What causes Grey Hair at a young age?
Today we're talking about gray hair.
So hair turning gray is often said to be genetic, but it's not always the case. And that is what we're going to talk about today. The nutrition factors that could cause hair to turn gray quicker.
And so, hair naturally turns gray. And we're going to talk about what that process looks like, but for Caucasians, it tends to happen in the thirties, Asians and the late thirties African-Americans in the early forties.
So premature graying would be for Caucasians in the early twenties, Asians in the later twenties, and African-Americans in the early thirties. So it's about a decade before we would expect that natural process to start happening.
So the first thing to do would be to think, Oh, is my family are my older family members gray? And did they start graying early? Because if that's the case, it could be genetic for you.
But if that's not the case and you're starting to gray in that premature timeframe that I just mentioned, you will definitely want to stay on this topic as I'm going to share some reasons why this might be happening.
How and why does hair turn gray in the first place?
Well, each hair has a hair follicle, which is basically under the skin on your scalp, and in this follicle are these melanocyte stem cells. So whenever a new hair grows, it'll grow from partially those STEM cells and those create the melanocytes, these cells that have melanin in them. And that's what gives hair its color.
So naturally as we get older, fewer of those STEM cells are in the hair follicle, and thus, the hair it grows starts to grow with this gray appearance to it due to that. So another thing to think about is if your hair starts to turn gray pretty quickly in the matter of like a few months, one, two, three years, that could also be a sign that there's something more going on than just that natural aging process and hairs turning gray from the change in those STEM cells. And so that is what we're going to talk about today.
I'm Ashley Oswald, registered dietitian and founder of Oswald Digestive Clinic, where we help people improve and eliminate bothersome gut issues like gas, bloat, diarrhea, and, or constipation.
You can work with us in one of two ways. You can schedule an appointment if you want to work with our clinic one-on-one and we do accept insurance, or you can start by downloading our FREE GUIDE: 5 ways to improve gut health.
So without further ado, let's go ahead and dive right in and talk about some of these nutrition factors that can contribute to the quick and early graying of hair.
So we're going to start by talking about stress because you've all probably heard about how stress can cause hair to gray more quicker. Well, you probably don't know why, and there are different kinds of stress. There's emotional stress.
And then there's that physical stress, which is like free radicals in the body. And that's where nutrition can significantly impact. And we're going to talk about that second, but first, let's talk about emotional stress.
And what we know there. A cellular biologist from Harvard did some studies on mice, and he found that when he put mice under a stressful environment, within just a few days, they had depleted all of their melanocyte stem cells. So again, those are those STEM cells under the hair follicles. So like under the skin where the hair comes out of.
So when you lose that hair, a new hair is regrown and from stress, all those STEM cells that would produce that melanin in the hair that color the hair was depleted. So then the new hair growth doesn't have those melanocytes to cause the color and thus, it comes out gray. And they were really surprised that it only took a few days to get it, granted mice have a much shorter life span, right?
So for the human, it might be a matter of like a year or two of chronic stress, but that's still really pretty quickly, which is why I mentioned in the intro that if you're graying really quickly, you want to look into and think about these factors.
They also found that when noradrenaline, which is this neurotransmitter, that's responsible for this kind of raise in blood pressure that comes about when you're in a really stressful situation. So it's that sympathetic parasympathetic nervous system states.
And if you're in the sympathetic, which is fight or flight, that kind of like activation when you're really stressed, your body releases this hormone that causes like blood pressure to raise and all these symptoms that your body is trying to help you out. But when you're chronically stressed, it's not helping. It's just harmful to your body. And so, this noradrenaline is being released.
And what the researchers did is they put some of this under the skin of the mice, and they found that that also caused these mice to have premature graying pretty quickly.
And for the same reason, these sympathetic nerves are affecting those hair follicles and those melanocyte STEM cells depleting them. Thus, the hair grows gray. So it's really important to consider your chronic stress state if you're in this sort of a state and this could be key to helping to prevent further graying for you.
So I briefly mentioned hydrogen peroxide, not only can emotional stress increase hydrogen peroxide production in the body, but this then also can damage the melanin production in those hair follicles.
