The prospect of going grey is not one that many people look forward to. Whether due to vanity or a natural fear of aging, we have always looked for ways to reverse the process and keep the grey away. Even though this is true for people of both sexes, as with so many aspects of aging, there is a definite disparity about the way men and women are described as their hair starts to turn grey. We have all heard how a little grey hair makes men look more distinguished, and the term “silver fox” is seen as a major compliment, but for women, as with the absurd expectations put on them to be the “right” size and body shape, hiding or halting grey hair is just one aspect of the extreme societal pressure to stay eternally youthful.
The traditional approach to grey hair has been to hide it. Whether through dyes or wigs, we have accepted that hair will turn grey, and have tried to find a reactive solution.
But what if there was a way to stop hair turning grey in the first place?
Everyone knows the importance of vitamins for health, disease prevention, and every other aspect of our bodies’ operations. Getting enough of the right types of vitamins through diet, supplements, and other means, has shown to slow other signs of aging such as deep lines, and loose skin. It would seem logical then, that the right vitamins may also be able to slow or even prevent hair from turning grey.
In this article we will look at why hair turns grey in the first place and whether vitamins could really make a difference.
What Gives Hair Its Colour?
Hair is given its colour by melanocytes which are naturally occurring pigment cells inside our hair follicles. It is these cells which produce the melanin which dictates the skin and hair colour of humans.
Humans have two types of melanin, eumelanin and pheomelanin. Eumelanin is what makes your hair dark, so a large amount of eumelanin will result in black hair, a moderate amount, brown hair, and very little, blonde hair. Pheomelanin is what makes your hair red, so red haired people will have predominantly pheomelanin with varying trace amounts of eumelanin. The amount and type of melanin in hair changes over time, which is why a blonde haired baby can often end up with much darker hair when they are older.
The melanin that is produced by your melanocytes, and therefore your own unique hair colour, are entirely determined by your genetics and the chromosomes passed down from your parents. Despite common misconceptions, you don’t get your hair colour from either one of your parents, but from both, although dark hair genes, (those with large amounts of eumelanin) are more dominant.
Why does Hair Turn Grey?
The reason behind greying hair is not particularly complicated and is just an example of the human body’s natural processes starting to slow with ageing. Essentially, as we age, our melanocytes, those pigment cells in our hair follicles, begin to produce less and less melanin. The levels produced may drop gradually or rapidly depending on your genetics, with your hair colour transitioning through grey all the way down to white when there is no melanin left at all. The reason why your hair is now white is because keratin is white, and this is the protein that our hair is made from.
When do Most People Start to Turn Grey?
Genetics again plays a huge part in when and at what rate your hair will start to turn grey. Some people may be totally grey in their twenties, while others may retain all their natural colour their entire lives, but for most of us, greying hair is an eventual fact of life. Generally speaking, the average age for men to start turning grey is around thirty, while for women it is usually around thirty five.
Why does Hair Turn Grey Prematurely?
There are various reasons why your hair may turn prematurely grey and even very young people and children can experience it. Many of the reasons for premature grey hair are still not fully understood but some common causes are different illnesses, issues with your immune system, and, as always, your inherited genetics. If one or both of your parents had grey or white hair when they were very young, there is a higher chance that you will have the same. However, if this wasn’t the case but your hair is starting to grey very early, you may want to look for an underlying medical cause.
One potential reason why hair turns grey prematurely is stress or trauma. There have been various cases where people with no genetic history of premature greyness in their family lost all their hair colour after a particularly stressful time. One famous example is former US Senator and Presidential Candidate John McCain, whose hair is commonly believed to have turned prematurely white due to his years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
Can Premature Grey Hair be Reversed?
The answer to this question really depends on the reasons for the premature greying. If it is due to your genetics, it is going to be very difficult to restore hair colour when it starts to fade. In the same way that you can’t naturally change your eye colour, it is not likely that you will somehow be able to override your genes to reverse grey hair. In women, the onset of menopause is also strongly linked with hair beginning to grey, and the age that most women go through menopause is mostly determined by genetics.
However, if your hair is turning grey prematurely because of a health condition, then improving that condition may have some knock on effect on your hair colour. For example, a lack of vitamin B12 due to a poor diet has been found to bring on premature greying in some people. This is usually due to a dietary deficiency as the person doesn’t eat enough dairy, eggs, or B12 containing meat. In this case, taking vitamin B12 for grey hair may make some difference but the results will vary person to person.
