at the US Department of Psychiatry, reached their conclusions by analyzing hair samples from 14 volunteers and putting them in relation to their “stress diaries”, Questionnaires filled in weekly to indicate variations in one’s psychological well-being.

It took the scientists over 2 years to find the sample of suitable volunteers, all between the ages of 9 and 65 and with some gray or white hair. To assess hair color variations the researchers tapped one very high resolution scanner able to quantify the loss of pigment in tiny and specific areas of the scalp. “If you look at a hair with your eyes, it will appear to be the same color unless there is a significant variation,” Professor Picard said in a press release. “Under a high resolution scanner, you can see small and subtle variations in color, and that’s what we’re measuring,” added the expert. When the color variations observed in the 14 volunteers were aligned with the diaries, the researchers found “surprising associations” between stressful events and graying.

The most interesting aspect, however, is that this graying has “returned” in some cases, after overcoming the stress. In one man, for example, five gray hairs returned to their original color during a vacation, a sign of the relaxation period. But what is the biological mechanism behind hair pigment loss? The researchers analyzed variations in 300 proteins related to hair that occurred during graying; through a mathematical model have determined that i are involved mitochondria, sensitive to psychological stress. “Gray hair upregulates proteins linked to energy metabolism, mitochondria and antioxidant defenses. By combining the HPP profile (NDR hair pigmentation) and proteomics on individual hairs, we also report graying and reversal of hair that can occur in parallel with psychological stressors, ”Picard and colleagues wrote in the study abstract. .

The authors of the research point out that trying to limit the stress in our life can only do us good, but this is not necessarily enough to return the hair to its “former glory”. In fact, the age factor: “We don’t think that reducing stress in a 70-year-old who has been white-haired for years will darken their hair or that increasing stress in a 10-year-old will be enough to make him gray,” the study authors write. Understanding the biological mechanisms behind pigment loss, however, can still offer significant insights into human aging. The details of the research “Quantitative mapping of human hair graying and reversal in relation to life stress” have been published in the scientific journal eLife.

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