Premature graying is generally defined as a change in hair color before 30. Understandably, a young person would want to do what they could to stop premature graying in its tracks and maintain their hair color. What are the factors that can lead to early hair graying? Is it possible to prevent premature graying or slow its pace by taking supplements?
What causes premature hair graying?
Hair color is created by melanocytes (pigment cells) in the hair follicles, which produce melanin (pigment). The melanocytes become less active during aging and produce less melanin, which means less pigmentation in the hair. Hair turns gray because it has little to no melanin, meaning all that is showing is the color of keratin (the protein that makes up the hair).
1. Nutritional deficiencies are one of the causes of early hair graying. One study found that the deficit in a few micronutrients, including ferritin, vitamin D, folate, vitamin B12, and selenium deficiencies, has been associated with premature hair graying in students. These researchers suggested screening for these vitamins and minerals in patients with premature graying of hair and subsequent supplementation of the deficient micronutrients. Correcting those deficiencies with the right dietary supplements can help slow hair graying.
2. External oxidative stress (caused by smoking, pollution, UV rays, and numerous other factors we may encounter daily) can also lead to graying. Smoking, in particular, has been linked to premature graying.
3. Acute and chronic anxiety and stress may contribute to early hair graying. Relaxation techniques like meditation, sports, certain medications, and dietary supplements can help calm down emotional stress and help reduce hair loss and premature hair graying.
4. Genetics is a common cause of premature graying hair, and race and ethnicity also play a role. Typically, caucasian people can deal with graying as early as 20 years old. Asians can be as young as 25, while Black populations can deal with graying at 30.
5. It seems that repeated plucking of white hair strands can increase the rate of hair graying. By plucking gray hair, you exert stress on the hair follicle, which may also affect the surrounding hair follicles. This stress could theoretically lead to premature graying of the hair.
Can hair turn gray overnight?
Hair fibers can not change their color overnight. That said, in people with a mix of black or brown and white hair, the hair can look whiter after a stressful event. In rare cases, stress can cause a large number of hair follicles to enter their shedding phase (telogen) simultaneously. This synchronized sudden hair shedding causes many older pigmented hair stars to fall simultaneously, leaving behind the younger, finer, and less pigmented hair. This can suddenly cause the hair to turn gray - usually over a few days.
How does stress cause premature hair graying? The science.
Stress is believed to be another pathway to developing a head full of gray hairs. One study conducted in 2021 examined hair samples from only 14 individuals and found a correlation between changes in color within a single strand and periods of reported stress. Interestingly, in 10 out of the 14 subjects, researchers discovered strands with light tips and dark roots, suggesting that some reversal of graying hair might be feasible.
When it comes to mice, the connection between stress and graying hair is stronger, as experiments have revealed potential mechanisms. In a 2020 paper, researchers observed that injecting mice with norepinephrine, the body's fight-or-flight hormone, caused melanocyte stem cells to transform into melanocytes and rapidly migrate away from the follicle. As a result, the fur that grew from these melanocyte-depleted follicles turned gray. So, when an unleashed dog begins to growl at you, not only will your heart rate increase and your pupils dilate, but your hair might also embark on its journey toward graying.
What are the best natural remedies for premature hair graying?
Polygonum Multiflorum (Fo-ti or He Shou Wu)
Polygonum multiflorum (AKA Fo-ti or He Shou Wu) is a tuberous plant native to China and Japan. The meaning of He Shou Wu (pronounced as Her show woo) is "black-haired, Mr. He." It has been used for centuries in Chinese medicine for anti-aging, lifespan expansion, and reversal of grey hair.
How does Polygonum Multiflorum (Fo-ti) work?
Small amounts of hydrogen peroxide molecules are naturally formed in our cells. With time, this molecule is believed to damage the hair melanocytes, reduce the production of melanin, and thus cause premature graying of the hair. In one study, it was found that taking Fo-ti prevented the hair-bleaching effects of hydrogen peroxide. Polygonum Multiflorum is believed to neutralize the excess hydrogen peroxide and, thus, stop and reverse hair graying.
Fo-ti also increases blood circulation and melanin production. Better scalp blood flow improves hair growth rate and nourishment by increasing melanin production, which feeds and supports the hair follicles. The increased melanin production also boosts color in the hair, which helps maintain your natural hue and delays new gray hairs from developing/ Studies have shown that fo-ti can help speed up the transition of hair follicles from the dormant stage of hair growth (telogen phase) to the growth stage (anagen phase) by working on the FGF0-7 gene encodes proteins particular to epithelial cell growth. This is especially important to those suffering from hair thinning or hair loss.
Maitake and Reishi Mushrooms
By helping to lower oxidative stress, your hair follicles are healthier, which allows your hair to grow thicker and stronger and retain its natural color.
Ashwagandha has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for over 2500 years to reduce stress and help balance our immune system. Lowering stress levels can be one of the mechanisms behind the role of Ashwagandha in healthier hair regrowth and slower hair greying.
What are the best Vitamins and minerals used to prevent premature gray hair?
You can't reverse hairs that have already turned gray (besides using a hair dye). Still, besides addressing other root causes affecting your hair, some vitamins and minerals can help slow and prevent further color change. You need these nutrients to maintain your hair color and support healthy hair.
Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5)
Lab studies have shown that vitamin B5 can reverse graying hair. While further research is needed to pinpoint how it affects human graying hair, this vitamin is essential for overall hair health. Vitamin B5 promotes the production of red blood cells, helping to nourish follicles to encourage growth and prevent shedding.
