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A Harvard Team Has Finally Solved The Mystery Of How Stress Turns Hair Gray

Over a decade ago, in 2009, the New York Times appeared with the headline, “After 44 days in the White House, Obama’s hair is grayer.” It was a reference to a common trend of presidents’ hair turning dramatically gray during their terms in the White House.

The idea of stress turning hair gray, is often called the Marie Antoinette syndrome, which is a reference to the often-told, but most likely apocryphal, story of the ill-fated French queen’s hair, which is said to have turned white overnight after she was captured during the revolution.

While the idea of one’s hair turning white in an instant after a sudden fright is an amusing cartoonish fiction, there is a solid body of anecdotal evidence describing instances where hair rapidly turns white after months, or even weeks, of stress or trauma.
“Everyone has an anecdote to share about how stress affects their body, particularly in their skin and hair – the only tissues we can see from the outside,” explains senior author on the new study, Ya-Chieh Hsu. “We wanted to understand if this connection is true, and if so, how stress leads to changes in diverse tissues. Hair pigmentation is such an accessible and tractable system to start with – and besides, we were genuinely curious to see if stress indeed leads to hair graying.”

Learn more details about this study over at New Atlas.

(Image Credit: Julim6/ Pixabay)

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