CLEVELAND — A recent study out of Columbia University linked stress and the premature graying of hair.

What You Need To Know

  • There are quite a few factors that could lead to premature graying, and one of them is stress

  • When we're stressed, our body releases chemicals that could change the color of our hair

  • The good news is that it can be reversed, but it depends on age and the changes made in your lifestyle

“We often joke about stressful events turning your hair gray," said Cleveland Clinic Psychologist Dr. Susan Albers. "But in reality, stress has been scientifically shown to accelerate the graying process. We often believe, and it's a myth, that it's just aging that causes our hair to turn gray. But in reality, stress has a significant impact."

Albers said the study captured detailed images of the hair showing times of high stress.

"With the participants, they pluck their hair and looked at it with this very specific technique. And then they also had participants keep a detailed journal, each and every day of the stress they experience in their life," Albers explained. "What they found is when they looked at the hair and the journals and cross reference them, they could tell that the moment they started experiencing stress was the moment their hair began to turn gray. And when they felt relaxed, that process reversed, and their hair turned back to its natural color."

This phenomenon is linked to the fight or flight response, known as the Sympatheic Nervous System.

"Chemicals are released when that stress response is kicked off — specifically norepinephrine. That changes the pigmentation in your hair and causes it to turn gray. It even changes the mitochondria in your cells which serve as little antennas that kick off when you're feeling stressed and impacts the color of your hair," said Albers. 

The study concluded that those who experienced premature graying could in fact reverse the process.

Albers said this typically only works for those who are in their 20s and 30s.

"We have to remember that there is a window in which your hair begins to gray, and as you approach that window or that threshold, stress is what can trigger you to cross over and start your hair prematurely gray. If you are at an age in which your hair is all gray, reducing your stress level may help your health, but is not going to return your hair to its natural color," Albers said.