What Causes Gray Hair And How To Prevent It?

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Causes Of Premature Gray Hair

Whether it is a nutritional deficiency or oxidative stress from free radical damage, that is causing your hair to go gray prematurely, there are ways to prevent this. Getting adequate levels of vitamins A, B12, C, D, and E as well minerals like copper and iron may help. So can protecting your hair from radiation and sun damage, quitting smoking, and getting herbal remedies like ashwagandha for hormonal disorders.

Did you know hair graying has a link with ethnicity? On an average, you’ll see African Americans graying in their 40s, Asians graying in their late 30s, and white-skinned people showing signs of graying as early as in their mid 30s. So if you are graying earlier than you should, it is premature graying.

Hair is naturally colored by a pigment called melanin, which is released by special cells called melanocytes. As you age, the hair shaft and your hair follicles begin to wear down. Over time, the number of melanocytes decreases or they cease to function as effectively as before – and that’s when you begin to see signs of “graying.” 1 But premature graying can have several causes and risk factors.

5 Causes Of Premature Graying

1. Genetic Tendency

The tendency for graying early can be coded in your DNA. And in a study on 6,000 Latin Americans, scientists recently identified the gene – IRF4. It is the same gene that is responsible for light hair color in Europeans.2 Variations in this gene can tilt the salt-pepper ratio unfavorably.

2. Lack Of Certain Nutrients

Nutritional deficiencies of vitamin B12, vitamin D3, copper, and iron can all rob color from your hair.345 The lack could be because you aren’t having enough of these nutrients through diet (or sunrays, in the case of D) or you have an underlying condition that hinders their absorption – for instance, low stomach acid decreases B12 absorption.

3. Smoking

Smoking can make you age faster, making hair go gray earlier than 30 years of age and causing skin to wrinkle.6 While the exact mechanism is not understood, scientists think it’s due to oxidative stress caused by the free radicals or reactive oxygen species nicotine releases.

4. Damage Caused By Free Radicals

Oxidative stress is an enemy for your melanocytes, whether brought about by radiation, emotional or psychological stress, or inflammation in the body. All of these generate free radicals.7

Even prolonged exposure to sunlight can cause your hair stress. Oxymelanin is an oxidative photo degradation product generated due to sunlight exposure, which causes stress to your hair strands and shaft.8

Over time, as the natural antioxidant levels in the body go down, hydrogen peroxide, a byproduct of metabolic reactions in the body, collects near the hair roots. Hydroxen peroxide is a bleaching agent. So it eventually leads to hair graying.

5. Certain Autoimmune And Genetic Disorders

If you have celiac disease or kwashiorkor, it leads to protein loss, which then affects the melanocytes.9

  • Vitiligo, an autoimmune skin disorder 10
  • Hashimoto’s disease and Grave’s disease, autoimmune thyroid disorders causing hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, respectively
  • Werner syndrome, also called adult progeria
  • Zinsser-Cole-Engman syndrome or dyskeratosis congenita, an inherited syndrome, which doesn’t just turn your hair gray, it also brings on other signs of aging, such as osteoporosis and tooth loss1112

4 Ways To Prevent Hair Graying Prematurely

Normal age-related graying is to be expected, and you can’t really escape it, though some lifestyle changes can help prevent it from going gray sooner than normal. Certain foods like antioxidant-rich foods can also help slow the pace of natural aging of hair. What you could prevent, however, are triggers for early graying that are avoidable, or other causes that can be brought under control by treating underlying disorders. Some of these are given below.

1. Eat The Right Foods

Feed your hair the nutrients it needs and you may be able to slow down the graying of hair. Besides avoiding the deficiency of certain nutrients, you can slow aging of hair by giving it the “food” it needs to really thrive. Vitamins A, C, and E in particular are known to help intervene with aging hair and keep it from going dry, brittle, and gray before its time.13

  • Vitamin B12: Get adequate B12 by ensuring your diet contains eggs, shellfish, organ meat, poultry, and milk.14 But also check if you have low stomach acid, which makes absorbing vitamin B12 difficult.
  • Vitamin D: To increase vitamin D levels, besides getting enough exposure to sunlight to help your body produce the vitamin, you can consume fatty fish like mackerel, tuna, or salmon, or eat beef liver, egg yolks, or cheese.15
  • Copper: Consume dark leafy greens, potatoes, cocoa, yeast, black pepper, dried fruits, whole grains, shellfish, nuts, beans, and organ meat.16
  • Iron: Have more green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, dried beans, eggs, lean red meat, liver, salmon, tuna, oysters, and whole grains.17
  • Vitamin A is needed for oily sebum production, a natural conditioner for your hair that keeps it from going dry and brittle. It can be found in cod liver oil, eggs, orange/yellow fruit and vegetables like carrots, as well as dark leafy vegetables and broccoli.18
  • Vitamin C which helps with collagen production needed for healthy hair growth is easily available in a variety of foods including citrus fruits, berries, brocolli, caulfilower, red/green peppers, spinach, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, potatoes, and more.19
  • Vitamin E protects hair from sun damage from the inside out and can be found in nuts, vegetable oils, seeds, and green vegetables like spinach and broccoli.20
  • Antioxidants like phenols, carotenoids, and anthocyanins which can be found foods and spices like onion, garlic, turmeric, pomegranate, blueberries, spinach, broccoli, and legumes help fight free radical damage. Age-related graying may also be slowed a bit by consuming these foods.21 Onions and garlic in particular can prevent hair graying. They contain sulfur compounds that strengthen the activity of the natural antioxidants in the body and break down hydrogen peroxide. Like we discussed before, hydrogen peroxide can bleach the hair.

