The old wives' tale of your hair turning white due to stress isn't just an old wives' tale anymore. Harvard University's researchers have figured out the connection between the two.

So, what really happens when we get stressed and sprout gray hair? Our nervous system causes permanent damage to pigment-regenerating stem cells in our hair follicles.


"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," said senior author Ya-Chieh Hsu, the Alvin and Esta Star associate professor of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology at Harvard.

"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. "

It turns out, there's a great benefit to the study, too.

With the results, the researchers now know that neurons can control stem cells, which can help illuminate the effects of stress on our many organs and tissues. This could lead scientists to develop a first-step treatment for stress.

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