What Having Gray Hair Early Means

You know that most individuals start to turn gray when they are approaching 40. But what if you are only in your 20s and you notice silver streaks in your hair? Is it karma? Is it a stressful lifestyle? Is it eating too much junk food? Should you be worried? Should you be doing anything about it?

It helps to understand certain things.

You have malanocytes at the base of your hair follicles. These cells are responsible for producing the pigments that give your hair its color. When these cells stop their production of pigments, your hair turns gray.

Nobody knows for certain why this happens. There are different theories, though.

Your hair goes through three distinct stages: It grows, it rests, and it falls out. As you grow older, the stages of hair growth turn shorter. This apparently leads to the production of less pigment. As less and less pigment is produced, your hair starts to turn gray.

Another theory revolves around hydrogen peroxide. Your body produces catalase, an enzyme that breaks down the natural oxidant hydrogen peroxide. As you grow older, the catalase function grows weaker — and hydrogen peroxide levels shoot up. High levels of hydrogen peroxide serve to limit the manufacture of pigment. This leads to gray hair.

Hair turning gray is normal. Every individual eventually loses his hair-based melanocytes and his strands turns gray sooner or later.

The “sooner or later” part apparently depends on your genes. If your hair becomes gray — and you are just in your 20s — the cause is 99% likely to be hereditary. Hair turning gray early is in your DNA. This tendency — like many other tendencies — may skip a generation. If your parents’ hair turned gray in their 40s, you may want to look into what age your grandparents’ hair started to turn silver.

But what if you notice that your hair is changing color rather too abruptly or swiftly — and nobody in your family turned gray early? You can consult with your doctor just to put your worries to rest. Loss of pigmentation is sometimes associated with some medical conditions. People with certain types of anemia, thyroid problems, or vitamin B12 deficiencies may turn gray earlier than other individuals do.

So what should you do about gray hair?

Experts say that other than considering coloring your hair by using hair dyes, there is not much you can do about it. The best attitude is to embrace the fact.

Right now, there is very little that science can offer. However, the picture may be different several years down the road. Scientists are doing intensive research and development on the matter.

It may sound a bit sci-fi for now but science is looking into the possibility of gene therapy. In the future, it is not far-fetched to be able to transplant pigment-producing cells, to be able to re-initiate the ability of cells to manufacture pigments, or to use stem cells for growing new follicles with strong pigment cells.

It is critical to be able to identify and map every gene that is involved. Once this is done, scientists can work on altering those genes so that they can emulate the genes of people who do not turn gray too early. These are solutions that await future generations.

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About Dr Patrick Fraser

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