2. Protect Hair From Radiation

If you are in a workplace where you may be exposed to radiation, use adequate protection. If your hair is suffering due to simple sunlight exposure and UV radiation-related damage, then a hat or scarf to cover up your hair so it does not get exposed directly can be a simple fix.

3. Stop Smoking

While smoking can increase your risk of going gray early, you can reverse some of the damage before it is too late. As researchers discovered, smokers who stopped smoking were able to halt the increased pace of aging over time and bring it back to normal. This will impact graying as well, but must be done before it’s too late because hair that’s turned gray will stay that way.22 Here’s how you can stop.

4. Treat Hormonal Problems Naturally

Ayurveda has a range of remedies for treating hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid. By addressing this endocrine problem, you could also help you bring back the balance of T3 and T4, the thyroid hormones that, among other things, modulate hair color.23

Of the remedies available, the most popular ones include ashwagandha, varunadi kasaya, kanchanar guggulu, and trifala.24 Ginger and turmeric consumption too may help improve hormonal function.25

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.Adhikari, Kaustubh, Tania Fontanil, Santiago Cal, Javier Mendoza-Revilla, Macarena Fuentes-Guajardo, Juan-Camilo Chacón-Duque, Farah Al-Saadi et al. “A genome-wide association scan in admixed Latin Americans identifies loci influencing facial and scalp hair features.” Nature communications 7 (2016): 10815.
3, 9.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.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.
6, 22.Mosley, J. G., and A. C. C. Gibbs. “Premature grey hair and hair loss among smokers: a new opportunity for health education?.” British Medical Journal 313, no. 7072 (1996): 1616-1617.
7.Arck, Petra Clara, Rupert Overall, Katharina Spatz, Christiane Liezman, Bori Handjiski, Burghard F. Klapp, Mark A. Birch-Machin, and Eva Milena Johanne Peters. “Towards a “free radical theory of graying”: melanocyte apoptosis in the aging human hair follicle is an indicator of oxidative stress induced tissue damage.” The FASEB journal 20, no. 9 (2006): 1567-1569.
8.Draelos, Zoe Diana. “Sunscreens and hair photoprotection.” Dermatologic clinics 24, no. 1 (2006): 81-84.
10.Vitiligo. American Academy of Dermatology.
11.Walne, Amanda J., and Inderjeet Dokal. “Advances in the understanding of dyskeratosis congenita.” British journal of haematology 145, no. 2 (2009): 164-172.
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.Trueb, Ralph M. “Pharmacologic interventions in aging hair.” Clinical interventions in aging 1, no. 2 (2006): 121.
14.Vitamin B12 University of Maryland Medical Center.
15.Vitamin D. University of Maryland Medical Center.
16.Copper in diet. University of Maryland Medical Center.
17.Iron in diet. University of Maryland Medical Center.
18.Vitamin A. University of Maryland Medical Center.
19.Vitamin C. University of Maryland Medical Center.
20.Vitamin E. University of Maryland Medical Center.
21.Lobo, Vijaya, Avinash Patil, A. Phatak, and Naresh Chandra. “Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health.” Pharmacognosy reviews 4, no. 8 (2010): 118.
23.van Beek, Nina, Eniko Bodo, Arno Kromminga, Erzsébet Gáspár, Katja Meyer, Michal A. Zmijewski, Andrzej Slominski, Bjorn E. Wenzel, and Ralf Paus. “Thyroid hormones directly alter human hair follicle functions: anagen prolongation and stimulation of both hair matrix keratinocyte proliferation and hair pigmentation.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 93, no. 11 (2008): 4381-4388.
24.Panthi, Sharad, and Tianshu Gao. “Diagnosis and management of primary hypothyroidism in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Traditional Indian Medicine (Ayurveda).” Int J Clin Endocrinol Metab 1 (1): 009 12, no. 009 (2015).
25.Al-Suhaimi, Ebtesam A., Noorah A. Al-Riziza, and Reham A. Al-Essa. “Physiological and therapeutical roles of ginger and turmeric on endocrine functions.” The American journal of Chinese medicine 39, no. 02 (2011): 215-231.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.

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