By Dr DM Mahajan
Why do people have premature grey hair? Is it due to poor nutrition or other conditions too?
The skin cells in the human body are lined with small sacs called hair follicles. These hair follicles contain cells which produce a pigment called melanin. Melanin is the pigment responsible for giving colour to the hair. Over the passage of time, melanin starts losing the pigment resulting in white hair growth.
Here are some typical causes of early hair ageing:
- Genetics: White hair can be inherited genetically from parents or grandparents. It is one of the most common factors responsible for premature greying of hair.
- Stress: Increase in stress levels can lead to development of premature grey hair. Stress leads to the release of norepinephrine into the hair follicles. The melanocyte stem cells are impacted by this chemical, which causes them to quickly differentiate into pigment cells and expel themselves from the hair follicles, resulting in grey hair.
- Vitamin deficiency: Deficiency of vitamins like B-6, B-12, biotin, vitamin D, or vitamin E and other nutrients like zinc and copper causes early growth of grey hair. These vitamins and nutrients
- Smoking: Smoking causes harm to multiple body organs including heart and lungs. Toxins produced by cigarettes cause damage to the hair follicles which lead to early white hair.
- Medical conditions: People suffering from some pre-existing auto-immune disorders like vitiligo, alopecia can damage body cells and lead to loss of hair pigment. Also, medical conditions like thyroid can also cause hormonal changes leading to premature grey hair.
Can it be reversed with nutritional supplements or any medicines?
Depending on the cause, white hair may be reversible or preventable. Nothing can be done to stop or permanently reverse the hue shift if genetics are the root reason. If there’s an underlying health issue, a person can see a doctor to determine whether the reason for the white hair is related to that issue. Pigmentation may reappear if the medical condition is treated, but there is no certainty. Re-pigmentation may take place following hormone therapy treatment if a thyroid condition results in white hair. People should incorporate healthy diet rich in antioxidants like fruits, vegetables, olive oil, etc. The condition of hair follicles may also be improved, and the natural colour may return if vitamin B-12 shots or pills are consumed to make up for the deficit. People can also restore their pigmentation by applying natural remedies including curry leaves, bhringaraj, black tea, amla, etc.
Is the condition genetic?
Yes, premature greying of hair is mainly caused due to genetic inheritance. If parents got grey hair early in their 20s, then the child is likely to have it too. Interferon regulatory factor 4 (IRF 4) is responsible for such genetic transfer of grey hair. This gene helps in producing melanin in the hair. It cannot be treated or reversed if grey hair is inherited through parents or grandparents.
It can be inherited from either of the parents. Melanin is the pigment present in hair that gives colour to hair. The pigment is actually produced in the hair follicles. Melanin is of two types, eumelanin and pheomelanin. Eumelanin is found in darker hair, and pheomelanin is found in blonds and redheads. As a metabolic by-product, the cells in our hair produce a little amount of hydrogen peroxide, which is generally broken down to water and oxygen by an enzyme called catalase. However, as we age, catalase levels decrease, allowing hydrogen peroxide to accumulate in the hair bulb and harm and eventually kill the melanocytes, or pigment-producing cells, of our hair. The only escape to genetic grey hair is to colour them.
Can it be checked in case of genetic history?
Premature greying is multi-factorial disorder and no single genetic defect can be pin pointed. At the moment, studies are underway to find out the defects in the genes and the measures to correct the problem.
Dr DM Mahajan is senior consultant, dermatology, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals