01, Jan, 2019
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What Causes White Hair and How to Prevent it?

Graying or whitening of hair is a natural process and as the man ages, the capability to synthesize the normal amount of melanin pigment declines this ultimately results in grey or whitening of hair. Melanin is a pigment produced by the cells of hair follicles which are small sacs that line skin cells. These cells give your hair its color. But as the man ages, hair follicles can lose pigment, resulting in gray or white hair.

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What causes white hair at a young age?

Melanin is a pigment produced by the cells of hair follicles which are small sacs that line skin cells. These cells give your hair its color. But as the man ages, hair follicles can lose pigment, resulting in gray or white hair. If you are a teenager, you might find one or more strands of white hair and it is more noticeable if your hair color is dark.

Pigmentation is restorable but it depends on the cause. Here are some common causes of premature white or gray hair.

1. Genetics

Genetic makeup plays a vital role in hair color. Hair color varies from one ethnicity to another which is due to genetic makeup and the fact is that you can't change genetics. If you notice white hair at an early age, it’s likely that your ancestors also had graying or white hair at an early age. You can't alter your genetic makeup, however, if you don't like gray or white hair, you may color your hair.

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2. Thyroid Disorder

Thyroid problems such as hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism also cause premature white hair. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the neck. The health of thyroid glands also affects the color of your hair. Thyroid problems such as hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism also affect the production of melanin. Among the endocrine disorders, disorders of the thyroid are common and are only next in frequency to diabetes mellitus. They are more common in women than in men. Functional thyroid disorders can be divided into two types depending on the activity of the thyroid gland: hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormones), and hyperthyroidism (excess thyroid hormones). Any enlargement of the thyroid gland is called as a goiter. Terminology related to thyroid disorders is shown in Box 1195.1. Read more about thyroid disorders.

Box 1195.1: Terminology in thyroid disorders
  • Primary hyper-/hypothyroidism: The increased or decreased function of the thyroid gland due to disease of thyroid itself and not due to increased or decreased levels of TRH or TSH.
  • Secondary hyper-/hypothyroidism: The increased or decreased function of the thyroid gland due to increased or decreased levels of TSH.
  • Tertiary hypothyroidism: The decreased function of the thyroid gland due to decreased function of the hypothalamus.
  • Subclinical thyroid disease: A condition with the abnormality of thyroid hormone levels in blood but without specific clinical manifestations of thyroid disease and without any history of thyroid dysfunction or therapy.
  • Subclinical hyperthyroidism: A condition with normal thyroid hormone levels but with low or undetectable TSH level.
  • Subclinical hypothyroidism: A condition with normal thyroxine and triiodothyronine level along with mildly elevated TSH level.
Figure 1195.1 Evaluation of hyperthyroidism
Figure 1195.1: Evaluation of hyperthyroidism. TSH: thyroid stimulating hormone; FT4: free T4; FT3: free T3; TRAb: TSH receptor antibody; TRH: Thyrotropin releasing hormone
Figure 1195.2 Evaluation of hypothyroidism
Figure 1195.2: Evaluation of hypothyroidism. TSH: thyroid stimulating hormone; FT4: free T4; TRH: Thyrotropin releasing hormone

Laboratory tests in thyroid disorders:

  1. T3
  2. T4
  3. TSH (Thyroid stimulating hormone)
  4. TRH (Thyrotropin-releasing hormone)
  5. FT3 (Free T3)
  6. FT4 (Free T4)
  7. TRAb (TSH receptor antibody)

3. Vitamin Deficiencies

Any deficiencies of vitamin B-6, B-12, biotin, vitamin D-3, or vitamin E can lead to premature graying. Vitamin B-12 plays an important role in your body. It contributes to healthy hair growth and hair color, plus it gives you energy.

