It’s an old anecdotal belief that constant stress can turn hair grey. According Nature magazine, this might actually be the case.
A new study, available for preview now, explains how hair receives color. At the root of each hair follicle is a region called “the bulge”. Within this bulge lie melanocyte stem cells which produce melanin. It is this melanin that provides coloration for both skin and hair. When these melanocyte cells break down or die, they are unable to produce melanin and the hair goes grey.
Along with coloring hair, melanocyte cells are also able to travel from the bulge to other parts of the body. They will do this to aid in the repair of damaged skin tissue throughout the body.
But what about stress? How does worrying too much lead to a melanocyte deficiency? Researchers also discovered a key cell receptor called Mc1r. This melanocyte receptor is activated when exposed to stress-related hormones. Essentially, when one is stressed, their body releases hormones which cause melanocyte cells to activate. If these cells are constantly activated, they are more likely to “burn out” and cease melanin production.
Grey hair is already caused by this exhaustion of melanocyte cells. Prolonged stress may simply cause the cells to break down faster than they would have otherwise.
These melanocyte cells are pretty useful. Keeping them in tact is yet another reason to avoid undue stress throughout life.