Another reason why some people may go grey prematurely is due to a condition called vitiligo. This is the skin condition that was made famous by Michael Jackson, and it is caused by a lack of melanocytes which results in skin turning white. This condition may also spread to the hair and so working out how to increase melanocytes and, as a result, the amount of melanin in hair, could help to reduce the impact of the condition. There are melanin supplements for hair, but again, there are various factors which dictate their effectiveness on a person by person basis.
Can You Prevent Grey Hair?
Due to the sheer power of genetics, preventing grey hair altogether is always going to be very difficult, but there are various potential ways that the process could be delayed. For example, lifestyle changes can have a hugely positive impact on various bodily functions and systems, and there are some common habits which may contribute to prematurely grey hair.
A healthy diet is beneficial for countless reasons, but can you reverse grey hair with diet? The science is still yet to be proven, but there is no doubt that eating the right foods can improve the general health and appearance of hair, so there is every chance that a healthy diet could also delay greying. If your hair is starting to turn grey, try eating more melanin rich foods such as green vegetables, seeds, nuts, legumes, and fish. You can also look to increase your vitamin B12 levels by eating more meat, shellfish, dairy, and eggs. Premature greying has also been linked to abdominal surgeries like gastric by-pass surgery, so a diet and lifestyle that can keep you at a healthy weight and prevent obesity is only going to have positive effects.
As well as a healthy diet, there are other lifestyle changes that could potentially help you to retain your hair colour for longer. Smoking causes enormous damage to practically every part of the body, and there is evidence that it contributes to hair turning grey prematurely. There are countless reasons to stop smoking, and delaying grey hair shouldn’t really be top of your list, but it could be a positive side effect of quitting.
As noted above, menopause and grey hair are often closely linked in women, and so being able to delay menopause may also help to slow greying, and there have been some studies that show eating more calcium and vitamin D rich foods, as well more fruits, vegetables, and phytoestrogen-rich foods like seeds, grains, oats and berries could help.
Are there Special Vitamins for Grey Hair?
In truth, the science behind the use of vitamins to stop grey hair is incomplete, but there are many people who have found that increasing their levels of certain vitamins through supplements or diet has made a difference. It is very important to be realistic with your expectations, and also to consult with a medical professional before making drastic changes to your diet or vitamin intake, but here are some of the vitamins that may potentially provide some positive results:
Vitamin A is important because it helps to produce sebum. This is an oil that helps to moisturise your hair, and greying often coincides with your glands producing less sebum. While there are no studies that show more sebum will stop hair from greying, it may help to stop your hair from drying out, which is a common symptom of ageing hair.
As explained above, the potential for increasing levels of vitamin B12 for grey hair is considered to be a potentially effective solution because a B12 deficiency is a common cause of greying. There are even some people who attest to vitamin B12 grey hair reversal after illness but whether it can restore hair colour for everyone remains to be seen.
As well as B12, vitamin B6 is also seen as having potential benefits when it comes to grey hair, because like B12, it is one of the vitamins that helps to keep skin and hair healthy. Vitamin B6 is found in some of the same foods as B12, and if there really is a reverse grey hair diet, it probably involves a healthy amount of pork, fish, poultry, beans, oats and bananas. In addition to food, both vitamins B6 and B12 can be found in a range of supplements which may help you to prevent grey hairs and restore your natural colour.
This stands for Para-Amino Benzoic Acid, and along with B6 and B12, as well as a vitamin called Pantothenic Acid, there has been evidence that it can slow the greying of hair in some people. Pantothenic acid for hair treatment and PABA grey hair supplements can be found in many online and offline health and supplement stores.
We all know about the many benefits of vitamin C which is why it is so important everyone eats enough fruit or takes a vitamin C supplement. As well as helping to support a strong immune system and general overall health, vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant which may protect hair cells from the air, which may have some effect on ageing.
Vitamin D is very important for healthy bones, and a deficiency can cause various potentially serious health problems like rickets and osteoporosis. However, there is also evidence that seems to show that a vitamin D deficiency can also result in premature grey hair, but whether increased levels of vitamin d reverses grey hair varies person to person.
As with all the signs of ageing, until scientists finally succeed in synthesising the elixir of life, we all have to make do with what we have.
While more scientific studies are needed to truly ascertain the impact that vitamins can have on grey hair, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that many people have found dietary changes and vitamin supplements effective. At the end of the day, as long as you are careful about the amounts of vitamins you ingest, there are no real potential dangers, so it is well worth a try.