So emotional stress can increase hydrogen peroxide in the body, but also in the foods you eat. So if you or somebody you know, is eating a standard American sort of diet, not a lot of kind of whole real foods, not a lot of produce, not a lot of like quality proteins.
If they're mostly eating these processed foods, really rich in sugars and processed grains and carbs and they're graying pretty quickly, it could be because that's causing too much hydrogen peroxide production in their body causing the production of those melanocytes in the melanin to basically go to none.
So then when their hair regrows, it regrows gray. So then also hydrogen peroxide, an increase in production could be because of an infection. So it could be a bacterial infection, a viral infection, mold issues, or parasite issues, the body produces more of it to try to fight off that infection, which certainly then affects those melanocyte cells.
But what can you do about it?
So there's something called catalase, and there's something called glutathione that can help to buffer, to decrease to neutralize that hydrogen peroxide in the body. And what's really cool about this is that catalase and glutathione, nutrition can increase these two things.
And so basically if you're having increased hydrogen peroxide production, you could focus on eating these foods that I'm going to share with you next to try to decrease and neutralize that hydrogen peroxide, which then could in a turnabout way help to protect those melanocyte STEM cells so that you don't keep going graying.
As far as whether it's going to reverse the graying, it might not reverse it because once you run out of STEM cells, melanocyte STEM cells, you're out kind of the damage is permanent, but it could prevent further graying.
So what catalase does is it's an enzyme that helps to break down that hydrogen peroxide that H2O2 down to just hydrogen and oxygen. So it's no longer causing or no longer has the ability to cause oxidative damage in the body. If you've ever heard that word. So you might've heard the word antioxidants and these foods with antioxidants do exactly that they help to prevent oxidative damage from free radicals.
So foods that can help to increase catalase include green apples include, cinnamon, cocoa, and garlic. Some of them contain this component called anthocyanins, which helps to is the component that helps to increase the catalase.
And then glutathione is this mother antioxidant in the body is what it's notable for. And basically, it also helps to break down or kind of prevent damage from hydrogen peroxide. Glutathione is made from three amino acids and amino acids are basically proteins broken all the way down into their smallest form.
And the amino acids that makeup glutathione, are non-essential. So it means that your body can create them, especially if you're eating adequate protein, but if your body has a higher demand for them, then you might need to eat an extra amount from like food sources or maybe supplementation to help boost glutathione production. So glycine, cysteine, and glutamine help to make glutathione.
And I will add that your body needs co-factors as well to make glutathione and to make catalase. And these are minerals. So if you have nutrient deficiencies, which we've talked in other topics about, which can certainly stem from gut issues, you might have low stores of these minerals that are also needed to produce these really important compounds, that help to break down that hydrogen peroxide.
And further speaking of gut issues then, if your gut isn't healthy like if you're not making enough stomach acid if you have something going on in your small intestine where you're not absorbing properly, it might also be that you're not breaking down proteins properly into amino acids. So your body might not be getting those building blocks to make that glutathione that mother antioxidant to help become and decrease the oxidation that could be causing the hair to turn gray. So all really important considerations.
So glutathione is not something that's well absorbed from the oral route, from the gut. So you can't just really effectively supplement with glutathione. There's a supplement on the market called n-acetyl cysteine and this is what can be used to help create that glutathione. Because as mentioned, it's the glycine, the cysteine, and the glutamine that amino acids create the glutathione.
But if you're low on a co-factor and one of these minerals NAC kind of the quick acronym for n-acetyl cysteine, isn't going to be as effective for you. So really like with nutrition, it really has to be an equal’s one study. Like everybody's slightly different, even if the kind of appearance symptoms are the same.
You could supplement with liposomal glutathione, but I would just check with your main healthcare provider on that one. It's going to be better absorbed through the gut because it's liposomal. And then also you can increase certain foods that help to increase and produce cysteine.
So the n-acetylcysteine supplement that I mentioned is really popular for increasing glutathione. Some of the foods that can help to produce that would be eggs and onions and garlic and cruciferous veggies like Brussel sprouts and broccoli.
So the next nutrient that could be important is selenium we have research showing that it could also help to prevent hair graying. So interestingly, selenium might be a reason that we see an increased prevalence of hair graying and individuals who have thyroid disease because we need selenium to convert the thyroid hormone, T4 to the active T3, to improve thyroid functioning.
