woman with grey hair


02 MARCH, 2022

Is our hair giving our body a message?


We have all seen the before and after pictures of Presidents and Prime Ministers on the day of taking up their post and the day of stepping down. Their faces have ages and once youthful hair has turned grey. It’s dubbed the Marie Antoinette effect as it is said that she turned grey on the night before she was due to be beheaded.  

In a book published last month month*, the author Professor Kenny delves deep into the aging process. She explores what contributes to ageing, from sex, food, physical and brain health, genetics, childhood experience, community, friendships, sleep, family and stress. Through this she attempts to decipher what contributes and what helps delay the ageing process.  

This is relevant because a Harvard study published in Nature magazine** discovered how and why greying is indicative of the biological effects of stress. They found that certain stem cells in the hair follicle act as reservoirs for pigment producing cells which give our hair pigment (colour) when a hair shaft grows. Too much noradrenaline release (which happens when the sympathetic nervous system is activated under stress i.e. our fight or flight response) floods these stem cells causing these to activate excessively. The stem cells all convert into pigment producing cells, prematurely depleting the reservoir so turning the hair grey.


Premature greying can be an outward indicator of the internal stress that our bodies are experiencing; a warning sign so to speak.


woman with grey hair

Constantly being in a state of stress is damaging to your organs, pushing up your heart rate, blood pressure and damaging your blood vessels - ageing you prematurely. Professor Kenny gives us ways to help buffer this stress including exercise, being in nature, mindfulness and meditation, sharing worries with others, taking up a hobby or project and being part of a family or community. Basically, learning how to switch off. We at An’du actually think grey hair can look fantastic, but if you suspect that yours is secondary to stress rather than a genetic predisposition then you could look upon this as a positive sign, your body is clever, it’s giving you a clear message - slow down. Now is the time to take positive action in helping reduce your stress. You won’t get your original colour back but you will help slow the ageing process within as well as without.


*The New Science of Living a Longer and Healthier Life - Professor Rose Anne Kenny.


** https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-1935

Written by Dr Tina Grayson

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