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What Causes Gray Hair And How To Prevent It

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What Causes Gray Hair And How To Prevent It

Whether it is natural aging, or a nutritional deficiency or oxidative stress from radiation/free radical damage, that is causing your hair to go gray prematurely - there are ways to prevent this. Getting adequate levels of vitamins A, C, E, B12, D3, as well minerals like copper and iron may help. So can protecting your hair from radiation, sun damage, and quitting smoking.

It’s normal to closely associate your appearance with that mane of hair on your head. So what happens when they gorgeous color that has been so closely tied to your image of yourself begins to fade, as hair turns white or silvery gray? If you’re wondering why your hair is going gray and wonder if its normal graying, or are looking for ways to halt this graying in its tracks, read on.

Natural Graying

Hair is naturally colored due to melanocytes, the melanin forming cells that also give your skin their color. As you age, the hair shaft and your hair follicles begin to wear down and age. Over time, the melanocytes in the follicle also cease to function as effectively as before – and that’s when you begin to see signs of “graying”. The loss of melanin can be due to a decline in volume of melanin and a fall in population of melanocytes and affects both the bulb of your hair as well as the outer sheath of the root of the hair.1 On an average, you’ll see African-Americans graying later, Asians graying in their late 30s, and white skinned people showing signs of graying as early as in their mid 30s. Anything earlier than that can be seen as premature.

Premature Graying And Its Causes

You could also see your hair turning gray earlier than normal due to various reasons including:

  • Genetic conditions like Dyskeratosis congenita, an inherited syndrome that causes premature aging and affects hair besides bringing on osteoporosis and dental loss2
  • Smoking can make you age faster, making hair go gray earlier and causing skin to wrinkle3
  • Nutritional deficiencies of vitamin B124, vitamin D35, copper or iron.6
  • Chronic protein loss due to celiac disease or kwashiorkor7
  • Autoimmune disorder Vitiligo8
  • Endocrine problems due to Hashimoto’s disease, Werner’s syndrome, or Grave’s disease.9
  • Exposure to radiation can result in free radical damage in the body, causing skin to gray as the melanocyte population is depleted.10 Oxymelanin is an oxidative photo degradation product generated due to sunlight exposure which causes stress to your hair strands and shaft.11
  • Oxidative stress due to inflammation or psychoemotional stress resulting in problems with melanocyte growth12

Can You Prevent Graying?

Normal age-related graying is to be expected, and you can’t really ward it off, 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. Prevent Nutritional Deficiencies

Feed your hair the nutrients it needs and you may be able to slow down the graying of hair.

  • Get in adequate vitamin B12 by ensuring your diet contains eggs, shellfish, organ meat, poultry, and milk.13
  • 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.14
  • Minerals like copper can be consumed through dark leafy greens, potatoes, cocoa, yeast, black pepper, dried fruits, whole grains, shellfish, nuts, beans, and organ meat.15
  • Up iron intake by having more green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, dried beans, eggs, lean red meat, liver, salmon, tuna, oysters, and whole grains.16
    Top up your intake with fortified foods like cereals containing the vitamins or minerals you need to get more of. Milk may also be fortified with vitamin D.

2. Get In Anti (Hair) Aging Foods

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.17

  • Vitamin A needed for oily sebum production, a natural conditioner for your hair that keeps it from going dry and brittle, 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 leafy vegetables like spinach and broccoli.20

3. Protect Hair From Radiation

If you are in a workplace where you may be exposed to radiation, use the provided protection or request it if it is not available, so that your body is not exposed to too much radiation. 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.

4. Consume Anti-inflammatory And Antioxidant Foods

You can also fight free radical damage that causes hair to gray, by consuming antioxidant-rich foods like onion, garlic, turmeric, pomegranate, blueberries, spinach, broccoli, and legumes. Age related graying may also be slowed a bit by consuming these foods.21

5. 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

6. Treat Endocrine Problems Naturally

Ayurveda has a range of remedies for treating hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroids. 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 pigmentation.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 endocrine 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. Walne, Amanda J., and Inderjeet Dokal. “Advances in the understanding of dyskeratosis congenita.” British journal of haematology 145, no. 2 (2009): 164-172.
3, 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.
4, 7. Pandhi, Deepika, and Deepshikha Khanna. “Premature graying of hair.” Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology, and Leprology 79, no. 5 (2013): 641.
5. 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.
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. Vitiligo. American Academy of Dermatology.
9. 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.
10, 12. 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.
11. Draelos, Zoe Diana. “Sunscreens and hair photoprotection.” Dermatologic clinics 24, no. 1 (2006): 81-84.
13. Vitamin B12 University of Maryland Medical Center.
14. Vitamin D. University of Maryland Medical Center.
15. Copper in diet. University of Maryland Medical Center.
16. Iron in diet. University of Maryland Medical Center.
17. Trueb, Ralph M. “Pharmacologic interventions in aging hair.” Clinical interventions in aging 1, no. 2 (2006): 121.
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.