And if there's a deficiency of that, the thyroid is not going to work as well. And then also, if there's a deficiency of selenium, it could mean increased hydrogen peroxide in the body, which again, that's what could contribute to gray hair. And our soils in the United States are becoming more depleted of selenium.
So it's more common that we're starting to see people with low levels of this mineral and especially notable is we just are kind of coming out of this really ketogenic diet trend. And the ketogenic diet puts somebody at risk of having a, of getting a selenium deficiency. And there's a case report of an individual dying of selenium deficiency from being on the ketogenic diet.
Again, why it's really important when you're significantly modifying your foods in that sort of way to be working with a functional nutrition dietitian? And so selenium is another mineral that could be important to prevent graying.
The next one is going to be vitamin B12 which has research to support it as well. So we have a case report of an individual who upon replacing that low vitamin B12 level, the gray hair stopped occurring.
And then this next one is vitamin B5. Vitamin B5 sometimes gets the nickname anti-stress.
So vitamin B5 is sometimes considered the anti-stress vitamin or the anti-grey hair vitamin because in a mouse study when rats were fed a diet deficient in vitamin B12, they did develop grey hair. And so if you are low in this vitamin it could be why you're having gray hair. And by replacing that low level, it's not going to reverse your gray hair because again, once you're out of those STEM cells, you're out, but it can prevent it from further graying.
So then some last nutrient considerations would be copper. Copper can help to create this enzyme that produces melanin. So too low copper could be contributing to gray hair, and it's notable that if you're on a zinc supplement and you've been on it long term, and you're not balancing it out with copper. You have a high risk of developing a copper deficiency, because zinc in copper, goes hand in hand.
So there's a certain ratio you should be taking to make sure that by over-supplementing zinc, you're not depleting your copper stores. And then also possibly vitamin C vitamin E and zinc, but less notable from the research.
Celiac Disease cause grey hair
Next, some additional disease states could be contributing. So celiac disease, there are a couple of case reports of individuals who after diagnosis with celiac disease, they cut out gluten, of course, their hair started to regain its color and the gray started to go away. So that's interesting, right?
It's showing that there certainly can be this gut kind of hair connection. And maybe it is in a roundabout related to some of those nutrients because if somebody has celiac disease or some other gut issues as mentioned, they're likely not absorbing foods properly and they're at a high risk of malabsorption contributing to some of these issues that we just discussed.
Medication side effects cause grey hair
And then lastly, it could be a medication side effect. So chemotherapy or some of the medications you use for different inflammatory disease states could also contribute to this graying of the hair, which might be for reasons that we've already talked about.
Ways to help prevent premature graying of hair
So considering all that information, I want to leave you with four takeaways that you can do to help prevent you from having premature graying.
Eat real whole foods, eating plan.
If you're having gut issues connect with our clinic by scheduling an initial appointment to help you out so that we can make sure you're not absorbing those whole real foods that you're eating.
Consider if you're experiencing chronic stress. And sometimes people are under chronic stress, but they're not realizing it. And then trying to create a plan to pull yourself out of that chronic stress state.
Starting a comprehensive multivitamin with minerals to help cover the basics of some of those nutrients that we talked about. I know it can be confusing at this store to find a quality supplement. And honestly, there's a lot of kind of junk out on the shelves.
There is a fruits and greens powder on the market. So basically fruits and greens, so veggies and fruits powdered down to really help give your body an antioxidant boost, which we mentioned the concerns of oxidation, right for graying hair.
Consider just trying for like a month or two and seeing how that might help you, with all supplements, they can't possibly know what's going on with your current medical situation. So always check with your main healthcare provider before starting anything new.
And so I hope this topic is really interesting, helpful and educational for you.
I hope you have a great rest of your day and I will see you on next week's topic.
If you'd like to explore any of this information further or obtain an individualized nutrition plan, you can schedule an initial appointment at our clinic. We also take insurance and some of our clients get full coverage, which is great.
Or you can just start by downloading our FREE GUIDE: 5 WAYS TO IMPROVE GUT HEALTH