After 30 years, each additional decade provides a 10-20% chance of seeing gray hair. It is a proven fact, that almost everyone sooner or later sees their hair turn gray. Hair color comes from a pigment, melanin. Each hair can contain dark melanin (eumelanin) and light melanin (pheomelanin), which combine to form the many color shades of human hair.
When we are young, special pigmented stem cells, the melanocytes, inject pigments into the cells that contain keratin. This keratin, which is a protein, makes up the hair and gives it its color. As you age, melanin becomes scarce, so hair turns gray and then white (meaning no melanin remains at all).
A gene responsible for gray hair
The cause of the decrease in melanin and graying of hair remains a mystery for a long time. An international team of researchers has discovered the first gene responsible for gray hair.
The study involved a genome-wide association analysis in more than 6,000 Latin Americans, to search for genes responsible for different characteristics of the hair and facial hair, including gray hair and hair, baldness, beard thickness, monobrows, and eyebrow thickness, etc.
A gene that was first identified as being responsible for blonde hair in Europeans was also found to be responsible for gray hair and was responsible for about 30% of gray hair in study participants. The remaining 70% is surely due to factors such as age, environment, stress, etc.
For some people, the process is quick, while for others it is slow, over decades. It is known, for example, that fair-skinned people begin to have gray hair around the age of 35, while Asians generally begin to have gray hair in their late thirties. African Americans generally don’t turn gray until they are 45 years old.
Why else our hair turns gray?
Here are some other factors that cause hair to turn gray:
– Hydrogen peroxide: Hydrogen peroxide is a well-known product for bleaching hair, but few people know that hair cells also produce it. As you age, the amount produced increases, and researchers believe this eventually discolors the pigments in your hair, turning it gray and then white.
– Smoking: There is a significant relationship between smoking and gray hair. Smoking is also responsible for the premature graying of the hair, which causes the first gray hair to appear before the age of 30.
– Oxidative stress: Oxidative stress can be defined as a state in which your free radicals (from pollution, poor diet, stress, etc.) outnumber your antioxidants (obtained through a healthy diet). Hair that turns gray can be the result of oxidative stress. Research has also shown that people with prematurely gray hair have higher levels of pro-oxidants and lower levels of antioxidants than those without.
– Vitamin B12 deficiency: This is also a factor in premature graying of hair, and there is at least one reported case of return of hair pigmentation after the deficiency has been corrected.
Is premature hair graying a sign of health problems?
The cause of premature aging is largely genetic. If any of your family members had early gray hair, chances are you will too.
Obesity is also associated with the premature graying of gray hair and is suspected to be a telltale sign of other health problems. Premature hair graying would be, for example, an important risk marker for osteopenia, which is a bone condition. According to a study published in the Journal of Metabolism and Clinical Endocrinology, people with prematurely gray hair but no other identifiable risk factors were 4.4 times more likely to have osteopenia than people without premature gray hair.
Links have also been established between premature aging and thyroid disorders, anemia and vitiligo, and even an increased risk of coronary artery disease in young smokers. Physicians may consider early hair graying as a first clue to identifying a patient at risk for premature CAM, especially smokers.
Does stress favor gray hair?
It’s commonly believed that stress causes gray hair to appear (many parents of teenagers, or former presidents whose hair often turns gray while in office, could attest to this). Science n No one had found an explanation for this phenomenon, until a 2011 study published in the journal Nature, conducted by Nobel Prize winner Dr. Robert Lefkowitz. This study established that chronic stress and frequent activation of the stress response cause DNA damage that can not only promote aging, cancer, and neuropsychiatric conditions but also affect the genes that control hair pigments.
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