The Marie Antoinette Syndrome, a name adapted from French folklore about Queen Marie Antoinette, whose hair turned mysteriously white just before her execution in 1793, is a condition in which a person’s hair begins to turn white all of a sudden. Also known as “Canities Subita, “in reality, this condition does not take place mysteriously overnight.
The French Queen Marie Antoinette is not the only known historical example of this mysterious overnight white hair problem. Mary Queen of Scot and Sir Thomas More have also claimed to have experienced Marie Antoinette’s ill-fate almost similarly during the time of their executions appeared with all hair turned white overnight.
Although a person’s hair can turn white in a short period, it is doubtful that it can happen in a matter of minutes, as these historical stories suggest. Even though there are few known examples of Marie Antoinette syndrome in modern medical literature, it attracts doctors’ and researchers’ attention.
Hair allegedly turned white with age as part of the body’s natural process is expected because the melanin pigments in the hair, responsible for hair color, start to fade as a person gets older. The Marie Antoinette syndrome, on the other hand, is not a condition brought on by age. Instead, this syndrome can be linked to Alopecia Areata, a disorder that causes rapid hair loss.
Who was Queen Marie Antoinette?
Queen Marie Antoinette, the last Queen of France, helped provoke the widespread unrest that led to the French Revolution and the monarchy’s overthrow in August 1792. One of the most well-known stories from 18th-century France, when Marie Antoinette was sentenced to death in 1793, was just 38 years old. Her hair turned white the night before her execution, according to folklore. The story has been around for so long that it’s been dubbed “Marie Antoinette syndrome” when others have made similar claims.
Research so far
Although, there is no evidence to support the claim of hair turning white suddenly. Despite this, there have been stories throughout history of persons whose hair went white in a short amount of time. Logically and historically, there is no such thing as sudden hair whiteness. However, such folklore is part of our lives since childhood, and we have long heard stories of such events. Other than famous historical figures, reports suggest bombing survivors from World War II suffering a rapid turning of hair color. Sudden hair color changes have also been reported in literature and science fiction, with psychological overtones.
B Zhang et al. devised an experiment that measured the rate of hair greying in mice after they were exposed to acute stress and had their melanocyte stem cells depleted to learn more about this illness. The mice had been put through three types of pressure to provoke hair greying: restraint stress, chronic unpredictable anxiety, and nociception-induced stress. The researchers discovered that all three stressors caused an increase in grey hair. Restraint stress and Chronic unexpected stress-causing grey hair production within 3-5 hair cycles, and nociception-induced stress-causing grey hair production after only one round of hair cycles.
Researchers found several accounts on quick hair whitening in a 1957 review of literature, but medical professionals witnessed few. Instead, unexpected distressing or life-threatening situations were a recurring theme in the stories. Stress is a significant reason behind this phenomenon based on all the accounts, but no actual cause has been found yet on the overnight whitening.
Do you relate to the Syndrome?
Doctors typically regard Marie Antoinette syndrome to be a myth. However, when medical practitioners come across similar cases to the current illness, it is frequently referred to as canities subita- The medical term for Marie Antoinette Syndrome.
The Marie Antoinette syndrome is also considered a symptom of a disorder known as alopecia areata, affecting black hair. It occurs when the immune system attacks hair follicles and may be brought on by severe stress. The main symptom is sudden hair loss that starts with one or more circular bald patches that may overlap.
Marie Antoinette Syndromes sudden, unexplainable, and usually permanent whitening of hair on the scalp or another region of the body differs from the natural graying process in timing. Some people also complained that their hair allegedly turned white and lost hair or patches of discoloration on their skin.
What causes Marie Antoinette Syndrome?
Researchers agree that the appearance of short greying hair in well-known historical accounts was due to pretty fundamental causes. These factors are contributors but do not entirely justify the reason as to why hair suddenly turns white.
The hair color is determined by one type of melanin, while the other gives it undertones (usually red or yellow) and as we know, with an increase in age body makes less melanin. So one of the causes of this Syndrome could be hydrogen peroxide production by the cells responsible for melanin. As we know, hydrogen peroxide is commonly used for the bleaching of hair. Catalase is an enzyme that breaks down hydrogen peroxide and prevents it from affecting colored strands of hair—at least until we get older. So when catalase, like melanin, is produced less by the body as we become older, the combination of less melanin and more hydrogen peroxide results in the whitening of hair.
To what extent one’s hair could turn white could also be a factor of genetics. Researchers discovered a gene responsible for grey hair in 2016. According to the Mayo Clinic, a gene known as IRF4 is involved. The genetic predisposition to greying hair makes reversing the changes in hair color difficult. If a person’s family has a history of premature greying hair, there is a good possibility they will have it too.