Deficiency of vitamin B-12 is also associated with pernicious anemia. Pernicious anemia is caused by defective absorption of vitamin B-12 due to the failure of synthesis of intrinsic factor secondary to gastric mucosal atrophy. There is also an absence of hydrochloric acid in the gastric juice (achlorhydria). The gastric analysis is done for demonstration of achlorhydria if facilities for vitamin assays and Schilling’s test are not available (Achlorhydria by itself is insufficient for diagnosis of pernicious anemia). Vitamin B-12 is a necessary vitamin for healthy red blood cells, which carry oxygen to cells in your body, including hair cells. A deficiency of vitamin B-12 can weaken hair cells and affect melanin production.

In 2016, International Journal of Trichology reported the factors related to premature graying in young Indians under 25 years of age. It found low levels of vitamin B-12, serum ferritin, and the good cholesterol HDL-C (High-density lipoproteins) were common in participants with premature hair graying.

4. Stress

It is another major reason for premature hair graying, and every individual deals with stress from time to time. Some reasons and conditions associated with chronic stress are listed below:

  • Sleep problems
  • Anxiety
  • High blood pressure
  • Change in appetite

One study from New York University, reported in Nature Medicine, finds that the cells responsible for hair color can be depleted when the body is under stress.

5. Smoking

There is also a link between premature white hair and smoking. It is well-known fact that smoking causes lungs cancer and heart disease, alongside it also cause premature white hair. Smoking cause in narrowing blood vessels which produce irritation for free-flowing blood supply to hair follicles resulting in hair loss and white hair due to the lack of melanin. Furthermore, cigarette toxin affects the body parts including your hair follicles, causing early white hair.

In 2013, a study is reported in the Italian Dermatology Online Journal, shows that smokers are 2½ times more likely to start graying before age 30 as non-smokers.

6. Autoimmune Disease

It is a medical condition in which the body’s immune system attacks its own cells and also cause premature white hair. In the case of vitiligo and alopecia, the immune system can attack hair cells and cause loss of melanin pigment. Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) is an example of autoimmune disease causing alopecia.

7. Chemical Hair Dyes and Hair Products

Chemical hair dyes, chemical products, and even some shampoos can contribute to premature white or gray hair. Many hair dyes contain hydrogen peroxide which contributes to premature white hair. Even hair products such as hair gel and shampoos contain harmful chemicals and ingredients which may decrease the level of melanin pigment and cause premature white or gray hair.

Prevention and Reversing Premature White Hair

The ability to prevent or reverse premature white hair depends on the cause. If your white hair is due to genetics or aging then it cannot be prevented or reversed. However, you can use artificial hair color to color your hair. As we mentioned above that there are also some conditions except genetics or aging, causing premature gray or white hair. In such a case, you are fortunate enough because you may prevent or reverse your premature white hair. Here are some methods to prevent and reverse premature white or gray hair.

1. Treatment of Thyroid Disorders

If you have thyroid disorder then re-pigmentation may occur after proper hormone therapy treatment. Thyroid disorders causing hair loss and white or gray hair are listed in the above box 1195.1. Your doctor may ask you for a laboratory test, thyroid profile, for the detection and treatment of thyroid disorders.

2. Addressing Deficiencies

In most of the cases, vitamin deficiencies, such as B-6, B-12, biotin, vitamin D-3, or vitamin E deficiency are the major cause of premature graying. Your doctor may advise you to go for a lab test to detect vitamin deficiencies. By taking proper treatment, and rich-vitamin food and fruits you can reverse premature white hair. Seafood, meats, and eggs are a good source of vitamin B-12. Vitamin D deficiency can be corrected by taking milk, salmon, and cheese because they are excellent sources of vitamin D. Vitamin supplements are also beneficial to correct the vitamin deficiencies.

Figure 1195.3 Best Source of Vitamins
Figure 1195.3: Best source of vitamin E, vitamin B-12 and vitamin C

3. Eating More Antioxidants

A properly balanced diet plays a vital role in preventing white hair. Antioxidant-rich diet can reduce oxidative stress. Here is a list of antioxidant-rich food.

  • Fish
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Olive oil
  • Green tea

4. Quit Smoking

It is well-known fact that smoking cause lungs cancer and heart disease, alongside it also cause premature white hair. If you are a smoker and experiencing premature white hair in early age then it is better for you to quit smoking, take a properly balanced diet and vitamin-rich food.

