Grey Hair: What Causes Gray Hair To Appear?

Grey Hair
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Although having our hair turn grey can be mostly blamed on our genetics, some studies have shown that a lack of key nutrients might cause pre-mature grey hair in individuals who do not consume well-balanced meals. A diet lacking in vitamins D, B12, antioxidants (A, C, E), pantothenic acid, biotin, iron, calcium, copper, selenium and zinc may cause your hair to grey before your time.

In addition, researchers suggested that having a healthy circulatory system and consuming the right amount of good protein sources can keep your hair healthy and stop it from turning grey too early.

Premature Grey Hair

Hair is said to grey prematurely if it occurs before the age of 20 in Caucasians, 25 in Asians, and before 30 in Africans. Premature greying has also been linked to a clusters of autoimmune disorders associated with vitiligo, pernicious anemia, and autoimmune thyroid disease.

Below are a few reasons why researchers believe a lack of these nutrients may cause pre-mature greying.

Vitamins For Grey Hair

Vitamin B12 – Studies have shown that an individual deficient in Vitamin B12 will potentially experience greying before his/her time. Vitamin B12 is required for proper red blood cell formation, neurological function, and DNA synthesis.

If deficiency in this nutrient occurs, an individual will develop pernicious anemia (Vitamin B12 anemia), an autoimmune disease that affects protein metabolism, central nervous system and the formation of red blood cells, which diminishes the oxygen flow.

Unfortunately, symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency is grey hair, diarrhea, constipation, lack of energy, loss of appetite, pale skin, trouble concentrating, shorten of breath, bleeding gum, and or a swollen tongue.

Good Food Sources:

Vitamin B12

  • Beef liver
  • Shellfish
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Other dairy foods
  • Some breakfast cereal
  • Nutritional yeast

Antioxidants (Vitamins A, C & E) – Studies have shown a positive correlation between antioxidants and aging hair. Experimental evidence supports the hypothesis that oxidative stress plays a major role in the aging process.

Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that can directly damage cellular structural membranes, lipids, proteins, and DNA. The body protects itself from free radicals through the body defense mechanisms of powerful antioxidants, which are Vitamins A, C and E.

These antioxidants role in the body is to reduce and neutralize these free radicals to prevent damaging of cells that potentially lead to early aging or destruction of cells. Also, it has been referenced that Vitamins C and E help improve the circulation of the scalp.

Great Food Sources of Antioxidants:

  • A variety of fruits and vegetables (for additional Vitamin E sources:)
  • Eggs
  • Fortified cereals
  • Meats
  • Nuts
  • Vegetable oil such as corn, cottonseed, safflower, soy bean, sunflower
  • Whole grains

Vitamin D & Calcium – Studies have hypothesized that premature grey hair is associated with a diet low in Vitamin D and Calcium, or osteopenia. Although some research showed no link, other research showed bone density is related to activity level, weight, height and ethnicity. However, it is not related to hair color or things controlling your hair color.

Good Food Sources of Vitamin D:

  • Cod liver
  • Salmon
  • Tuna in water
  • Orange juice fortified with calcium
  • Non-fat milk fortified with vitamin D
  • Yogurt
  • Low-fat margarine
  • Sardines
  • Eggs
  • Swiss cheese
  • Fortified ready-to eat cereal

Good Food Sources of Calcium:

  • Dairy products
  • Leafy greens vegetables
  • Sardines
  • Salmon
  • Calcium-enriched foods such as breakfast cereal
  • Fruit juices
  • Soy
  • Rice drinks
  • Tofu

Vitamin D and calcium works together. Therefore, it is recommended that you combine foods containing both of these nutrients for better nutrient absorption.

vitamin d

Biotin – Research has shown that a diet lacking in biotin can cause pre-mature greying. If you take Biotin with zinc, it can prevent hair loss. Biotin is known to encourage cell renewal.

Good Food Sources:

  • Cereal
  • Chocolate
  • Egg yolk
  • Legumes
  • Milk
  • Nuts
  • Organ meats such liver and kidney
  • Pork
  • Yeast

Pantothenic acid (Vitamin B5) – Although, there isn’t enough scientific evidence to determine whether this vitamin has any positive associations for its uses; there have been some references that a diet lacking in pantothenic acid may cause pre-mature grey hair.

For example, Mayo-Clinic.com suggests that increasing Vitamin B5 may bring some color back to your hair. And, according to the University of Alabama, greying early may play a part in your stress levels. Research has proven that the more you stress, the more your Vitamin B levels drop leading to hair loss and greying.