Biotin (Vitamin B7)
Biotin is a key vitamin for hair growth and strength, as it stimulates the production of the hair protein keratin. Research has shown that people with prematurely gray hair tend to have lower levels of biotin, so supplementation may help counteract graying hair.
Folic Acid (Vitamin B9)
Folic acid (also known as folate or vitamin B9) is a B vitamin, and a deficiency has been linked to premature graying. This vitamin is vital in producing methionine, an amino acid that plays a role in hair color. Folic acid is also crucial for hair health because it helps with the keratinization of hair, which aids the hair follicles in producing more keratin for stronger hair.
Like folic acid, a deficiency in vitamin B12 has been linked to graying hair in younger people. Vitamin B12 also works alongside folic acid to produce red blood cells, supporting overall hair health.
When it comes to hair graying, vitamin C can be beneficial because it has potent antioxidant properties, which can fight against free radicals that can damage hair follicles. It is also a great hair care vitamin because it supports iron absorption – we'll talk more about the link between iron and gray hair below. Additionally, vitamin C supports overall hair health by promoting the production of collagen, which provides the body with the amino acids needed to build keratin.
Research has found that young people with graying hair tend to have a vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to alopecia (hair loss), and research indicates that supplementation may boost hair growth.
There are many ways in which copper supports hair color and overall hair health. Copper plays a role in melanin production, helping to make the color more vibrant and preventing early graying. It also supports collagen production, helping the body build keratin for strong hair. Additionally, copper is an antioxidant that can fight oxidative stress that could lead to early graying (and negatively impact overall health).
Low iron levels are associated with premature hair graying, and it is believed that iron influences melanogenesis, AKA melanin production. This means supplementation can help get melanin production back on track to prevent further graying. Iron also supports red blood cells in carrying oxygen and nutrients to the hair follicles, which is essential for hair growth and overall wellness.
Like iron, lower calcium levels have been linked with prematurely graying hair. Also, like iron, calcium plays a role in melanin production, so supplementation may help support that process to promote vibrant hair color. Calcium also promotes overall hair health and helps prevent hair loss.
Low zinc levels may be associated with early graying, and zinc may also play a part in melanin production. This mineral is also essential for overall hair health and strength, promoting tissue growth and repair.
Collagen is thought to play a role in diminishing the presence of gray hair. This is attributed to its potential to maintain the robustness of the hair follicle, which is integral in the generation of hair pigment, responsible for giving hair its natural color. By supporting the health and stability of these follicles, collagen might contribute to preserving the original hue of the hair, thereby possibly lessening the occurrence of graying. Free radical damage to cells that produce hair color may accelerate graying to some extent. Since collagen can act as an antioxidant, it may be able to fight this damage and slow graying.
How do you prevent premature hair greying?
- Manage stress levels, as stress hormones can interrupt melanin production in the hair follicles. Implement stress-management techniques such as exercise, meditation, or therapy to reduce stress levels and promote healthy hair growth.
- Quit smoking, as smoking can damage hair follicles and disrupt blood flow to the scalp, leading to premature graying. Work with a doctor to create a cessation plan that works for you and helps you successfully quit smoking.
- Maintain a healthy weight by eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise. Being overweight or underweight can disrupt hormonal balance, impacting hair growth and leading to premature graying.
- Reduce exposure to harsh hair styling chemicals and pollution, as they can damage hair follicles and impact hair growth. Avoid harsh hair products and limit exposure to pollutants in the air to protect your hair and promote healthy growth.
- Protect your hair from the sun by wearing hats and scarves. UV radiation can damage hair and cause it to become brittle and prone to breakage. Using hair products that contain SPF can also help protect your hair from UV radiation.
Can catalase help with premature hair greying?
There is no scientific evidence to support the claim that catalase can prevent premature hair graying. Premature graying is typically caused by genetics, age, stress, smoking, and poor nutrition. Catalase is an enzyme that helps break down hydrogen peroxide, which can accumulate in hair follicles and contribute to premature graying. However, the amount of hydrogen peroxide accumulating in the hair follicles is typically insufficient to cause premature graying. Taking care of your hair, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and managing stress are more effective ways to promote healthy hair growth. Taking high doses of catalase supplements can cause digestive issues such as stomach pain, nausea, and diarrhea. It can also interfere with the body's ability to absorb other essential nutrients.
Best shampoo and conditioner to slow down hair graying.
The MDhair Restore Shampoo and MDhair's conditioner include Fo-ti, a unique ingredient believed to help fight hair graying. The effects of the Fo-ti can be enhanced by oral supplements that include the essential vitamins and minerals needed for the optimal function of the melanocytes in the hair follicles. For best results, look for hair supplements containing vitamins from the B family, mainly B5, Vitamins C and D, and zinc, iron, and copper.
Best supplements to slow down hair graying.
A few studies have shown that increasing blood circulation in the scalp and promoting hair regrowth can slow premature hair graying. The greying hair process can be targeted from the outside with natural plant ingredients like fo-ti and from the inside by taking supplements with Ashwagandha, the natural stress reliever, Maitake, and Reishi mushrooms, and the vitamins and minerals required for melanin production. (Vitamins B, D, Folate, and the minerals zinc, selenium, and copper).
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- Mort RL, et al.. The melanocyte lineage in development and disease. Development. 2015 Feb 15;142(4):620-32.
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- Bhat RM, et al.. Epidemiological and investigative study of premature graying of hair in higher secondary and pre-university school children. Int J Trichology. 2013 Jan;5(1):17-21.
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