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The Science Behind Gray Hair

The majority of us want to be healthy and strong, with healthy bodies that give us a long life. Long life itself brings the inevitability of aging, which means more changes to our bodies than we can count, or want. One obvious, irritating to some, fact of aging is watching our hair turn from its natural color to gray. Whether your hair stays it’s own color into your 40’s, or you find yourself in your late 20’s wondering why in the world your hair is already turning gray, it is a fact of life. Whether your hair turns gray, white, silver, or a combination of all these colors, it WILL turn shades of white eventually. There’s been long debates about when and why hair turns gray. Some say stress, others say illness, while some claim it’s purely genetics. Curious why your hair is sending you straight to the salon (or the hair color aisle) frequently? Let’s investigate the science behind gray hair.


Tackling The Myths, Finding The Truth

Which is a myth about gray hair, which is the truth:

  • Stress turns your hair gray. This is a Myth – Most of the gray hair that we develop is NOT related to stress. Hair itself doesn’t actually turn gray. Whatever hair color you start out with is your color, it doesn’t change, unless you change it with hair color. Your hair follicles age as you age, and as they get older they don‘t produce as much color as they did when you were younger. Hair goes through a natural cycle of dying and then being regenerated and, as a person grows older, that hair is more likely to grow in as gray. Stress can bring about a condition called telogen effluvium that can cause your hair to shed much faster than normal. The hair does grow back, the loss isn’t permanent, but when it grows back it is regenerating more quickly which makes it more likely to come back as gray hair.
  • The most popular method of preventing or treating a deficit is to take vitamin B12 injections. The injections are administered intramuscularly, or into muscle, as recommended by a doctor. Hydroxocobalamin or cyanocobalamin are often used in injections.
  • Illness can cause gray hair. This is a Truth statement. Sometimes, hair becoming gray does mean an illness is present, especially in someone that is young. Some health problems that can cause gray hair are:
  1. Thyroid disease
  2. Vitamin B12 deficiency
  3. Tuberous sclerosis – This is a rare condition but one that is inherited, where tumors (benign) can happen in several different organs, from the eyes, kidneys, brain, heart, skin and lungs
  4. Neurofibromatosis – This one is also known as Von Recklinghausen’s Disease, a group of diseases that tumors that will grow around the nerves and cause the development of skin and bones to be abnormal
  5. Alopecia areata – A medical disorder where patches of hair can fall out among the normal colored hair, which makes any gray or white hair present stand out even more. The hair that grows back can come in gray or white, but sometimes it returns in the normal color
  6. Vitiligo – This is a condition where the melanocytes (the cells in your hair follicles that produce your hair color) end up being terminated, usually because the immune system attacks them, wrongly thinking it is attacking an infection
  • The amount of gray hair and when it starts to turn gray is a matter of genetics. This is the Truth. The best indicator to when your hair might begin to turn gray is your parents and the generations behind them.


Hair: What Is It And How Does It Turn Gray?

Hair itself is pretty important to us. It covers our scalp, which covers our skull, which covers and protects our brains. It’s in one of the most important “protective chains” of our bodies. And it is one of the most noticeable things about us. So, what is hair, really? Our hair is made up of several entities with important functions :

  • Root – The root is the bottom part of our hair, the part that keeps our hair attached to our scalp
  • Shaft – The shaft is the colored part of our hair that we see most visibly
  • Follicle – Each strand of our hair has a root and that root is covered by tissue  tube underneath our skin which is known as the hair follicle
  • Melanin – Each of our hair follicles have a certain number of cells called pigment cells, and these cells produce the chemical melanin that gives the shaft of our hair the color that we see. Melanin is also the same chemical element in our skin that determines whether we have light or dark skin


As we age, the pigment cells that we have in our hair follicles begin to die out. When a hair follicle has less pigment cells that strand of hair doesn’t have as much melanin as it used to and the hair that grows in will be lighter, transitioning towards gray hair. As we continue to age, less and less pigment cells mean less melanin, which means we will see more gray, white, or silver hair. Some people begin to see gray hair as early as their twenties, while others may not find any until their forties. If you are as unhappy about your hair turning from dark to light, thank your family. Genetics is usually the factor that determines when our hair goes light.


Can You Help Prevent Gray Hair?

There is nothing, so far, as to completely prevent someone from eventually having gray hair, but there is research that says you can take some healthy actions to preserve what natural color you have left. There are specific vitamins and minerals that can help your hair follicles to continue to produce melanin to help your hair to keep its natural color.

  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Copper
  • Vitamin B-5
  • Vitamin B-6
  • Protein
  • Folic Acid (Vitamin B-9)
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin B-12
  • Zinc

How much of each should you take or make sure you’re getting through your diet? The best source for that information is from your doctor and nutritionist. We are all different and have different needs, that’s why your doctor is alway the best source for what is best for you.


Embrace You, Gray Or Not

Whether you plan to embrace your hair as it naturally turns to gray, white or silver, or you run to the nearest salon or box of hair color, the best you is whatever choices you need to make to  feel at your best. For me, that is a constant stream of hair color. For others, it’s going gray at its natural best. Whatever hair color you choose to embrace, wear it as your crown, because that’s exactly what it is!


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This article is intended to provide an understanding of and knowledge about “health topics” as expressed through the perspective and research of the author. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice or counsel, including the diagnosis or treatment of any condition. Always seek the advice of your qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition, illness or treatment of any listed or non listed situation above. By using this site, you signify your assent to our Terms and Conditions.




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