What REALLY Makes Your Hair Turn Gray? (And is Stress a Major Factor?)

gray hairIt happens to just about every U.S. President as they struggle through their term in office, and it reportedly happened to Marie Antionette in the days before she was guillotined. Of course, just about every parent of a teenager (or a 2-year-old, for that matter) has likely experienced it too: Gray hair!
Yet, contrary to the old wives’ tale that stress will make your hair turn gray, scientific studies showing such a link are lacking. Rather than the emotional stress we often associated with premature gray, a new study in the journal Cell found that cell stress may be a more likely cause.

DNA Damage May Color Your Hair Gray

Researchers from Tokyo Medical and Dental University found that cellular stress, caused by damaging agents like chemicals, ultraviolet light and ionizing radiation, may explain why your hair turns gray.

As the study’s lead author, Emi Nishimura, pointed out, a single cell may encounter up to 100,000 events a day that damage DNA, and stem cells in your hair follicles responsible for color are impacted by this damage.

While you’re young, stem cells in your hair either reproduce or mature into more specialized cells that produce pigment to color your hair. But as you age, too many stem cells mature until there are no pigment cells left to be added to your hair.

The researchers believe that accumulated DNA damage may be the trigger that causes stem cells to mature, which then allows these damaged cells to be purged.

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