After the age of 30, the chance of our hair getting grey raises by 10-20 % with every decade. This is normal for all of us, one day we`ll all go gray.
The color of our hair comes from the melanin pigment. Human hair contains dark and light melanin, a both of them mix together forming different hair color shades.
During our youth, melanocytes (pigment stem cells) insert pigment into the cells which contain keratin.
Keratin is a protein which gives the color of our hair. In time, the production of this protein gets lower, so the hair turns gray, or even white.
Gene linked to gray hair discovered
International research team discovered a gene linked to gray hair. More than 6,000 Latin Americans were involved in the study, in order to search for genes linked to scalp hair features, like balding, graying, and many more.
Previously, a gene was discovered in Europeans which is connected to gray hair, responsible for 30% of gray hair in the participants.
The rest of the 70% had gray hair caused by environment, stress, age… Scientists want to find a way to manipulate the genetic pathway, in order to prevent the process of graying, like some drugs.
According to Kaustubh Adhikari, a postdoctoral researcher at the University College London:
“There is a change of developing a drug which can stop the protein from making the hair gray and change the amount of melanin in the hair follicles, so that your hair can come out the way you want it.”
Biological clock of the hair
Hair follicles can be regulated by a so-called melanogentic clock, which can slow down the activity of melanocyte cells. According to Dr. Desmond Tobin, PhD, professor of Cell Biology at the University of Bradford, England:
“Hair is turning gray due to genetics and age, and genes cause exhaustion of the pigmentary potential of hair follicles. This process happens at different rates, depending on the hair follicle, rapidly in some people, slowly in others.”
For example, white people can have the first gray hairs in their mid-30s, while in Asians it`s the late 30s and mid-40s in Africans.
Other causes of gray hair
- Hydrogen peroxide: bleaching tool which also be produced by the hair cells. This amount increases with old age, turning your hair grey and white.
- Smoking: There is a link between smoking and gray hair, especially premature graying, which can occur before you turn 30.
- Oxidative stress: this is the state when there are more free radicals that your antioxidant defense can handle. Gray hair may be caused by damages from oxidative stress. According to some researches, individuals with premature gray hair have lower levels of antioxidants and higher levels of pro-oxidants.
- Lack of B12 vitamin: another link between premature graying and vitamin B12 deficiency, which can easily be resolved.
Is this condition indicating some health problem?
Premature graying is mostly genetic. Another factor is obesity, and speculations say it can indicate some health issues, like bone condition osteopenia for example.
The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism published a study indicating that individuals with prematurely gray hair are 4.4 times more likely to develop ostenopenia.
“The link between premature graying and low bone mass is connected to factors which regulate bone turnover.”
Other conditions linked to premature graying are anemia, vitiligo and some thyroid issue, as well as coronary artery disease.
How is stress causing gray hair?
A study from 2011, published in the journal Nature, conducted by Nobel Prize winner Dr. Robert Lefkowitz indicates that chronic stress can lead to damage of the DNA which cause aging, cancer, neuropsychiatric issues and miscarriages, but also affect the genes which control the pigmentation of the hair.
Two potential cures revealed
Scientists are getting closer to a cure for gray hair. A team of scientists from the University of New York isolated a Wnt protein which coordinates pigmentation between stem cells that lead the development of hair follicles and melanocytes.
The Wnt pathway was inhibited in lab mice, and they turned gray. By adding the Wnt protein to hair products, they believe they can one day develop a cure for gray hair.
All of the researches see the process of graying as a problem. But the only problem are the toxic hair products we use for dying our hair. So embrace your silver locks. The “granny hair” look is the latest trend, people are even paying money to go gray.