This Is Why You Have Gray Hair
Oneyou reach the age of 30, you have a 10 percent to 20 percent chance of grayinghair with each passing decade.1 It’s a fact of life that,eventually, virtually everyone will go gray.
Yourhair color comes from pigment called melanin. Each hair may contain darkmelanin (eumelanin) and light melanin (pheomelanin), which blend together toform the many shades of hair color among humans.
Whenyou’re young, special pigment stem cells called melanocytes inject pigment intokeratin-containing cells.
Thiskeratin, a protein, makes up your hair and is responsible for giving it itscolor. As you age, melanin is reduced, which is why your hair turns gray and,ultimately, white (this means there’s no melanin left).2
Scientists Discover GeneLinked to Graying Hair
Whatexactly causes melanin to be reduced and hair to turn gray has remained amystery, until now. An international team of researchers has discovered thefirst gene linked to gray hair.
Thestudy involved a genome-wide association scan in more than 6,000 LatinAmericans to look for genes related to features of scalp hair and facial hair,including graying, balding, beard thickness, monobrow, eyebrow thickness andmore).3
Agene that has previously been linked to blonde hair in Europeans turned out tobe connected to gray hair as well and accounted for about 30 percent of hairgraying among the study participants.
Theother 70 percent is likely due to factors such as age, environment, stress and more. The researchers plan to look for ways to manipulate this geneticpathway to prevent hair from turning gray (including drugs, which I would notrecommend taking for the purpose of changing your hair color).
Kaustubh Adhikari, Ph.D, a postdoctoral researcher atUniversity College London, told TIME:4
“Wemight have drugs that boost or stop the protein from acting and change theamount of melanin in hair follicles and change the hair internally … So oncethe hair comes out like the way you want, you don’t have [to] go out and buydyes.”
Does Your Hair Have Its Own’Biological Clock?’
Accordingto Desmond Tobin, Ph.D., professor of Cell Biology from theUniversity of Bradford in England, your hair follicles may be regulated by a”melanogentic clock” that eventually slows down the activity of melanocytecells. Further, according to the Library of Congress:5
“… Tobin suggests that hair turns gray because of age and genetics, in thatgenes regulate the exhaustion of the pigmentary potential of each individualhair follicle.
Thisoccurs at different rates in different hair follicles. For some people itoccurs rapidly, while in others it occurs slowly over several decades.”
It’s known, for instance, that white people may start goinggray in their mid-30s, while Asians typically go gray beginning in their late30s. African Americans typically don’t go gray until their mid-40s.6
What Else Causes Gray Hair?
Other factors for why hair turns gray include:
• Hydrogen peroxide: Hydrogen peroxide is awell-known tool for bleaching your hair, but many people aren’t aware that yourhair cells make hydrogen peroxide, too.
As you age, the amount produced increases, which researchersbelieve ultimately bleaches out your hair pigment, turning your hair grey andthen white.7
• Smoking: There is a significantassociation between tobacco use and graying of hair.8 Cigarette smoking is also linked to premature hair graying, with the onset of gray hair occurringbefore the age of 30.9
• Oxidative stress: Oxidativestress can be defined as the state in which your free radicals (from pollution, poordiet, stress, etc.) outnumber your antioxidant defenses (from healthydiet). Graying hair may be an indicator of oxidative stress-induced damage.10
Research has also shown that people with premature graying hada higher level of pro-oxidants and lower levels of antioxidants than those withnormal hair.11
• Vitamin B12 deficiency: This is also linked topremature gray hair, and there is at least one report of pigmentation returningto hair after the vitamin deficiency was resolved.12
Is Premature Gray Hair anIndicator of Health Problems?
It’sthought that going prematurely gray is largely genetic; if you have familymembers who turned gray early on, there’s a chance you might too.
Obesity is also associated with premature graying,13 and there is somespeculation that it could be an indicator of certain health issues. Forinstance, premature graying of hair maybe an important risk marker for the bone condition osteopenia.
According to research published in The Journal of ClinicalEndocrinology and Metabolism, people with premature graying but no otheridentifiable risk factor were 4.4 times as likely to have osteopenia as thosewithout premature graying.14 The researchers suggested:
“Theassociation between premature graying and low bone mass could be related togenes that control peak bone mass or factors that regulate bone turnover.”
Thyroid disorders, anemia and vitiligo have also been linkedto premature graying, and it’s even been associated with an increased risk ofcoronary artery disease (CAD) in young smokers. According to researchers:15
“Premature graying of haircan be used as preliminary evidence by clinicians for classifying patients atrisk for premature CAD especially in smokers.”
Does Stress Cause Gray Hair?
It’scommonly believed that stress causes gray hairs (and many parents of teenagersor former presidents, whose hair often turns gray during office would likelyattest to that).
Scienceon this topic has frequently come up short, save a 2011 study published in thejournal Nature and led by Nobel Prize winner Dr. RobertLefkowitz.16
Thatstudy found chronic stress and frequent activation of the “fight or flight”stress response leads to DNA damage that may promote not only aging,cancer, neuropsychiatric conditions and miscarriages but also affect genes thatcontrol hair pigment.
Scientists Reveal TwoPotential ‘Cures’ for Gray Hair
Researchersbelieve they are getting closer to finding a cure for gray hair. Scientists atNew York University’s Langone Medical Center, for instance, isolated the Wntprotein, which coordinates pigmentation between melanocytes and another type ofstem cell that guides the development of hair follicles.17
Whenthe researchers inhibited the Wnt pathway in black mice, they turned gray. Theybelieve that one day adding the Wnt protein to hair care products orsupplements may “cure” gray hair.
Meanwhile,in a follow-up to the original study that linked gray hair to a build up ofhydrogen peroxide, researchers revealed that a UVB-activatedcompound called PC-KUS could reverse the hydrogen peroxide build up andeffectively “cure” gray hair.18
The treatment also works to restore skin color in peoplewith vitiligo. Dr. GeraldWeissmann,editor-in-chief of TheFASEB Journal, which published the study, told Medical News Today:19
“For generations, numerous remedies havebeen concocted to hide gray hair. but now, for the first time, an actualtreatment that gets to the root of the problem has been developed.”
Thesearch for a cure for gray hair assumes that gray hair is a problem that needssolving. But there’s nothing intrinsically bad about having gray hair. In fact,from a health perspective you’re far better off going gray than using toxic hair dyes.
Andif you’re thinking of embracing your silver locks, now’s a perfect time.So-called “granny hair” is the latest trend, with people paying salons bigbucks to go gray. If you’re lucky enough to have earned your gray naturally,you can get this look for free. New York hair stylist Jan-MarieArteca told Reuters:20
“Grannyhair is basically silver hair, any tone of grey in your hair: steel grey,silvery grey, really, really white, platinum-ish with either violet or silverundertones … That’s the trend.”
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