You Asked: What Really Causes Gray Hair?
When you finally reach the age of 30, there is a relatively high chance (between 10 and 20%) to experience graying hair and these chances increase with every next decade in our life.
Melanin is the pigment found in our hair that gives color to the hair. Every hair should come with light melanin or pheomelanin and dark melanin or eumelanin. When they are blended together people get the specific shade and color of hair.
Young people have specific pigment stem cells known as maloncytes that literally insert pigment in cells that contain keratin. On the other hand, keratin is a protein that is part of the hair and gives the color to your hair.
The aging process leads to reduction in melanin levels and this is the reason why the hair starts going gray and eventually turns white. When the hair is white, this means that there is no melanin in it.
Genes Related to Graying Hair Identified
Until recently, the main reasons why melanin is reduced and hair becomes gray were unknown. However, a team of scientists has found a gene associated with gray hair.
The scientific study included genome association scan in more than 5.500 Latin Americans in order to determine the genes associated with facial hair and scalp hair features like balding, graying, beard density, eyebrow density, monobrow and many other features.
They have found that a gene that was associated with blonde here in people in Europe in another study, was actually the main cause of gray hair too. They have determined a direct link between graying hair and this gene in more than 30% of participants.
The rest of the participants experienced graying hair as a result of different factors like environment, age, stress etc. Scientists are now focused on finding a way to manage the genetic pathway in order to preserve the natural color of hair.
According to Kaustubh Adhikari, Ph.D. at University College London, people may use drugs that support or stop the activity of protein and alter the quantity of melanin inside hair follicles and modify the hair from the inside. This means that when the hair comes out of the skin and has the properties that we want, we don’t need to dye it anymore.
Does Our Hair Have Life Expectancy?
Desmond Tobin, a professor of cellular biology at the University of Bradford in the UK, claims that hair follicles could be managed by internal mechanisms which tend to slow down the work of melanocyte cells over time. In addition, the Library of Congress says that professor Tobin believes that hair becomes gray because of genetics and aged and that our genes manage the collapse of pigmentary capacity.
A situation like this is taking place at different rates in each hair follicle. There are people that experience this change very fast while others experience this change over many years.
Scientists have determined that white people usually notice the first gray hairs in the 30s. On the other hand African Americans don’t experience this process until mid 40s. Asians are somewhere between these figures.
What are Some Other Reasons That Lead to Gray Hair?
Of course, there are some other factors that contribute to gray hair:
Smoking – Science has been able to determine a link between use of tobacco and graying hair. Smoking cigarettes leads to premature hair graying and it is not unusual for passionate smokers to notice gray hair before they reach 30.
Hydrogen peroxide – in case you’ve been trying to bleach your hair then you have heard about hydrogen peroxide. But, what most people don’t know is that our hair cells produce hydrogen peroxide naturally. The aging process leads to increased production of hydrogen peroxide and over time, this compound bleaches the pigments in our hair and our hair first turns gray and white after a while.
Oxidative stress – This type of stress is described as a condition in which free radicals triggered by bad diet, pollution, stress and other factors, become stronger than your antioxidant mechanism. One of the results of the increased presence of free radicals in the body is gray hair. In addition, studies have shown that individuals suffering from premature hair graying experienced higher amounts of pro-oxidants and significantly lower levels of antioxidants in their body compared to people with normal hair.
Lack of vitamin B12 – lack of vitamin B12 has been related to premature gray hair and there are cases when people were able to bring back their natural hair color once this issue was solved.
Can Premature Gray Hair be Linked to Certain Health Issues?
It is believed that premature gray hair is genetic issue. In other words, in case some of your relatives have experienced this, there is a great chance that you may experience premature gray hair too.
In addition, scientists have found a link between obesity and premature graying which is why there are some people who believe that premature gray hair can be linked to health problems. For example, premature graying may be a symptom of osteopenia – a serious bone condition.
A scientific research revealed in the popular Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that individuals with premature graying of hair had 4 times higher risk of developing osteopenia. Scientists believe that the link between reduced bone mass and premature graying of hair is closely related to the work of the genes that manage the optimal bone mass or some other factors that contribute to the regulation of bone turnover.
It is also good to mention that vitiligo, anemia and thyroid issues have also been related to this condition and some researchers suggest that it is linked to increased chances of developing coronary artery disease especially in young cigarette smokers. Scientists also believe that premature graying can serve as initial evidence by doctors for categorizing their patients at risk for premature coronary artery disease.
Can Stress Lead to Gray Hair?
People have always believed that stress is one of the main reasons why people witness gray hair. As a matter of fact, many people like to joke that their wives or husbands or their children made their hair gray.
However, science couldn’t confirm or deny this common belief at least not until 2011 when a scientific study revealed in the reputable Nature journal conducted by Dr. Robert Lefkowitz has shown that chronic stress and recurrent stress results in serious DNA damage that can trigger not only premature aging, neuropsychiatric issues, cancer and miscarriages but also has direct impact on the hair pigment.
Scientists Discover Two Promising Solutions for Gray Hair
There are many scientists who are convinced that the cure for gray hair will be discovered in the next few years. Researchers, who work in the Langone Medical Center as part of the New York University, were able to isolate the so-called Wnt protein. This protein manages the pigmentation between the aforementioned melanocytes and a different stem cell type that controls the development and progress of hair follicles.
Once the researchers block the pathway of Wnt protein in black lab mice, they instantly turned gray. That’s why the researchers are convinced that they will be able to add this protein to regular hair care products or some supplements and help people get back their natural hair color.
In addition, in an extended scientific study based on the study that determined the connection between hydrogen peroxide levels and graying of hair, scientists were able to confirm that a compound known as PC-KUS activated by UVB has the ability to reverse the accumulation of hydrogen peroxide and “heal” gray hair.
The same treatment provided positive results in people dealing with vitiligo. Accordinf to Dr. Gerald Weissman who works for the FASEB Journal, people have tried many different remedies to cover gray hair for hundreds of years. These latest studies are promising a solution for this problem.
What is good to point out is that there are many people who are focused on finding a cure for gray hair because they believe that this is some sort of problem. However, there is nothing wrong with going gray. As a matter of fact, you will keep your body healthier in case you leave your hair gray instead of using dyes packed with chemicals.
In case you are wondering whether you should keep your silver hair, you should know that this silver appearance is very trendy these days and there are many people who are actually visiting hair salons in order to get gray hair. This so-called granny hair style is not limited to one shade and people tend to make experiments.