Does Stress Cause Grey Hair

Physical Symptoms of Severe Stress
Physical Symptoms of Severe Stress

Have you ever asked yourself the question, "Does stress cause grey hair"? If you have, you are one of the millions of people wondering about the same thing.

Why Hair Turns Grey

As you age, one of the noticeable changes that occurs is the greying of your hair. This occurs as a result of the aging and death of the melanocyte cells which produce melanin, the substance that gives your hair it's genetic natural color. When most of the melanin in the hair follicles is lost, the hair becomes grey. When the melanin is no longer produced at all, the hair turns white.

There are two basic pigment colors of melanin, pheomelanin and eumelanin. The color of pheomelanin is yellow to reddish brown and the color of eumelanin is black to brown. A person's hair color is determined by the blend of the proportions of each pigment. It often appears that people with blond hair go grey at an older age than those with dark hair simply due to the fact that the loss of pigment is harder to detect in a head full of light-colored hair.

Does Stress Cause Grey Hair?

For many years, scientists and researchers have studied the relationship between stress and grey hair. However, there are many different views as to the role that stress actually plays in the greying process.

Genetics

Many scientists believe that hair turns grey based on a person's genetics. While most people begin to notice their first grey hairs between the ages of thirty and thirty-five, there are some that begin to go grey while they are teenagers and others that have all their natural hair color many years after their fiftieth birthday. When people turn grey prematurely or at a later stage in life, there are usually older family members that have experienced the same thing.

Stress and Genetics

While many scientists believe grey hair is strictly due to genetics, there is also a large number that believe that chronic stress, along with genetics, has a definite effect on the greying process.

A research scientist from Baltimore's Sinai Hospital, Tyler Cymet, studied the effect of chronic stress and the change it had on hair color. He concluded that prolonged chronic stress, either physical or mental, lasting two or more years caused people to go grey earlier than usual. The early greying occurs as a result of stress causing premature aging of a person's entire body, including their hair.

Tyler Cymet also believes that as a whole people's hair is turning grey approximately five years sooner than it did in the 1970s. He believes this earlier greying is due to:

  • Increased stress
  • Faster lifestyle
  • Lack of sleep
  • Poor diet

Stress and Chronic Free Radical Damage

A dermatology professor at the University Hospital Schleswig-Holstein in Germany, Ralf Paus believes the cause of greying hair could be a combination of genetics and chronic free radical damage. The free radicals, which are molecules that are unstable, attack and damage cells including melanocyte cells affecting the production of melanin. One of the main causes of free radical damage is stress.

Stress, Grey Hair and Eastern Cultures

Differing from the Western medical beliefs, Eastern cultures believe premature grey hair comes from an imbalance in the body causing the chi energy, the natural life force that flows throughout everything, to become stagnant. In Chinese Traditional Medicine the imbalance is believed to be in the kidneys and blood. Generally, the treatment includes herbal remedies, meditation and various forms of stress reduction and management.

In Indian Ayurvedic Medicine, premature grey hair is also believed to be caused by an imbalance within the body and is treated with herbal remedies and stress management techniques.


Although most researchers agree there is a correlation between stress and grey hair, there is not a definitive answer to the question, "Does stress cause grey hair?"

Does Stress Cause Grey Hair