Hair and stress don’t get along. That, at least, was what a popular lore filled with anecdotes has been saying for years on the subject. However, not only did we not know if these possible changes were harmful, but we were also not very clear about how to cope with stress to get our hair altered.
The good news today is that a team of researchers from Harvard University has identified in mice excuse me stress hormones disrupt hair follicle stem cells and suppress hair growth. And I say good news because they have not only discovered the mechanism, but have found a possible way to reverse it.
Follicles, stem cells, and corticosterone
Actually, the mechanism is simpler than it seems. Hair follicles have a cycle of growth and rest phases; hence the researchers thought that perhaps coticosterone (the hormone released by chronically stressed mice) was involved in regulating these phases.
And, as published in Nature, there seems to be the crux of the matter. When corticosterone levels are high, the follicles remain in a resting state for a long time and they do not regenerate. On the contrary, when the levels fall, the stem cells of the follicles are reactivated and cause the hair to grow back.
As it does? Briefly, corticosterone inhibits the activation of hair follicle stem cells by suppressing the production of a protein called GAS6 (which promotes the proliferation of this type of cells). What the study suggests is that restoring the expression of GAS6 can stimulate the regeneration and growth of the hair.
Of course, it only suggests it; fundamentally because there are things to know. Until now it is believed that corticosterone is the equivalent of human cortisol (and therefore, due to its clinical applicability, it is what has focused the interest of researchers), but we do not know if the mechanisms are identical. In the end, there are substantial differences in growth phases between the two species and these can extend to the effect of cortisol. Be that as it may, it is a first step in the right direction if we want to have a pharmacological solution to this problem. Or if directly, we consider reducing the stress in our lives.
Image | Engin Akyurt