Graying of the hair is usually common among older people. But, when it occurs among younger people at an untimely age, it is called premature graying. There could be various reasons why this happens and is usually not a cause for worry if it is hereditary. But, if it is not because of the genes, then we must not ignore these signs, which may indicate a medical condition.
The hair follicles below our scalp grow old just as we do. As we age, our hair follicles produce less melanin, which results in our hair turning gray and then ultimately, white. Melanin is the pigment that gives our hair its natural color. Although premature graying is mostly genetic, lifestyle, diet, and other characteristics can also cause the hair to turn gray prematurely. Here are the main reasons for this condition.
1. Medical Condition
Premature graying may sometimes occur if there is an underlying medical condition. Men who experience premature graying must consult a cardiologist. Research shows that premature graying is often associated with a high risk of ischemic heart disease (IHD), which shows no symptoms at its initial stage. Hence it is important that you don’t ignore this sign.
Sometimes, autoimmune diseases attack the cells within the body including the hair follicles, which may result in premature graying of the hair. A vitamin B-12 deficiency or problems with your pituitary or thyroid gland can also cause premature aging. However, premature graying of the hair because of medical reasons is considered to be rare.1
It is a well-known fact that smoking causes your skin to age faster and this is applicable to the scalp as well. Research shows that there is a significant relationship between tobacco use and graying of hair.2 Smoking is extremely bad for our skin and hair. Though we cannot see the wrinkles on the scalp, it still affects the hair follicles. Cigarette smoking is also linked to premature hair graying, with the onset of gray hair occurring before the age of 30.3
Cigarette smoking is also linked to premature hair graying, with the onset of gray hair occurring before the age of 30.4 However, if premature graying is not a trait that runs in your family, ensure that you consult a physician to evaluate thyroid health, vitamin levels, and the hemoglobin levels in your blood.
3. Chronic Stress
Some studies reveal that there is a correlation between stress and premature graying of the hair. A study conducted by cellular biologists at New York University published in the Journal of Nature Medicine shows the diminution of hair follicles via stem cell reduction in mice placed under stressful conditions. But, more research is required to study the effects of stress and how it causes premature graying.
Oxidative stress causes the free radicals resulting from pollution, poor diet, and stress to outnumber your antioxidant defenses. Graying hair may be an indication of oxidative stress-induced damage. Research also shows that people with premature graying have a higher level of pro-oxidants and lower levels of antioxidants than people with normal hair.5 6
A Deficiency of vitamin B-12 can also cause the hair to turn gray prematurely. Vegetarians and vegans are especially vulnerable and may be at a greater risk of premature graying because of their dietary restrictions. The best sources of vitamin B-12 are eggs, milk, milk products, meat, fish, and poultry. People who take birth control pills and those with gastrointestinal or digestive issues may also be at a higher risk for premature graying.7 But, there is still hope for such people as studies show that pigmentation can return to the hair after the vitamin deficiency is resolved.8
Hydrogen peroxide is a commonly used chemical to bleach the hair. Interestingly, even your hair cells can make hydrogen peroxide. As you grow older, the amount of hydrogen peroxide produced increases. Studies suggest that this causes the hair pigment to be bleached and results in your hair turning gray and then white.9 Under normal circumstances, the hair follicles produce a small amount of hydrogen peroxide. However, when it accumulates, it causes premature graying. The good news is that this condition can be treated with a UVB-activated compound, which is also used for skin pigmentation disorders.10
This is one reason for premature graying that you don’t have control over. Early graying of the hair does not always mean health problems. It is often caused by the genes. Untimely graying of hair can also occur in people whose parents had graying hair before 30 years of age. Scientists have even found genes that are responsible for early graying of hair and there is no cause for alarm as this is hereditary.11
What Can We Do?
- If the graying is due to a medical condition, consult your physician and undergo appropriate treatment.
- If it is because of smoking, then quit smoking – this is a good reason to stop smoking.
- If it is due to stress, practice meditation, yoga or other methods that can reduce stress.
- If graying is because of vitamin deficiency, consult a hair specialist and take appropriate supplements required for healthy hair. Also, consult a dietician and modify your diet to include the missing vitamins and other nutrients.
- If it is due to excess hydrogen peroxide, consult a hair care specialist.
- If it is because of your genes, then stop worrying as there is nothing much you can do about it. In fact, worrying can accelerate premature graying!
|↑1||Grey Hair Linked With Increased Heart Disease Risk In Men. European Society of Cardiology. 2017.|
|↑2||Sabharwal, Robin, Atul Gupta, Ninad Moon, Ashish Mahendra, Vinod Sargaiyan, S. K. Subudhi, and S. Gupta. “Association between use of tobacco and age on graying of hair.” Nigerian Journal of Surgery 20, no. 2 (2014): 83-86.|
|↑3||Zayed, Ayman A., Awni D.|
|↑4||Zayed, Ayman A., Awni D. Shahait, Musa N. Ayoub, and Al-Motassem Yousef. “Smokers’ hair: Does smoking cause premature hair graying?.” Indian dermatology online journal 4, no. 2 (2013): 90.|
|↑5||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.|
|↑6||Daulatabad, Deepashree, Archana Singal, Chander Grover, S. B. Sharma, and Neelam Chhillar. “Assessment of oxidative stress in patients with premature canities.” International journal of trichology 7, no. 3 (2015): 91.|
|↑7||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.|
|↑8||Noppakun, Nopadon, and Daratana Swasdikul. “Reversible hyperpigmentation of skin and nails with white hair due to vitamin B12 deficiency.” Archives of dermatology 122, no. 8 (1986): 896-899.|
|↑9||Wood, John M., H. Decker, H. Hartmann, B. Chavan, H. Rokos, J. D. Spencer, S. Hasse et al. “Senile hair graying: H2O2-mediated oxidative stress affects human hair color by blunting methionine sulfoxide repair.” The FASEB Journal 23, no. 7 (2009): 2065-2075.|
|↑10||Gray hair and vitiligo reversed at the root.
|↑11||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.|