Stress: Going Gray Overnight?

The link between stress and gray hair and how yoga is good for back pain.

By PT Staff, published May 1, 2006 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

QUESTION: Can extreme stress turn hair prematurely gray?

ANSWER: Stress won't turn hair white overnight, contrary to old wives' tales, says Tyler Cymet, a researcher at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore who has studied gray hair and its causes. Cymet says consistent mental and physical stress—over the course of many years—may cause premature aging of the body, including hair. However, this is a contested area of research; many scientists say only genes matter.

Hair turns gray when the cells that produce pigment stop doing their job. Stress doesn't directly cause these cells to bow out, but it does affect how quickly hair is shed. The faster hair falls out and regrows, the more quickly pigment cells break down.

Cymet thinks that on average people today are going gray about five years earlier than they did in 1970. He attributes the difference to a faster lifestyle, poor diet and lack of sleep.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Genes mostly determine when an individual goes gray, but stress may be a player.

New Twist on Back Pain

Yoga is not just for yuppies anymore. If you're one of the 65 million Americans who suffer from chronic back pain, you may want to give the routine a try. A Seattle study found that after 12 weekly classes of low-impact viniyoga, participants were more likely to be back to their regular routine than people prescribed conventional exercise. After six months, yoga buffs had less discomfort, used fewer pain relievers and had more range of movement.