We’re seeing more and more people with gray hair these days. But it’s not only because the population is growing old at a fast pace as 10,000 boomer babies turn 65 each and every day and because the population will continue aging at that rate for some time to come. It’s all about the stresses of the 21st century, not the least of which is the COVID crisis. As a result, more and more of us – including those as young as 20 years old – are being subjected to extreme pressures, which can also turn your hair gray, so say the scientists.
The Association of Mature American Citizens [AMAC] tracked down the science of the “graying of America” and the good news is that it is not irreversible, at least for the youngsters. “All you have to do is calm down,” says AMAC CEO Rebecca Weber, “and chances are you won’t have to make a trip to the barber or a beauty salon for a dye job.”
A recent study led by Dr. Martin Picard, Ph.D. at New York’s Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, discovered you may prevent and even reverse the graying process by adopting a kinder, gentler and tranquil attitude. “That’s the good news for those in the 20 to 30 age range but, sadly, not for senior citizens,” quipped Weber, “with apologies to AMAC’s 50-plus membership.”
The 14 volunteers who participated in Picard’s study kept diaries tracking their levels of stress and found that some of the gray hair of those who reported periods of reduced stress actually saw those gray hairs disappear. For example, the doctor cited one volunteer who, while on vacation, saw gray hairs return to their original color.
"Based on our mathematical modeling, we think hair needs to reach a threshold before it turns gray. In middle age, when the hair is near that threshold because of biological age and other factors, stress will push it over the threshold, and it transitions to gray. But” says Dr. Picard, “we don't think that reducing stress in a 70-year-old who's been gray for years will darken their hair or increasing stress in a 10-year-old will be enough to tip their hair over the gray threshold … Our data add to a growing body of evidence demonstrating that human aging is not a linear, fixed biological process but may, at least in part, be halted or even temporarily reversed.”
According to Scientific American magazine Picard’s focus on gray hair began during a conversation with a fellow clinician some time ago. Picard told his colleague “if one could find a hair that was only partially gray—and then calculate how fast that hair was growing—it might be possible to pinpoint the period in which the hair began aging and thus ask the question of what happened in the individual’s life to trigger this change. ‘I was thinking about this almost as a fictive idea,’ Picard recalls. Unexpectedly, however, his partner turned to him and said she had seen such two-colored hairs on her head. ‘She went to the bathroom and actually plucked a couple—that’s when this project started’.”