After 30 years, each additional decade brings you a 10-20% chance of seeing your hair gray. It is a proven fact that almost everyone sooner or later sees their hair turning gray. Hair color comes from the pigment melanin. Each hair can contain dark melanin (eumelanin) and light melanin (pheomelanin), which combine to form many shades of color for human hair.
When we are young, special pigmented stem cells, melanocytes, inject pigments into cells that contain keratin. This is keratin, a protein, that makes up the hair and gives it its colour. As you age, melanin becomes scarcer, which is why hair turns gray and then white (which means no melanin at all).
The gene responsible for graying
The cause of low melanin and gray hair has long been a mystery. An international team of researchers has discovered the first gene responsible for gray hair.
The study involved genome-wide association analysis in more than 6000 Latin Americans, to search for genes responsible for various characteristics of hair and facial hair, including graying of hair and hair, baldness, beard thickness, single eyebrows, eyebrow thickness, etc.
The gene first identified as responsible for blonde hair in Europeans was also found to be responsible for gray hair and was responsible for about 30% of the study participants’ white hair. The remaining 70% is definitely due to factors like age, environment, stress, etc.
For some people, the process is quick, while for others, it takes place slowly, over decades. It is known, for example, that white people start turning gray around age 35, while Asians generally start turning gray in their late 30s. Generally, African Americans do not turn gray until they are 45 years old.
Otherwise, why does our hair turn gray?
Here are some other factors that cause hair to turn gray:
Hydrogen peroxide: Hydrogen peroxide is a well-known hair bleaching product, but few people know that hair cells also produce it. As you age, the amount that is produced increases, and researchers believe this eventually causes hair pigments to discolor, turning hair gray and then white.
Smoking: There is a significant relationship between smoking and graying of hair. Smoking is also responsible for premature graying of hair, causing the first gray hair to appear before the age of 30.
Oxidative stress: Oxidative stress can be defined as a condition in which free radicals (from pollution, poor diet, stress, etc.) outnumber antioxidants (obtained through a healthy diet). Hair that turns gray can be the result of oxidative stress. Research has also shown that people with early gray hair have higher levels of oxidants and lower levels of antioxidants than those without.
Vitamin B12 deficiency: This is also a factor in premature graying of hair, and there has been at least one reported case of re-pigmentation of hair after this deficiency was corrected.
Is premature graying of hair a sign of health problems?
The cause of premature graying is largely genetic. If some members of your family have early gray hair, you probably do.
Obesity is also associated with premature graying, and it is suspected that it may be a telltale sign of other health problems. For example, premature graying of hair may be an important risk sign for osteoporosis, a bone disorder. According to a study published in the Journal of Metabolism and Clinical Endocrinology, people with premature graying but no other identifiable risk factors were 4.4 times more likely to develop osteoporosis than non-graying people.
Links have also been made between premature graying and thyroid disorders, anemia and vitiligo, and even with an increased risk of coronary artery disease in young smokers. Clinicians can consider premature graying of hair as a first clue to identify a patient at risk for early MAC, especially in smokers.
Does stress promote gray hair?
It is generally believed that stress causes gray hair (many parents of teens or former presidents can attest to this, whose hair often turns gray while in office). A study published in the journal Nature conducted by Nobel Prize winner Dr. Robert Lefkowitz. This study demonstrated that chronic stress and repeated activation of the stress response cause DNA damage that not only promotes aging, cancer, and neuropsychiatric conditions, but also affects the genes that control hair pigmentation.
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