All About That Silver Strands:Grey Hair

Hair going grey, silver, or white is a natural part of aging. Each hair is made up of two parts- a shaft, the coloured part, and root, the bottom part, which keeps hair attached to the scalp.

Grey Hair is a symptom of improper protein synthesis. Hair grows white when the colour pigment (melanin) ceases to be produced in the hair follicle and small air spaces take its place. Pigment cells located at the base of each hair follicle produce the natural dominant colour of our youth. However, as a person grows older and reaches middle age, more and more of these pigment cells die and colour is lost from individual hairs.

The result is that a person’s hair gradually begins to show more and more grey. Individual hairs each have an outer layer (the cuticle) of overlapping flat cells, underneath, which is the thick cortex, which consists of horn-like keratin. The inside of the hair is made of softer, rectangular cells. Hair colour is determined by the concentration and depth of melanin pigment in the cortex – this produces the whole spectrum of hair colour from blond to black, with very fair people having almost no melanin. When these melanocytes die, then the hair turns grey. Melanocytes produce the pigment melanin and they are the cells responsible for much of the coloring of the human body, including the hair. With age the melanocytes lose their ability to make pigment, so color is absent from new hair.

Grey hair is usually associated with ageing, but this is not always the case. Early greying of the hair is basically hereditary, and we can inherit it from one of our parents or grandparents. So if your father’s hair started to turn grey in his thirties there is a good chance yours will too.

Grey hair can also be influenced by stress. A person experiencing a prolonged period of stress and anxiety may notice, over a period of time, white hairs gradually appearing. Malnutrition, worry, shock, deep sorrow, tension and other similar conditions may also slow down the production of melanin resulting in grey hair. Sever illness too can stop or affect the production of melanin. However, scientists have not been fully able to explain the exact causes of this change in colour of the hair.

Contrary to popular belief pulling out one grey hair will make two grow in its place is a myth.

Main causes of greying of hair
When we get older, the pigment cells in our hair follicles slowly wither. This leads to fewer pigment cells in the hair follicle. The result- hair strands no longer contain as much melanin as before. The hair now wears a more transparent colour – like grey, silver or white as it grows. Eventually, the hair will look completely grey.

People can get grey hair at any age. Some people ‘go’ grey at a very young  age, even in their teens, whereas others may go ‘grey’ haired’ in their 30s and 40s. In some instances, it may take more than 10-12 years  years for all of a person’s hair to ‘go’ grey. Greying spreads in the following sequel- the sideburns, beard, chest and the scalp. How early one gets affected with grey hair is determined by your genes. This is one of the reasons why most of us start having grey hair around the same age that our parents or grandparents first did.

Lack of vitamin B 12 (cobalamin) and folic acid can trigger grey hair, besides anemia. In a new study, researchers from Sweden report that when participants suffering from vitiligo (white patches) increased their consumption of vitamin B 12 and folic acid, through their diets and oral supplements, there was re-pigmentation of grey hair in 64 percent of the patients, with six individuals experiencing total re-pigmentation.

Researchers have recently suggested that a nutritious diet that’s high in amino acids and calcium can help promote melanogenesis , which produces the melanin pigment that’s needed to keep the hair strands saturated with color.

Smoking can cause your hair to prematurely grey. In addition to increasing your risks of contracting deadly diseases such as cancer, heart disease and kidney failure, smoking can also cause your hair to prematurely gray.

That whiter smile may cost you more than the price of your teeth whitening toothpaste – it can also cost you your hair color. Scientists have long known that an increase in hydrogen peroxide levels within the body causes melanocyte death by deactivating the enzymes directly responsible for preserving your hair color. A study has shown that even the tiniest dose of hydrogen peroxide can kick-start melanocyte death – and as hydrogen peroxide is the main ingredient in most teeth whitening products, your smile won’t be the only thing that turns white.

Pollutants, chemicals, ultraviolet (UV) light and free radicals by products of chemical processes, responsible for aging and tissue damage can impinge on melanin production, while impacting your hair’s natural pigmentation, triggering grey hair.
These molecular free radicals bind themselves to our healthy cells and sapping them of valuable electrons – if left unchecked by our body’s immune system – can cause the kind of cellular damage that inevitably influences the melanin production we need to keep our hair healthy, strong and pigmented.

Of course, going gray can also be boiled down to genetic disposition. If your parents or grandparents started to get their gray hair at a certain age, then you can bet that you’ll get your gray hair around the same time.

Hydrogen peroxide isn’t just in your teeth-whitening products; ironically, it’s in your hair care products as well. The biggest hair care offenders include hair bleaches, dyes, conditioners and shampoos. Before buying your favorite condition or hair dye, check to see the levels of hydrogen peroxide it contains; you may be shocked to discover it’s contributing to your graying hair.

Thyroid disorders can lead to grey hair, or diffuse grey hair at young age.

This is a condition in which hair loses pigmentation in patches due to a decrease in melanin production. As a result, the hair follicles that grow after melanin loss have no colour hence, the grey appearance  only  in those patches affected by vitiligo.

High stress levels directly contribute to premature graying hair. Our stress levels prompts a surge in our body’s production of hydrogen peroxide; the excess H2O2 then accumulates within the hair follicles, thereby causing meloncyte death and effectively “bleaching” the hair follicles gray. Take your stressful lifestyle down a few notches to keep your hair healthy and lustrous.

Grey hair, caused as a result of conditions such as thyroid disorders, vitamin B 12 deficiency and vitiligo in younger individuals can be treated effectively with appropriate homeopathic treatment.