by Ann Samuel on  September 14, 2007 at 4:15 PM Health In Focus
Premature Graying
"By common consent, gray hairs are a crown of glory; the only object of respect that can never excite envy."

Historian George Bancroft could not have put it better. And as for those who turn silver while in the throes of their youth, this is a battle they will wage till the last hair turns gray.

Most people actually start going gray in their late 20s but do not notice it immediately. The human hair turns gray gradually due to a reduction in the production of melanin pigment in the hair bulb, as a person ages. Gray hair is an optical illusion caused by the presence of white hair amongst other black hair, and this look is also referred to colloquially as 'salt and pepper'.

The first onset of gray hair, or canities as it is medically termed, and the speeds at which people go gray, varies considerably from person to person. Graying first begins at the beard, moustache, side locks and/or at the temples, spreading to other parts of the head with time. Gray hair on the chest and pubic region generally develop years later. While the graying of hair is an inevitable part of ageing and natural, premature graying is not.


Premature graying is defined as the onset of graying before the age of 20 in Caucasians and before the age of 30 in Africans and Asians or, alternatively, when 50 percent or more of scalp hair turns gray before the age of 50.


Graying in this case becomes quite apparent due to rapid shedding of the thicker dark colored hairs and the enhanced growth of thinner white hairs. This shedding can take several months, though there are cases of 'overnight graying' caused by dramatic fallout of dark hairs revealing the hitherto concealed, white hairs.

Quite understandably, premature graying comes with its share of concern and embarrassment for the sufferer.


Most doctors would agree that premature graying is genetically determined for the most part. A lot of silver heads in his family could help a person understand his untimely gray strands better. At times, a few gray hairs can develop in children, even as young as eight years and generally progress with increasing age.

Yet, more often than not, premature graying can be a sign of disease.

These include:

» Hormonal imbalance, including Hyperthyroidism and Hypothyroidism.
» Malnutrition and Pernicious anemia (graying of hair along with symptoms of fatigue, shortness of breath and possibly chest pains),
» Genetic disorders such as Werner's syndrome, an autosomal recessive disorder and Hutchinson-Gilford syndrome

Other such rare inherited diseases are premature aging syndrome (progeria) and myotonic dystrophy.

» Autoimmune disorders
» Treatment for cancer and AIDS.
» Vitamin B12, iron, copper and iodine deficiency.
» Experts associate premature hair graying with cigarette smoking.
» Another hypothesis doing the rounds, in women at least, is that premature graying before 40 years could be a risk marker for osteoporosis, as it has been found to be associated with a lower bone mineral density.
» Coming to environmental causes, premature graying is also thought to be brought about by a polluted atmosphere, scorching heat, humid weather, hard water etc.
» Emotions like tension, anxiety, grief, disease, frustration or brooding are touted as causal agents of premature graying as they slow down the production of melanin.
» Some evidence exists that certain drugs, herbs (Echinacea) and supplements like Vitamin E could lead to premature graying.
» Lastly, hair experts say that cosmetic choices such as the use of some hair products, hair dyes, blow drying, straightening rods etc. could lead to a person graying before his or her time.
» They also opine that excessive intake of tea, coffee, alcohol, meat, and fried, oily, greasy, spicy, sour, and acidic foods can reduce the moisture and nutrients reaching the hair follicles, which could also lead to premature graying.


A dermatologist dealing with a case of premature graying will strive to pin down the underlying cause of the disorder and then attempt to treat it.

If the culprit is anything save 'bad' genes, the condition could well be reversed by drugs. Besides this, contemporary treatments like laser therapy and oxidative therapy, which entails the use of hydrogen peroxide baths, do exist though their success rates have not been studied in detail.

Alternative Treatment Methods

Homeopaths vouch that premature graying is best fought with their stream of medicine, as the drugs prescribed are constitutional and individually tailored.

Food specialists would suggest weapons like water, iron-rich foods, minerals, and Vitamins A and B. According to them, fresh juice is full of antioxidants that help detoxify the body and protect the pigmented hairs that remain, in this way delaying the onset of premature graying. These experts also suggest foods rich in iodine like carrots, bananas and fish. It could be more than coincidence that in Kerala, where folks love their fish, premature graying is quite rare.

While grabbing that tube of hair dye might seem the easiest and most practical thing to do, home remedies for premature graying abound. Some simple ones worth a try are given below:

» Have a daily shot of buttermilk with two teaspoons each of fenugreek and yeast.
» Have a teaspoon of grated ginger mixed with honey everyday.
» Use amla (Indian Gooseberry) based hair oils. Else, rub dried and powdered pieces of the amla fruit onto the scalp.
» Have a daily hair massage of coconut oil and lime juice.
» Take 2 teaspoons henna powder, 1 teaspoon yogurt, 1 teaspoon fenugreek seed powder, 3 teaspoons coffee, 2 teaspoons basil juice and 3 teaspoons mint juice. Mix all these to make a fine paste and apply to the scalp as well as hair. Wash hair with shampoo after two hours.

After all, you have nothing to lose except few gray hairs!

Source: Medindia

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