CNN anchor Anderson Cooper once compared how gray hair was associated with premature ejaculation at a young age: "You know that it can happen prematurely, but when it actually happens, it's a total shock."
Cooper has proudly rocked his salt-and-pepper curls since he was about 20. But let's face it, this look is not for everyone. Men and women have always tried to avoid graying. And for hundreds of years, stress has been cited as the cause of gray hair. But that has always been an urban legend, with no evidence – until now.
A study conducted at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and published in Nature magazine showed that stress in animals, especially mice, is related to gray hair.
"Everyone has an anecdote to share about how stress affects their bodies, especially skin and hair – the only tissues we can see from the outside," said Ya-Chieh Hsu, professor of stem cell and regenerative biology at Alvin and Esta Star at Harvard said in a press release. "We wanted to understand whether this connection is correct and how stress leads to changes in different tissues."[RELATED1]
Stress affects everything from your training to your sex life and how you sleep – so the scientists had to figure out exactly how it grayed our hair. To do this, they have systematically eliminated various body systems that could relate stress to hair color. They ended up on the sympathetic nervous system, also known as the body's flight or fight response. The researchers wrote that sympathetic nerves branch into every hair follicle.
When stressed, these nerves release noradrenaline, a chemical that is absorbed by pigment-regenerating stem cells that color our hair.
When we are stressed, our pigment-colored cells become excessively activated, which means that our stock is exhausted. The more stress we have, the less cells we have to stain in English. And once they're gone, they're gone.
"Acute stress, particularly the response to fight or flight, has traditionally been considered beneficial for an animal's survival, but in this case acute stress leads to permanent stem cell exhaustion," said Bing Zhang, the study's lead author, in a press release ,
So, if you're not a fan of looking like a silver fox, relax. Your hair will thank you.[RELATED2]