5. Natural Remedies

There are lots of chemical hair dyes and hair products available in the market that cover white hair but as we mentioned above many of them are harmful and may cause allergic and adverse reactions alongside premature graying.

Natural remedies are always beneficial because they are chemical free and they slow down hair-whitening without harming the body or causing further hair pigment damage. Some natural remedies are listed below.

Black Tea

It is an Indian remedy. It helps in making your hair softer, shinier and darker. Two cups (approximate 473.176 milliliters) water is boiled and 3-5 teaspoons of black tea are added into the boiling water. The water is then cooled and applied over clean wet hair. You can also mix the tea with conditioner, apply over the hair and keep it for an hour and then rinsed out with water.

False Daisy Leaves

Eclipta prostrata is a plant also known as false daisy or bhringaraj. The juice of false daisy leaves is mixed with a cup of olive, coconut or sesame oil and boiled. The mixture of boiled oil and juice of false daisy leaves is cooled and applied all over the hair and massaged into the hair.

You can also purchase false daisy leaves and related products from your nearest grocer.

Curry Leaves

The curry tree (Murraya koenigii) is a tropical to the sub-tropical tree in the family Rutaceae, which is native to India. Its leaves are used in many dishes in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and neighboring countries. It also helps in slowing down the premature graying.

The curry leaves are added in olive or coconut oil and boiled. The oil mixture is cooled and applied over the hair and massaged into the hair.

Emblic Myrobalan

It is an edible fruit also known as Indian gooseberry or amla, and the tree of emblic myrobalan is also referred to the same name. This is also used as herbal supplement recognized for reversing premature graying by promoting pigmentation. You can purchase it from your nearest grocer. It is also available in powder form. The powder of amla is mixed with mustard or olive oil and applied over the hair and massaged into the hair.

Luffa Oil

It is spelled as loofah in non-technical language and known as ridge gourd and recognized for restoring hair pigment and stimulating the roots of the hair. Regular massaging of ridge gourd oil can prevent hair fall and premature white or gray hair.

Copper-rich Food

Copper is very necessary for hair growth. Low copper level contributes to premature hair graying. You can overcome this problem by taking copper-rich food e.g. beef liver, almonds, asparagus, lentils, and dark chocolate.

Key Facts

Premature white hair progression can be stopped, reversed and prevented in some cases. In most cases, the major cause of premature white or gray hair is our own fault. It is preventable if we take a properly balanced diet, eat vitamin-rich fruits and vegetable on daily basis, sleep on time, do not take the stress, quit smoking, and avoid the use of chemical hair dyes and hair products.

Regular use of natural remedies may slow down the progression of white hair and it is also reversible.

Graying or whitening of hair is a natural process and as the man gets old, the capability to synthesize the normal amount of melanin pigment declines this ultimately results in grey or whitening of hair and we can not stop it. We also can't change the genetic makeup.

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Reference(s)
  • Nield, D. (2016, September 1). Can stress really turn your hair grey? Science Alert. Retrieved from https://www.sciencealert.com/the-science-behind-whether-or-not-stress-can-turn-your-hair-grey
  • Pandhi, D., & Khanna, D. (2013). Premature graying of hair. Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology, 79(5), 641–653. Retrieved from http://www.ijdvl.com/text.asp?2013/79/5/641/116733
  • Poljsak, B. (2011, October 21). Strategies for reducing or preventing the generation of oxidative stress. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, 2011. Retrieved from https://www.hindawi.com/journals/omcl/2011/194586/
  • Shin, H., Ryu, H. H., Yoon, J., Jo, S., Jang, S., Choi, M., … Jo, S. J. (2015, February). Association of premature hair graying with family history, smoking, and obesity: A cross-sectional study [Abstract]. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 72(2), 321–327. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25484268
  • Zayed, A. A., Shahait, A. D., Ayoub, M. N., & Yousef, A. (2013, April–June). Smokers' hair: Does smoking cause premature hair graying? Indian Dermatology Online Journal, 4(2), 90–92. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3673399
Last modified on Wednesday, 09 January 2019 14:59
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