Can Stress Make Your Hair Turn Gray?

If someone asked you to list all the different health-related rumors you've ever heard, it would probably be a long list. And somewhere on that list is probably the rumor that stress can turn a person's hair gray well before their time.

When you take a look at all the horrible things stress does to the human body, it's easy to see where the idea comes from. The American Psychological Association makes it clear that stress doesn't just put you in a bad mood. It can affect every system of your body, from the musculoskeletal to the nervous and reproductive systems.

Chronic stress can lead to muscle tension because it puts the body on high alert. It can also cause shortness of breath. Moreover, stress dilates blood vessels, which increases blood pressure, and the effects don't stop there.

But can stress really turn your hair gray? A group of researchers at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center got together and put the theory to the test.

Some rumors are true

The researchers selected hairs from 14 volunteers and studied not only their color over time but also the levels of proteins in the hair, as well as the stress levels of the volunteers. Per Science Daily, the study found that stress did actually contribute to loss of hair pigmentation, but that's not all.

Researchers found that color changes were tied to mitochondrial activity. Mitochondria receive and process signals, such as stress. In this study, it turned out that people who reduced their stress level — most notably one volunteer who went on vacation — actually renewed the pigmentation level in their hair. 

Though this finding is exciting, researchers cautioned readers that graying could not always be reversed. People had to be at a certain time threshold, meaning that they had to be fairly young and the graying fairly recent. Hair that had been gray for decades, for example, is unlikely to regain its former pigment levels. That said, there is no telling what this breakthrough may mean for future research.