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Is the Marie Antoinette Syndrome Real or a Myth?

What is the Marie Antoinette syndrome?

The Marie Antoinette syndrome is a reference to a situation in which the hair of a person suddenly starts turning white in color. This condition is also called “Canities”. The name for this hair condition comes from the olden times’ lore that a French Queen Marie Antoinette had her hairs started turning white suddenly before her execution commenced in 1973.

Normally hairs start to gray with age as a natural process of the body. As a person starts to grow older, the melanin pigments in the hair responsible for hair color, start to diminish. As for the Marie Antoinette syndrome, this is not a condition triggered due to aging. This syndrome is related to another condition named Alopecia Areata, which causes a sudden loss of hair. An informative note; despite the story being true or not, Marie Antoinette at the time of her death was only 38 years old.

Although it is possible for a person’s hair to start turning white in a short period of time, it is not likely that this will occur in a few minutes as these historical accounts claim.

For our readers today, we bring to you the research as well as causes related to Marie Antoinette syndrome. And if you are also suffering from this syndrome; do you need to see the doctor or not?

Research about the Syndrome:-

There is no research that confirms the theory of hair suddenly turning white. Despite this, there are still tales of people whose hair turned white in a short period of time throughout history. Besides the infamous story of Marie Antoinette, there are also many other historical figures who have said to have experienced this same sudden whiteness of hair. One other known example of this is the man named Thomas More. He was said to have also experienced his hair suddenly turning white in 1535 before he was executed.

Archives of Dermatology also have a published report where they wrote about witness accounts of World War IIs bombing survivor to have experienced sudden hair whitening. This sudden hair whitening has also been seen in science fiction and literature; generally signifying the psychological undertones of a character.

So in conclusion, as Dr. Murray Feingold writes in the Metro West Dial yews, there is to date, no research that says for sure that one can lose their hair color overnight. Another written in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine states that the historical witness accounts about the sudden whitening of hair might be due to the condition Alopecia Areata or due to the temporary hair dyes washing out.

Cause for Similar hair-related phenomenon:-

The so-called cases of the Marie Antoinette syndrome are often considered to be resulted due to the Autoimmune Disorder. Such autoimmune disorders cause the way the body reacts to the healthy cells in the human body, which makes it attacks them. In the case of symptoms similar to Marie Antoinette’s syndrome, the body would tend to stop the usual hair pigmentation. Due to this, while the hair would still grow, the color would be either white or gray.

There are also many other causes for the whitening or premature graying of the hair that a physician might mistake for the Marie Antoinette syndrome. Some of the commonly mistaken conditions are as follows.

  • Alopecia Areata: it is regarded as one of the most known causes of pattern baldness. The symptoms for this condition are generally caused by some underlying inflammation of the scalp which prevents the hair follicles to stop growing new hair. This, in turn, might also result in existing hair to fall out. If a person already has white or gray hairs, these bald patches of Alopecia Areata can cause those pigments to look more prominent. This results in creating an impression that one has a new loss of hair pigmentation. But in fact, this is just hair pigment being prominent. With simple treatment, the new hair growth can make the white hair but still won’t stop the hair from turning white gradually.
  • Genes: if a person has a family medical history with prematurely graying hair, there is a high chance that they will also be at risk. As per Mayo Clinic, there is a gene classified as IRF4 which plays the role in it all. The genetic disposition to the graying hair causes certain challenges in reversing the changes in hair color.
  • Hormonal Changes: some of the hormonal changes include are menopause, thyroid disease, and a decrease in testosterone levels. For this, the doctor can write some medicines that help in balancing the hormone levels and to prevent the further graying of hair.
  • Natural Dark Hair: both people with naturally light or dark hair colors are at risk of graying hair. Still, if a person has dark hair color then any type of whitening hair looks prominent. Such cases are hardly reversible but can still be managed with hair-coloring or touch-up hair kits. As per the research of the Nemours Foundation, it might take well over a decade for all the hair to be gray. So, no, this is not a sudden whitening or graying of hair.
  • Nutritional Deficiencies: in some cases, lack of Vitamin B-12 is also to blame. The nutrition-related graying of hair can be reversed by adding enough nutrition to one’s diet. Such nutritional deficiencies can be confirmed by a simple blood test.
  • Vitiligo: it is an autoimmune disorder that results in the skin losing pigmentation like seeing white patches on the skin. Such effect can also sometimes extend to one’s hair pigments which turn them into white or gray. Vitiligo is a hard disease to treat; especially if found in children. Known treatments for this condition are corticosteroids, light therapy, ad surgery. After the depigmentation halts after treatment, one might notice lesser and lesser gray hairs.

Is stress one of the causes of Mari Antoniatte Syndrome?

Historically speaking, the Marie Antoinette syndrome is portrayed to causes hair whitening due to the sudden onset of extreme stress. In the cases of Thomas More and Marie Antoinette; both people suffered from hair whitening during the final days of their life before execution in prison.

However, the true underlying causes for hair whitening are much more complex than this simple event. In fact, the changes in hair color are most likely being caused due to other underlying causes.

Stress is not the only factor for the sudden whitening of hair. Still, chronic stress over time might lead to gray hairs prematurely. Severe stress, in some cases, also results in hair loss.

Seeing the Doctor:-

Graying or white hairs are not necessarily a health emergency. If one notices gray hairs, they can consult with a doctor at their next physical evaluation. But if one is experiencing other symptoms with hair whitening, it is best to make an appointment as soon as possible. Some key conditions that demand an immediate consultation with a doctor are bald patches, rashes, and hair loss.

The Key Takeaway:

Hair whitening or premature graying of hair is definitely a cause to be determined. Still, despite, the tales of Marie Antoinette and Thomas More’s hairs truing white overnight are rampant in society, it cannot happen. Instead of focusing on these stories of past, one needs to focus on medical experts and their opinions based on solid medical science.

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Written by Suddl

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