Going gray is a natural part of getting older. It typically starts with a small streak of white in the hair or beard, a sign that a man has reached a certain level of maturity and is now on that steady, inevitable decline to the grave. Hell, it is even conceivable (and highly likely) that some of you might even pluck one of those pale bastards out of your pube patch one night while trying to determine if the source of a vicious case of crotch itch is the crabs or just dry skin. Listen, all we’re saying is don’t be surprised if, within the next few years, you find yourself staring down at your junk, thinking about how that lustrous man bush of yours is starting to resemble Colonel Sanders with a skinless chicken leg dangling out of his mouth. It happens to the best of us.
But hey, getting old isn’t always indicative of a silver coiffure. I knew a guy back in high school who had more gray hair on his head than my 73-year-old father does now. So, it seems that age alone isn’t always the culprit. In fact, it has been long since believed that stress also plays a critical role in making some men look distinguished beyond their years. Well, come to find out, the concept of stressful events turning us into gray beasts before we are officially deemed DILF’s is probably real. Only science says it really comes down to how our “fight or flight” response is triggered throughout the years that determine when our manes will be deprived of color.
Researchers at Harvard’s Stem Cell Institute believe they have found a direct correlation between stress and going gray. They recently published a study in the journal Nature, which shows that three kinds of extreme stress — mild, short-term pain, psychological stress, and restricted movement — has a way of bringing around the gray quicker than what would happen under natural circumstances. At least that is the conclusion reached by lead researcher Dr. Ya-Chieh Hsu and team after putting a legion of mice through the wringer and watching for their response.
The graying process happens as pigment cells called melanocytes start to fade from our hair follicles. It’s just that over time, these cells become less prevalent and we begin brandishing that salt and pepper look popularized by legendary screen stars like Brad Pitt and George Clooney.
Eventually, however, all of those cells fade into extinction and our hair just goes completely white, we start receiving AARP benefits and eating apple sauce with every meal. Yet, researchers say that stress can cause these cells to fade out quicker than they’re supposed to – long before we start collecting social security and yelling at the neighborhood kids to get off our lawn.
Without getting overly scientific about it, researchers found that high stress seems to produce elevated levels of a chemical in the brain known as noradrenaline. It’s one of the kick-ass substances manufactured by the adrenal gland when a person’s fight or flight response starts firing on all cylinders. That’s the real culprit to early aging, researchers concluded. They say that once mice were injected with this chemical, they began losing melanocytes and going gray. And the transformation didn’t take long either. It turns out that stress can zap our hair color in a matter of days.
“When we started to study this, I expected that stress was bad for the body — but the detrimental impact of stress that we discovered was beyond what I imagined,” Hsu said in a statement. “After just a few days, all of the melanocyte stem cells were lost. Once they’re gone, you can’t regenerate pigments anymore. The damage is permanent.”
While it might be challenging to manage stress in a way that keeps us looking young forever, there is a silver-lining here, boys. Women, presumably the root of all of that premature grayness in the first place, are especially hot for this look. Seriously, a recent survey from Match.com finds that 72 percent of the women on the dating scene find men with gray hair more attractive than those with darker dos. Other studies on the subject have turned out similar results. The only caveat is that women are really only turned on by the gray as long as it doesn’t make the man look old. This has something to do with them wanting to feel like a guy can provide some safety and security without having to worry about changing his diapers down the road.