by NIKKI POPE, March 01, 2021
Goosebumps is a natural thing that most people experience. These small skin elevations – reminiscent to newly-plucked poultry feathers – is the body's response to the cold or some other strong emotion. While some people link it to the presence of some unearthly phenomenon, a recent study suggests that it may stimulate hair growth as well.
What are Goosebumps?
Also known as piloerection, horripilation, or cutis anserina, goosebumps are a trait that humans have acquired from their evolutionary ancestors. This reflex was of good use to the early humans, as their long body hair stood up to offer them warmth. And since most modern humans do not have much body hair, this action just manifests as plain goosebumps on the skin.
Why Goosebumps Happen
Piloerection occurs due to the contraction of small arrector pili muscles attached to the hair. This leads to a shallow depression in the surface, while its surrounding area protrudes. As a result, the hair stands up.
Goosebumps is commonly seen on the forearms, although it could affect the neck, legs, and other parts of the body as well.
In animals, the mechanism of goosebumps helps them battle the cold. The muscle contraction brings about the rising of the hair coat, which expands the layer of insulative air. This leads to better heat retention, especially in those with thicker furs.
Additionally, goosebumps can help make the animal appear larger – a mechanism that can help scare away the predators. This is usually seen in chimpanzees, new world monkeys, porcupines, and sea otters.
What Causes Goosebumps?
As mentioned, cold is the primary reason behind piloerection. However, emotional situations and memorable events may lead to goosebumps as well. Listening to beautiful music, reliving a triumphant event, even watching a scary movie can make your hairs stand on end.
Some lesser-known factors may lead to goosebumps as well. These include the intake of medications such as yohimbine, the unpleasant process of opiate withdrawal, even voluntary control.
No matter what cause, goosebumps are linked to the release of adrenaline, a hormone manufactured by the adrenal glands. These are organs located on top of the kidneys. Apart from contracting the arrector pili muscles, this substance can influence other bodily activities as well.
So whenever you find yourself feeling some strong emotions – or just under a bit of stress – you may experience goosebumps. This may occur alongside other adrenaline-caused responses, including trembling hands, sweaty palms, fast heart rate, and butterflies in your stomach.
Goosebumps = Hair Growth?
Ever wonder why goosebumps continue to occur despite being a virtually useless reflex? Well, Harvard scientists have finally unlocked the answer. In their revolutionary research, the authors discovered that the cell types responsible for goosebumps are also in charge of regenerating the hair.
As mentioned, the contracting arrector pili muscles bring about piloerection. But apart from this, it also serves as a connection between the sympathetic nerve and the hair follicle.
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When goosebumps happen, the sympathetic nerves go into overdrive – releasing more neurotransmitters than usual. These activate the hair follicle stem cells faster, a process that could pave the way for better hair growth.
The study has shown that these genetically-modified mice have problems with their arrector pili muscles. As established, these bridge the nerves and the hair follicles. When the researchers severed the connection, the sympathetic nerve retracted – and the necessary connection was lost.
Expectedly, a problem with the arrector pili muscles can affect the sympathetic nerves that produce neurotransmitters. This may explain why these genetically-modified mice don’t grow hair well.
The same aberration is often seen in people with irreversible androgenetic alopecia. According to the research author, as the follicles miniaturize, the arrector pili loses its attachments. The severing of the connection between the nerves and the hair follicle eventually results in hair loss.
Issues with the arrector pili muscle may also lead to a disruption in follicle cycling. According to another research, it is necessary for stem cell proliferation, which leads to the regeneration of new hair follicles.
With that being, the author suggested that restoring this vital muscle and nerve connection may bring about new hair growth.
Not only is this study promising for those with irreversible hair problems, but this discovery also opens new doors in the field of tissue regeneration. According to the authors, this could lead to further exploration of the environment and how they can affect the skin and hair stem cells.
Before You Do Anything...
While this discovery has profound effects on hair growth therapy, it's not advisable to induce goosebumps by exposing yourself to the cold. Remember, this could do more harm than good. That's because low temperatures can harm your strands and lead to any (or all) of the following:
Goosebumps is an ancient reflex that kept our forefathers warm. Although it’s been deemed as useless in modern times, recent research has shown that the cells responsible for goosebumps are attributed to hair growth as well.
That’s because the muscles that contract during goosebumps link the sympathetic nerve to the hair follicles. In people with irreversible hair loss, the detachment of these muscles from the follicles lead to hair loss.
As for piloerection, it could stimulate the increased release of neurotransmitters that activate the stem cells and lead to hair growth. These discoveries could, one day, pave the way for more hair growth treatments.
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