Therefore, stop stressing or you will get grey hair!

Good Food Sources of pantothenic acids: meat, avocado, broccoli, kale, and other vegetables in the cabbage family, eggs, legumes and lentils, milk, mushrooms, poultry, white and sweet potatoes, whole grain cereals and nutritional yeast.

Minerals For Grey Hair

Did you know low levels of iron and zinc is associated with pre-mature grey hair?

Iron – Iron levels affect hair melanogensis. Iron has a significant role in the activity of tyrosinase, an enzyme located in melanocytes, which are specialized cells that produce the melanin pigment in skin, hair, and eye color. Therefore, if an individual is low in iron, this could potentially affect tyrosinase. This in turn leads to hair discoloration or greying.

Zinc is found in hair, bones, muscles and skin. Zinc is also found in enzymes and plays a pivotal role in many metabolic processes and absorption of other minerals beneficial to your hair.

What causes gray hair

Although zinc has shown not to play a significant role in hair color, research done by the British Journal of Dermatology showed that using zinc shampoo could prevent hair thinning resulting in thicker and fuller hair.

Good Food Sources: oysters, beef chuck roast, meats, seafood such as Alaskan crab legs, 3 ounces of beef patty, oatmeal, almonds, kidney beans, cheese and legumes and lentils.

For better iron absorption, be sure to combine a good protein source with Vitamin C to lessen the risk of developing iron deficiency anemia.

Good Food Sources: lean meats and seafood. Other sources of iron include nuts, beans, vegetables, and fortified grain products.

Selenium consists of antioxidant properties. Like Vitamins A, C and E, selenium also protects cells from being damaged by free radical properties and infections, which may lead to premature aging and greying.

Good Food Sources: Seafood, meats, cereal, grains and dairy products.   Note: The amount of selenium in a given type of plant-based food depends on the amount of selenium in the soil.

Copper unlike zinc can contribute to premature graying. Copper plays a role in the formation of melanin, which gives your hair its color. Researchers found a link between low copper and early greying.

A study conducted noted that as participants of a study got older, the copper content decreased in brown and blond hair. Research also showed that copper is higher in black hair in males. Also, black females have a higher content of zinc in their hair.

Good Food Sources of Copper: oysters and other shellfish, whole grains, beans, nuts, potatoes, and organ meats, dark leafy greens, dried fruits such as prunes, cocoa, black pepper and yeast.

Researchers have suggested that an individual’s sex influences the content of tryptophan in hair. Studies have shown that tryptophan is higher in men than females and in age groups from 1-5 years old and 61-80 years old. It is also higher in black and brown hair than blond and highest in white and grey hair. Tryptophan accumulates among hair fibers with age. Therefore, there is a correlation between this essential amino acid and hair pigmentation.

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid (organic compounds that combine to form proteins, which are the building blocks for hair, skin and nail growth) that is needed for normal growth in infant and for nitrogen balance. To ensure this nutrient is not diminished before its time, add good protein sources such as cheese, chicken, eggs, fish, milk, nuts, peanut butter, peanuts, pumpkin and sesame seeds, soy, tofu and turkey.

Finally, there is evidence that having a good circulatory system prevents pre-mature grey hair. How?

Looking older than your age has a strong correlation to poor cardiovascular health. Having poor cardiovascular health can cause an accumulation of DNA and cell damage leading to aging and potentially causing your hair to turn grey.

Premature grey hair has also been associated with various disorders of the endocrine system.

Endocrine system

Therefore, it has been hypothesized that premature graying might be a marker for a variety of genetic and non-genetic conditions such as:

  • Myocardial infarction
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Cancer
  • Stroke
  • Cirrhosis
  • Gastrointestinal problems

Another way to prevent pre-mature greying is to quit smoking, which causes oxidative stress in your cells.

Because there is a limited amount of clinical and epidemiological studies that have been conducted on premature graying, it is highly recommend that individuals eat well-balanced meals. The meals should include a variety of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats such as omega 3 and 6 fatty acids and low-fat dairy products.

By eating this way, you ensure that you are meeting the daily nutrient requirements to not only prevent grey hair, but to lessen the risk of developing chronic diseases. Some of these chronic diseases include: diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and obesity.

Practicing healthy eating habits will enable you to maintain your hair color longer … until nature intervenes!

Interested in receiving nutrition services or consultation? Contact Charmaine@foodjonezi.com. Visit www.foodjonezi.com and follow on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook—FoodJonezi.

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Sherry Harris is a solopreneur at Sherry's Life. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter and, if you have thoughts on this article, join the conversation on Facebook.