What is premature hair greying?
Premature greying is a condition where the hair strands have lost their pigmentation (greying) at an age earlier than it normally would (prematurely). Premature greying is considered to have occurred if it presents in Asians before the age of 25, in Whites before the age of 20 and in Africans before the age of 30. In spite of the loss of pigmentation from the hair, it is called greying and not whitening because the visual impression that is given by admixture of the pigmented hairs and white hairs imparts it a grey shade. The loss of pigmentation occurs because the pigment cells (melanocytes) stop imparting melanin (eumelanin which is brown-black pigment and pheomelanin which is yellow or red pigment) to the hair keratin cells (keratinocytes) which is responsible for giving hair its colour.
Causes of premature hair greying
An individual’s genetic structure is the most common cause of premature greying of hair. Studies have shown that patients with positive family history and parents with early greying have been more prone to developing grey hair prematurely.
A deficiency in certain vitamins, proteins & minerals can also lead to greying of hair. Low levels of vitamin B-12, biotin, folic acid, vitamin D, vitamin E, zinc, iron and copper have been observed in people suffering from premature greying. This shows that a lot of key nutrients are important for proper pigmentation of hair.
Stress is a very common aggravating factor which leads to early greying of hair. A study conducted from New York University showed that stress can decrease the activity of the pigment cells and can act as a triggering factor to precipitate greying of hair. There was another study that showed early greying of hair was more common in people with higher educational qualification. It may be possible that the academic stress they went through also could have had a role to play. A Turkish study showed that the stress scale score was higher in patients with premature greying compared to others.
The thyroid gland has an important role to play in the normal metabolism and functioning of cells. Abnormality in the thyroid gland functioning seen in hyper and hypothyroidism can also lead to premature greying of hair. Autoimmune conditions like vitiligo and pernicious anaemia are also linked with greying of hair. Vitiligo is a condition in which a person’s own immune system produces antibodies attack the pigment-producing cells. Pernicious anaemia is a condition in which there is abnormal absorption of vitamin B12 thereby hampering the pigment cell activity. Patients with atopic dermatitis are also more prone to premature greying of hair.
It has been shown that smokers are 2 1⁄2 times more prone for premature greying of hair compared to non-smokers. Nicotine has an action of shrinking the tiny small blood vessels which provide blood supply to the hair bulb and thereby it can interfere with healthy blood circulation for the hair root. Also, various toxins in cigarettes have harmful oxidative damage causing potential which can also hamper healthy cell activity.
Alcohol & Obesity
A study was published that found alcohol to be significantly associated with premature greying of hair. It was seen that the proportion of obese people with body mass index of more than 30 kg/m2 was greater in a group of patients with premature greying of hair compared to those who did not have this problem.
Frequent usgae of hair dye
Certain dyes which contain hydrogen peroxide may also lead to an increase in greying because of the bleaching. This happens due to the action of hydrogen peroxide which may cause damage to the pigment cells of the hair.
How to combat premature hair greying
Healthy diet for your hair
A healthy balanced diet is important to avoid nutritional deficiencies and thereby minimise the risk of developing premature greying of hair. Also, avoiding excess of fast food and oily food to prevent obesity will be beneficial to minimise the chance of premature greying of hair.
Switching to healthy lifestyle
A healthy lifestyle by avoiding smoking and minimising alcohol consumption would also be beneficial to decrease the chance of premature greying of hair. It is also recommended to try to minimise mental stress as that can also have a detrimental role.