Grey Hair due to Stress in Grey Matter: Ancient Indian Wisdom from Ayurveda

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Some days back there were some high powered fury on Twitter from many fanatical rationalists and hard core atheists questioning the reason why Indian spiritual ambassador Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev should be allowed to speak at the London Science Museum. There is a substantial fraction of people in UK as well as India who blindly think that everything to do with ancient wisdom in any native culture is just guess work, pseudo-science and occult junk! This is certainly an extreme side to take and it is important that academics stand a bit more balanced in this regard (i.e. accepting genuine parts of ancient knowledge while discarding the immature myths).                                                           

It is only fair that we accept the genuine scientific wisdom and legacy of our country but at the same time, maturely discard some of the heavily exaggerated and imaginative claims some people make. Here the idea is to present a valid and thoughtful theory which came through ancient wisdom and meticulous research from medieval India which has been later confirmed and recognised by modern science and scientists alike.

When Barack Obama demitted office, there were many debates on media on the comparisons between the number of grey hairs in the before-office and after-office photographs of the former President of the United States. Obviously there were no debates whether being the president of US is a high stress job or not. The main question was whether there is a direct link between stress and premature greying plus rapid greying of hair.

A lithograph depicting an ancient Ayurvedic surgeon doing surgery on a patient, from a portfolio by Robert Thom illustrating the history of medicine. (Image credits: Blue Lantern Studio/Corbis)

In the last decade, there have been many studies in this direction at some of the top medical schools in the western world. Latest research findings suggest that stress can play a crucial role in leading to premature greying as well as accelerating the rate of greying of hair in certain individuals. Most scientists and doctors agree that it has to mainly do with the colour producing cells-called melanocytes-being inactive. It is understood that there are cycles which determine the way hair grows, stays around and eventually fall off from one’s scalp. These cycles could vary between few years to a decade. Once a single grey hair appears, subsequently the number of grey hairs start increasing gradually and repeating in such cycles.                                                          

Recent studies show that stress can play a large part in shortening the duration of these cycles i.e. frequency of more and more grey hairs appearing being accelerated rapidly as time goes. Latest research also suggests that stress can lead to pigment producing cells becoming inactive which could thereby lead to premature greying in many youngsters. Most of these trends are observed in today’s world more than ever before!

Much of these modern studies were conducted in the last five to ten years. However it is important to note that the direct relationship between stress and greying of hair was neatly studied in the ancient treatises of Ayurveda compiled by the legendary sages Sushrutha and Charaka, thousands of years back. Theories from Ayurveda states that shoka (grief) and krodha (anger) are crucial reasons for greying of hair. Modern day emotion of stress can be summed up as a combination of these two emotions mentioned in Ayurveda.

Vaidyaratnam P S Varier, a great pioneer in Ayurveda and the illustrious founder of Kottakkal Arya Vaidya Sala, Kerala. (Image credits: AVS, Kottakkal)

Later on, innovators like Vaidyaratnam P S Varier and future generations did further research and extended various aspects of Ayurvedic knowledge to move in line with the progressing times. These steps directly helped humanity both in terms of augmenting medical body of knowledge as well as improving direct health and well being of countless patients from different parts of the globe.                                                        

If one translates, our ancient texts in Ayurveda explicitly state that ‘Palitya’ (greying of hair) are produced when the scalp is eroded slowly by aggravated ‘Pitta’. One of the reasons causing aggravated ‘Pitta’ comes from grief and anger as per Ayurvedic observations and records. These ancient texts specifically comment on ‘Akala Palitya’ (premature greying) as well. The Ayurvedic textbooks also point out that when shoka (grief) and krodha (anger) are not managed well, it can lead to these conditions accelerating and getting worse with time. In summary, this age old theory of greying hair neatly overlaps and agrees with the modern research and theories put forward by western medical scientists today.

Padmabhushan Dr P K Warrier, a living sage of Ayurveda who consults and treats thousands of patients every year using the most pristine and traditional methods from ancient Ayurvedic texts. (Image credits: YouTube)

Any Ayurvedic physician, right from a young medical college student all the way up to Padmabhushan Dr P K Warrier (considered as the living legendary sage of Ayurveda in India), would tell you that Ayurveda has extensive body of knowledge on the topic of greying of hair amongst many other conditions, much before the advent of western practices in this regard. One has to keep in mind that the allopathic and western medical body of knowledge on this specific topic is very recent (in the last 5-10 years).

Contrary to what some fanatical rationalists believe, it is important to note that most of the knowledge, theories and methodologies put forward by our wise sages like Sushrutha and Charaka came after meticulous documentation and records spanning many years of extensive observation, experiments and treatment on humans and animals. Hence it is unfair in cases like these for some allopathic fanatics to say that old wisdom in Ayurveda is just plain guess work from unsubstantiated records. We have to be generous in giving due credits to our ancestors in matters they deserve, rather than having a totally negative and prejudiced view on everything old and wise from our rich culture and heritage. Even the best scientists and academics in the west appreciate native wisdom and knowledge from multiple sources without making a fuss on its religious or cultural roots, as long as they are well documented! Ayurveda is a classic example in this regard.

Aswin Sekhar @aswinsek 

Author: Dr Aswin Sekhar, is an Indian scientist based at University of Oslo, Norway

Views presented here are of the Author.


Featured Image: Depiction of ancient Indian sages learning Ayurvedic practices from their gurus (Image credits: Colros)

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