What Gray Hair Says About Your Health

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What Gray Hair Says About Your Health
image 1 – Elektro-Plan – pixabay.com image 2 © tatomm – fotolia.com

Gray hair happens to most humans eventually. Some people go gray as early as in their 20’s while others see the first sign of silver when they reach past 50.

Are there any health implications? As it turns out, yes. A strong component is genetic however other factors also affect the graying of your hair.

1. You Smoke / Smoked Cigarettes Or Have been Exposed To Much Cigarette Smoke

According to a Jordanian study, there is a significant relation between the onset of gray hair before the age of 30 and cigarette smoking. [1] The study highlights the pro-oxidant effect of smoking that could lead to the damage of melanocytes, which is a skin cell that produces the darkening pigment melanin.

2. Graying Hair Is In Your Genes

In 2016, researchers at University College London have identified the specific gene that causes gray hair. [2] Their study found out that IRF4 is the gene responsible for light hair color in people of European origin. The authors analyzed the DNA of 6,000 people from Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Mexico, and Peru.

3. Your Hormones Are Changing

The texture, density, and color of your hair are dependent on your hormones. A 2008 study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism presented evidence on the influence of thyroid hormones on hair pigmentation. [3] These hormones are also responsible for the stimulation of intrafollicular melanin synthesis.

4. You May Have Vitamin Deficiency

Vitamin B12 deficiency is another cause of your silvery strands. Early graying linked to B12 is most likely due to pernicious anemia which results from a decrease in red blood cells when intestines cannot absorb enough vitamin B12. [4]

5. Your Hair Is Suffering From Oxidative Stress-induced Damage

Oxidative stress is one of the main factors in the aging process. There is mounting evidence on the contribution made by oxidative stress to hair graying and hair loss. Scientists are developing strategies for intervention and reversal of the hair graying process. [5]

6. You May Have Increased Risk Of Heart Disease

An article released by the European Society of Cardiology warned of the link between gray hair and increased risk of heart disease in men independent of chronological age and established cardiovascular risk factors. [6] The study posited hair graying as a predictor for coronary artery disease.

7. You May Have A Bone Condition Called Osteopenia

According to a 1994 study that first appeared in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, there is an association between premature graying and low bone mass. [7] The study pointed out that those with osteopenia and graying later in their teens and twenties had a stronger family history of osteoporosis than those who had osteopenia in their 30s.

8. Premature Hair Graying And Obesity

A study cited obesity as one of the risk factors for premature hair graying in young men. The study focused on 6390 men younger than 30 years old who were surveyed about their gray hair status and various socio-clinical characteristics. [8]

9. Your Hair Cells Are Producing More Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide is not only a well-known tool for bleaching your hair but (amazingly) it is also produced by your hair cells. As you age, your hair cells make more hydrogen peroxide which bleaches out your hair pigment from black to gray then white.

10. You Have Vitiligo

Vitiligo is a disease that affects your hair, inside of your mouth, and eyes. [10] People with vitiligo often see their hair color transition from gray to white. Vitiligo is similar to a vitamin B12 deficiency and results from inadequate melanin production.


[1] Zayed AA et al. 2013. Indian Dermatology Online Journal. Smokers’ hair: Does smoking cause premature hair graying? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3673399/

[2] Adhikari K et al. March 1, 2016. Nature Communications. A genome-wide association scan in admixed Latin Americans identifies loci influencing facial and scalp hair features. https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms10815

[3] Van Beek N et al. November 1, 2008. Thyroid Hormones Directly Alter Human Hair Follicle Functions: Anagen Prolongation and Stimulation of Both Hair Matrix Keratinocyte Proliferation and Hair Pigmentation. https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article/93/11/4381/2627273/Thyroid-Hormones-Directly-Alter-Human-Hair

[4] Noppakun N. and Swasdikul D. August 1986. Archives of Dermatology. Reversible hyperpigmentation of skin and nails with white hair due to vitamin B12 deficiency. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3740873

[5] Ralph M. Trueb. 2009. International Journal of Trichology. Oxidative Stress in Ageing of Hair. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2929555/

[6] European Society of Cardiology. April 8, 2017. Gray Hair Linked With Increased Heart Disease Risk In Men. https://www.escardio.org/Sub-specialty-communities/European-Association-of-Preventive-Cardiology-(EAPC)/News/grey-hair-linked-with-increased-heart-disease-risk-in-men

[7] Rosen CJ. September 1994. Premature graying of hair is a risk marker for osteopenia. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8077373

[8] Shin H et al. February 2015. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. Association of premature hair graying with family history, smoking, and obesity: a cross-sectional study. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25484268

[9] Wood JM et al. July 2009. FASEB Journal. Senile hair graying: H2O2-mediated oxidative stress affects human hair color by blunting methionine sulfoxide repair. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19237503

[10] Aaron B. Lerner. August 1971. On the etiology of vitiligo and gray hair. http://www.amjmed.com/article/0002-9343(71)90232-4/abstract

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