Melanin, genetics, and the stress we put on our bodies—they all play a part in turning our hair gray.
What determines our hair color?
Hair color is determined by a pigment called melanin, made in the hair follicles from an amino acid called tyrosine. Individual hair color is determined by the type and quantity of melanin each of us produces. Genes inherited from our parents tell melanocytes (cells in hair follicles) what kind of melanin to produce, and how much. (Melanin is also responsible for skin color, which is why certain skin colors are usually seen with certain hair colors.)
Is it possible to prevent hair from turning gray?
Just as hair color is genetically determined, genetics play a big role in determining when the follicles will stop producing melanin. If one or both of your parents have gray or white hair, chances are you will too. There are, however, other contributing factors to graying:
- Smokers are more than twice as likely as non-smokers to start going gray before age 30.
- Diet, too, can play a role. Free radicals, which damage cells, have been implicated. The way to reduce free radicals is by eating fresh fruits and vegetables, olive oil, and green tea.
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies, as well as thyroid disease, have been associated with premature graying. If you’ve noticed white hairs before age 30 and that is not normal in your family, consider being tested for blood levels of thyroid hormone (TSH), copper, vitamin B12, and vitamin D. Gray hair from vitamin B12 deficiency can be partially reversed when the deficiency has been adequately addressed (shots of B12 supplement).
- Stress, too, is associated with gray hair. Learning to cope with stress with a healthy diet, exercise, and relaxation techniques can lower stress hormone levels.