You can get garden variety health advice from the daily newspaper, the "health" section of most book stores, and of course thousands of web sites. I'm hoping to present thought provoking and maybe change provoking thoughts about individual and community health. This blog is not just what to do about health, but how to think about it. I'm looking forward to an exchange of ideas with readers. July, 2010


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Green with Envy, Gray with Anxiety

People often associate colors with moods and emotional states.  Usually the reference is symbolic, though some people with fair skin might actually turn "red in the face" when they are angry or embarrassed.  I've noticed lately that the President has sprouted much more gray hair since he was running for office in 2007-8.  While lots of jobs are stressful, the U.S. presidency has to be near the top in the amount of unrelenting pressure and demands placed on holders of the position.  Most of us are not confronted on a daily basis with the reality that 40-60 percent of constituents don't approve of our performance.  The President bears responsibility for the actions of a couple of million employees of the federal government, most he will never meet.  He has to interact with people who totally, permanently disagree with his every action and public statement.

The question then is, "What effect did all this stress have on the rate of graying we've seen in Mr. Obama?"  As it turns out, there is a two step process of hair production and hair pigmentation.  The two steps are not tightly linked: some people stop producing new hair, possibly while the pigmentation capacity is still in place.  More commonly, the hair production process continues long after the pigmentation capability has ceased or slowed down.  Is this process influenced by stress?  The jury is still out.  We cannot prove that anxiety accelerates graying, though there are some plausible mechanisms whereby stress hormones could shut off pigmentation metabolism.  Stress is harmful in important ways; even if we establish a link between worrying and turning gray, this doesn't really matter for most people.

As an aside, severe malnutrition or toxic exposure can impact hair growth and graying.  In otherwise normally healthy people, a healthy lifestyle has no impact on balding or graying.  Genetics is surely a powerful determinant here.

It is unfortunate that the pigmentation process is not more immediate and fleeting.  In other words, what if graying was like a mood ring?  When you were under a lot of pressure, your hair would turn gray as an outward reflection of duress.  When you noticed this sudden change in the bathroom mirror, you could martial coping skills to get the stress under control.  If others noticed a gray hair alert, your support network could engage and help you find tranquility again.

Of course this is whimsical thinking. The body doesn't work this way, but we do need to listen to the bellwethers of our daily exposure to elevated stress.  Are we tense, short-tempered, sleep challenged, unable to concentrate as usual?  It is a common experience of the modern world, robing us of quality living.

What color is peace?

1 comment:

snoring solutions said...

The Manchester Color Wheel, which can be used to study people's preferred pigment in relation to their state of mind. Peter Whorwell, Professor of Medicine and Gastroenterology at University Hospital South Manchester, worked with a team of researchers from the University of Manchester, UK, to create an instrument that would allow people a choice of colors in response to questions.