The historical evidence suggests stress playing a role. For example, the sudden execution of Marie Antoinette of France gradually would have caused her anxiety, so would have been the experience of Sir Thomas More, Mary Queen of Scot, the bombing survivors of World War II, or for that matter, anyone related to the Syndrome.
Thus, high amounts of emotional stress induce Marie Antoinette syndrome, which causes hair pigmentation to decrease. So although your hair would continue to grow, it would be gray or white. Like this, there are other possible causes of premature graying or whitening of the hair that might be mistaken for this syndrome.
B Zhang et al.’s experiment results suggest that stress is a contributor, but it could just be an unlying factor as stress itself does not cause but can change the process before hair emerges.
Sources have found deficiency or lack of Vitamin B-12 as a factor for the onset of this syndrome. Anyhow, we can treat this lack by adding enough Vitamin to one’s diet, thereby reversing the problem.
Still, there are several different reasons for hair whitening or premature greying that a doctor can misdiagnose as Marie Antoinette syndrome.
Who is most prone?
All the factors causing one’s hair to turn white suggest that people with stress and anxiety-related issues have a close affinity to the Antoinette Syndrome other than the body’s natural aging. People with naturally darker or lighter hair color are also said to be at risk. Such cases are hardly reversible but can be temporarily resolved using hair dye, hair coloring, touch-ups, etc.
The Syndrome could suggest other hair-related problems such as Alopecia Areata, Vitiligo, etc.
Alopecia areata has also been connected to reports of hair turning white all of a sudden. In other cases, extreme hair loss was the problem. For example, even young people might have grey or white hair in areas. The hair deficient in pigment would be more noticeable and striking if the colored hair fell off or thinned.
The disease is thought to be a variation of alopecia areata diffusa, or autoimmune non-scarring hair loss, in which all pigmented hairs are affected, leaving only white hairs. Hair loss can be so severe that it results in bald patches. There are other possible causes of premature graying or whitening of the hair that might be mistaken for this syndrome.
A case report of a 48-year-old man with grey hairs on only one leg was published in 2015. He didn’t have any pain, discoloration, or hair loss, and he was generally in good health. Doctors were unsure of the cause but felt it could have been a preliminary to vitiligo.
Vitiligo, an autoimmune illness in which the skin’s pigmentation is lost, resulting in white areas on the skin, is an effect that can sometimes extend to the pigments in one’s hair, turning them white or grey. Although the syndrome could be an onset factor to vitiligo, ruling out the possibility of being a cause still needs to be researched.
How to treat Antoinette Syndrome?
This phenomenon of hair turning white might not be a grave health concern. However, if one experiences other symptoms, such as hair loss, bald patches, and rashes, it is better to see a doctor. Although, the treatment to this is primarily clinical. Knowing about symptoms such as hair loss, skin discoloration, or autoimmune disease indicators can assist a doctor in determining an underlying disorder that could explain a person’s hair color shift.
Autoimmune illnesses, such as alopecia can affect people differently. Therefore, the therapy is determined by factors such as size, location, and length of time the disease has been present in the body. If a person is diagnosed with this underlying medical problem, there are various treatment options available, including steroids and anti-inflammatory medicines.
Hair dye is the most widely available treatment for someone who has had sudden, unexpected, or early hair whitening. The products are available in a variety of colors and can be applied semi-permanently or permanently.
Another factor to keep in check could be the stress level one has. Stress and anxiety can occur in the office and in your personal life. However, there are some simple solutions to alleviate the tension. Start with keeping a check on your lifestyle choices, caffeine intake, sleeping patterns, time spend doing recreational activities, proper diet, etc. One of the most important things you can do to combat stress is to exercise. It may appear counterintuitive, but putting physical stress on your body through exercise can help you relax.
Reducing the rate of your breathing during a sudden stress crisis helps to lower unexpected mental stress. Many people ignore their breathing, which becomes shallow, fast, and unpredictable. This style of breathing reduces the amount of oxygen in the brain, causing dread and terror. When you take calm, deep breaths, the blood flow to your brain increases, allowing you to regain control.
As we know, there’s no proper evidence of the overnight hair whitening situation, but looking out early for future signs of this problem might give us a proper edge to treat it.
While changes in hair color, thickness, and quantity are usually a normal part of the aging process, they can also be a sign of an underlying health concern in rare situations. For example, alopecia areata or vitiligo may have produced many cases of claimed Marie Antoinette syndrome.
Even though hair does not turn white overnight, legends about Marie Antoinette’s hair whitening before her death and other similar stories persist. Instead of focusing on these historical accounts, it’s more vital to concentrate on what medical specialists presently know about greying hair and what you can do about it. Anyhow, the sudden hair turn white is a sign that needs to be investigated.