Going gray is synonymous with age and wisdom. But sometimes, grays can come as early as when you’re a child. You’d be right to assume that isn’t normal, but what’s causing the grays? Triggers for this early decline range from autoimmune or genetic conditions to endocrine trouble or nutritional deficiencies. The key is to know what’s responsible and get to the root of the matter.
Going gray is hard enough in your 30s and 40s, but for a child who starts to turn gray, things can be that much tougher. While this isn’t normal, the good news is that many of the underlying conditions that could be causing your child to go gray can be treated. By doing away with the trigger, you may be able to halt the progress of the graying or even reverse the condition in some cases.
Why Does Hair Turn Gray?
The pigmentation of your hair – which gives it that distinctive brown, black, blonde, red or other shade – is normally something that stays well into your 30s and, for some, even longer. However, for children with a premature graying problem, pigment producing cells start to dwindle before their time. This occurs due to the loss of melanin in the hair shaft or bulb in terms of both population (quantity of melanocytes) and content (volume).1 The triggers for this early decline range from autoimmune or genetic conditions to endocrine trouble or nutritional deficiencies. Because these are inherited conditions or the results of deficiencies and disorders, they don’t necessarily follow a pattern of age or gender. However, each underlying cause may have specific risk factors or demographic indicators. Certain environmental factors can also cause hair to go gray, including smoking, exposure to drugs, ultraviolet light, or trace elements. This will depend on where you live, the environment there, the age of the child, and what they are exposed to.
Is your child also losing a lot of hair? Gray hair itself is dry and brittle but it is protein loss or stress that is more likely to cause hair loss. If the graying is a result of these factors, the premature graying may also be accompanied by hair shedding.2
Hair hypopigmentation or premature graying linked to nutritional deficiencies are among the more easily corrected or reversible.
Pernicious anemia or anemia resulting from a vitamin B12 deficiency is another childhood condition associated with premature graying. This kind of graying can be corrected using a combination of dietary intake of B12 through milk, meat, eggs, and fish, and multivitamin supplements and fortified cereals.3 Deficiency of vitamin D3 can also result in hair graying before its time.4 Correcting the balance in the body by taking nutritional supplements and increasing intake of foods rich in the deficient nutrients can help. In addition to B12 foods above, you will need to get D3 through fatty fish, vitamin D fortified foods, or egg yolks, cheese, or beef liver.5
A severe deficiency of copper or iron may have similar effects on your hair because of their role in hair pigmentation and growth. Copper ions are needed to bind with tyrosinase, an enzyme needed for melanogenesis or the production of the cells that create the color.6 You can increase iron intake from foods like seafood, lean meat, beans, nuts, and fortified grains and supplements.7 Shellfish, dark leafy greens, whole grains, organ meat, nuts, potatoes, black pepper, yeast, and beans are good dietary sources of copper and can help overcome the deficiency.8
Some researchers have found that premature graying accompanies some instances of decreased bone density or osteopenia, and even hearing loss. Because this is influenced by the calcium and Vitamin D3 levels in the body, ensuring healthy levels of serum calcium and Vitamin D3 may be just as important.9
Chronic protein loss that might occur due to malabsorption of nutrients, as a result of a child having celiac disease or kwashiorkor, can also cause hair to gray early.10
Certain disorders in childhood can also bring on premature graying. Vitiligo is a condition where the body experienced depigmentation due to the disorder, causing skin to lose color. But as the American Academy of Dermatology explains, in some individuals the autoimmune disorder can also cause patches of hair to turn white.11
A malfunctioning thyroid can also result in premature graying in children. There are chances that the problem could be due to an autoimmune thyroid disease like Hashimoto’s disease, Werner’s syndrome, or Grave’s disease. Gray hair appears along with other symptoms of premature aging seen in Werner’s syndrome and in subclinical hypothyroidism.12
Early graying may also be a result of the presence of another disorder or disease like tuberous sclerosis, neurofibromatosis, or Waardenburg syndrome. While type 2 and type 3 neurofibromatosis show up in adulthood, type 1 neurofibromatosis strikes in childhood. Besides causing changes in skin pigmentation, as in vitiligo, it may also cause a loss of hair color (in the section of the scalp with the tumors associated with the disease).13 For those with Waardenburg syndrome, hair hypopigmentation occurs alongside disturbance to pigmentation of the skin and the iris. Notably, the white hair tends to appear as a white forelock for those with this auditory-pigmentary disorder, distinguishing it from other causes of graying.14
For illness-induced graying, understanding and properly treating the underlying condition can go a long way in preventing further graying. Your doctor may also be able to confirm if the graying is reversible in your child’s case.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Commo, S., O. Gaillard, and B. A. Bernard. “Human hair greying is linked to a specific depletion of hair follicle melanocytes affecting both the bulb and the outer root sheath.” British Journal of Dermatology 150, no. 3 (2004): 435-443.|
|2.||↑||Aging changes in hair and nails, US National Library of Medicine.|
|3, 10.||↑||Pandhi, Deepika, and Deepshikha Khanna. “Premature graying of hair.” Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology, and Leprology 79, no. 5 (2013): 641.|
|4.||↑||Bhat, Ramesh M., Rashmi Sharma, Anita C. Pinto, Sukumar Dandekeri, and Jacintha Martis. “Epidemiological and investigative study of premature graying of hair in higher secondary and pre-university school children.” International journal of trichology 5, no. 1 (2013): 17.|
|5.||↑||Vitamin D, NIH.|
|6.||↑||Naieni, Farahnaz Fatemi, Bahareh Ebrahimi, Hamid Reza Vakilian, and Zabihollah Shahmoradi. “Serum iron, zinc, and copper concentration in premature graying of hair.” Biological trace element research 146, no. 1 (2012): 30-34.|
|8.||↑||Copper in diet, US NationalLibrary of Medicine.|
|9.||↑||Ozbay, I., C. Kahraman, C. Kucur, N. D. Namdar, and F. Oghan. “Is there a relationship between premature hair greying and hearing impairment?.” The Journal of Laryngology & Otology 129, no. 11 (2015): 1097-1100.|
|11.||↑||Vitiligo, American Academy of Dermatology.|
|12.||↑||Altay, Mustafa, Mehmet Çölbay, Füsun Törüner, Müjde Aktürk, Erkam Sencar, Nuri Çakır, and Metin Arslan. “An unusual organ involvement in a case of Werner Syndrome: thyroid atrophy.” Journal of Contemporary Medicine 5, no. 2 (2015): 144-146.|
|13.||↑||Neurofibromatosis Fact Sheet, National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke|
|14.||↑||Milunsky, Jeff Mark.”Waardenburg syndrome type I.” (2014).|