Gray hair is something that most people must deal with. This usually happens around age 30. On average, 30-year-old people have a 10 to 20 percent chance to get gray hair. Over the decades, this chance only increases.
Melanin are the pigments that give hair its color. There are two types of melanin pigments: pheomelanin (a light melanin) and eumelanin (a dark melanin). Hair is made up of both types of melanin. They combine to make the various known hair colors, like blonde, brown, or black.
Keratin is the protein that hair is made up of. It is responsible for giving it color, as well. As someone gets older, the melanin in their hair is reduced.
Therefore, older people tend to have more gray hair or even white hair as they age. Once hair turns white, there isn’t any melanin left in the hair to give it an actual color, which is why it is white.
Gene That is Linked to Graying Hair
Most people do not know why the body stops producing melanin. Scientists have been working on this for years. Recently, an international team linked an actual gene to causing graying hair in genome-wide association scan that involved 6,000 Latin Americans.
The gene they linked to graying hair use to be linked only to people who have blonde hair. In this study, scientists discovered that this gene was present in around 30 percent of the participants who experienced gray hair earlier on in life.
However, this was only 30 percent of the reason behind graying hair. The other 70 percent of the time could be traced back to other factors like stress. age, and even environment.
After the study, scientists believe that they will be able to prevent hair from turning gray. They plan to do this with drugs that can manipulate this genetic pathway.
Is there a ‘Biological Clock’ Connected to Hair?
Scientists have been asking for years, “Does hair have a biological clock?” There have been a lot of theories focused on this questions.
However, a professor of Cell Biology from the University of Bradford in England, Desmond Tobin, Ph.D, has connected the regulation of hair follicles to a “melanogentic” clock. Basically, he could explain the slowdown of melanocyte cell activity.
Other Causes for Gray Hair
There isn’t just one factor that causes gray hair. There are a lot of things that contribute to this. Some of these things are:
- Vitamin B12 Deficiency – This deficiency has been linked to premature gray hair. After taking medicine for this deficiency, some gray hair cases have reversed themselves. This means people who take medicine for the deficiency sometimes gets their natural hair color back.
- Hydrogen Peroxide – Hydrogen peroxide is used to bleach hair, making it blonde. However, hair naturally produces hydrogen peroxide. The amount increases the older a person gets. Researchers have determined the production rate of hydrogen peroxide increases over time. This can be one reason why people get gray and white hair.
- Oxidative Stress – Oxidative stress can cause gray hair. This type of stress is caused by poor diet or excess stress, which cannot always be helped. Most people that experience gray hair earlier in life have lower levels of antioxidants. They also have higher levels of pro-oxidants than people with normal colored hair. This can sometimes be countered by fixing one’s diet or reducing the amount of stress they experience.
- Smoking – Researchers have found a link between smoking and premature graying. Smokers have been known to experience graying hair even before the age of 30.
Is Premature Gray Hair an Indicator of More Serious Health Problems
In the past, scientists thought that premature graying was based on genetics. If a person had a family history of premature graying, they were more likely to experience graying earlier in life. Genetic issues are not the only thing that contribute to premature graying.
There are a few health issues that have been linked to premature gray hair. One of the most common medical conditions that has been linked to graying hair is Obesity. However, obesity is not the only health issue that premature graying is a symptom of.
Graying hair has been linked to a few other more serious health conditions like osteopenia, a serious bone condition. It can be an early warning sign of this type of disease. Some researchers also believe that it can be an early warning sign of anemia, vitiligo, and thyroid disorders. Coronary artery disease is often found in young smokers, and premature graying hair is an indicator of this disease, as well.
Is Gray Hair Caused by Stress?
Teenagers always hear their parents say, “You’re the reason I have all this gray!” Is there any truth to this?
Raising a teenager can be extremely stressful, and therefore, it is a common belief that stress is related to premature graying. However, most research does by scientists have not been able to prove this theory true.
The only researcher that did link stress to premature graying was Dr. Robert Lefkowitz, a Nobel Prize winner. In his research, he did link premature graying to chronic stress.
He also linked it to people that are constantly put in a situation where the “fight or flight” response is triggered regularly. These things are known for promoting aging, miscarriages, early cancer, and neuropsychiatric conditions.
They have also been found to affect the genes that control hair pigmentation.
Two Potential ‘Cures’ for Gray Hair Revealed by Scientists
Even though premature graying is not dangerous, a lot of people want it to go away. Scientists have been trying to find a ‘cure’ for gray hair, for years. According to some, they are getting closer to a solution.
Scientists at the New York University’s Langone Medical Center have found a way to isolate the Wnt protein. This protein is what is responsible for coordinating pigmentation between melanocytes and various other types of stem cell that are responsible for the development of hair follicles.
They conducted an experiment using the Wnt protein and black mice. When they inhibited the Wnt pathway, the black mice turned gray. This was a huge discovery. They believe that they might be able to ‘cure’ gray hair by adding the Wnt protein to different types of hair care products.
In a follow-up study, scientists also linked premature graying to a natural build-up of hydrogen peroxide. In their research, they found a UVB-activated compound called PC KUS could help reverse the build-up of natural hydrogen peroxide, which was the 2nd possible ‘cure’ for gray hair.
This method is thought to also can restore skin pigmentation in people who suffer from vitiligo, per the editor-in-chief of The FASEB Journal, Dr. Gerald Weissmann. This was a huge accomplishment and discovery in the scientific world.
Although a lot of people want a ‘cure’ for gray hair, gray hair is not necessarily a problem that needs to be solved. There is not physical risk to having gray hair. Usually, the thought process behind wanting a cure comes from the stipulation that having gray hair makes them old.
From a health standpoint, it has been proven that having gray hair is healthier than using toxic hair dyes to cover it up. In the past, gray hair was associated with being old, even if they were still young.
It was the cause behind a lot of teasing. People would call it “granny hair”. However, this is not really the case anymore. This look is growing more popular. A lot of people are even paying salons top dollar to make them go gray.
However, for those that have natural gray hair, they are in luck. They do not have to worry about paying an obscene amount of money to embrace the latest fad of “granny hair”. They are naturally blessed with the beauty and acceptance of graying hair.