Genetic factors, stress, certain diseases, poor diet, or the use of harmful products are triggers for gray hair, which is associated with an increased risk of heart disease in men.
It is almost inevitable unless genetics work in your favor. Hair turns gray or white as we age due to a biological process that is influenced by different factors, such as genes, proteins, and enzymes. Successive investigations have been pointing to various culprits that over the years we lose our ability to pigment and, consequently, the color of the hair with which we were born or with which we have lived during adolescence and adulthood. Broadly speaking, hair turns white due to a lack of melanin – the pigment that colors hair, skin, iris of the eye, or body hair. But is there something else behind hair bleaching?
Why do we go gray?
Hair color is determined by two types of stem cells: those in charge of orchestrating the development of hair follicles – the part of the skin where hair comes from – and stem cells that determine hair color, known as melanocytes.
Other experts later pointed out that hair whitening appears to arise from excess hydrogen peroxide produced in hair cells. It was a group of German scientists who made public in 2016 that they had discovered that this chemical compound is responsible for bleaching hair and preventing the production of melanin that provides hair color. The mixture between the darkest forms of this pigment (eumelanin) and the light ones (pheomelanin) design the palette of hair colors seen in people (black, brown, reddish, blonde…).
This loss of pigment – which begins at the temples and then spreads to the back of the head – is generally associated with age- Physiological grayness -, but it varies depending on the breed. White and yellow people are those who are previously affected by the appearance of gray hair, between the ages of 30 and 40; while black people are affected later, beginning their hair whitening from the age of 45.
In the few cases in which the hair begins to show gray before the age of 20 – early or premature graying – genetic factors or, to a lesser extent, rare genetic pathologies participate. Localized areas with white hair can also occur, which is called poliosis and is usually hereditary. In addition, there is the so-called annular grayness, which is when the white hairs are distributed in a scattered and isolated way on the head.
Causes of gray hair
Thus, gray hair can have different origins and, therefore, warn of some problems:
- Genetic, especially in the poliosis type.
- Stress can react with hormones that regulate color production.
- Nutritional deficiencies.
- Diseases: vitiligo (skin pathology of depigmentation of the skin, eyes, mucous membranes …), vitamin deficiency (such as vitamin B12 deficiency, important for the production of red blood cells, a disorder called pernicious anemia) or other antioxidants, such as iron, copper or zinc; hypothyroidism (decreased function of the thyroid gland) or the strange pathology of Werner syndrome, characterized by accelerated aging.
- Chemical products or agents, such as dyes or the abuse or misuse of a hairdryer or iron, as well as the consumption of tobacco – smokers, are four times more likely to get gray – or certain medications.
- The use of very hot water.
How to prevent and treat them?
According to German researchers who discovered the effect of hydrogen peroxide on hair color change, antioxidant enzymes such as catalase break down hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen. Therefore, they consider that to prevent or reverse hair whitening it is possible that the intake foods rich in catalase, such as avocado, leek, onion, carrot, spinach, potato, peach, etc. pineapple, radish, or beef liver.
For their part, researchers at New York University Langone Medical Center raised in an article published in the journal ‘Cell’ about their research that it could be possible to genetically manipulate the communication of Wnt proteins to modify pigmentation in cases of gray hair.
However, the constant loss of melanocyte precursor stem cells – which, as we have already said, are involved in coloring hair – leads to a drop in melanin production. As a solution to this deficiency, there are shampoos and hair products that contain an antioxidant enzyme present in the hair bulb – dopachrome tautomerase – that can help strengthen melanocytes.
Taking into account the factors that promote the appearance of gray hair, some remedies to slow down its presence in our hair can be:
- Avoid stress: perform relaxation techniques, such as yoga or tai chi, or any sport that helps us release tension.
- Eat a good diet: any healthy diet involves avoiding sugars, fried foods, fats, and artificial components and increasing the consumption of fruits and vegetables. In this case, the intake of foods rich in vitamins and nutrients is especially important.
- Take care of the hair: use natural dyes or mildly aggressive coloring products to hide gray hair and receive a message on the scalp.
- Quit tobacco.
Is there something else behind the gray hair?
And it is that when the hair loses its color over the years, it not only warns us that we are aging but also alerts us to other possible problems associated with age. A study conducted by the University of Cairo in Egypt concluded that gray hair is linked to an increased risk of heart disease in men.