Daily News: Aging

Help! I'm now going grey prematurely

Business Daily (Kenya)

07-25-14

Grey hair on an elderly person is always considered their crowning glory, a sign of wisdom and maturity. However, when more than half your head is covered with grey hair before the age of 40 years, it may not be a welcome thing.

In most cases, premature greying should not be a cause for worry. However, it can sometimes be a sign of an underlying medical condition.

Get to know your hair

The human head has over 100,000 strands of hair, each of which is made up of two parts – the root (the part inside the scalp) and the shaft (the part you see). The root is surrounded by cells which give the hair its colour (melanocytes).

Under normal circumstances, the colour of your hair is determined by your genetics. As we age, the cells producing hair colour die off causing the hair to "lack colour" and appear grey or white.

For most Caucasians, the first strands of grey hair appear in their 20s, for Asians it is in their late 30s while for Africans, it comes in their mid 40s. Generally, by the time we are in our 50s, we all have some grey hair on our scalps.

Genetics

Genetics will always have a role in what you look like (including how your hair evolves as you age). It is not unusual to find a family where the hair begins to grey in their 30s and the trend is carried down from generation to generation.

Thyroid problems

The thyroid is a small butterfly like gland at the front of the neck. It normally produces hormones which regulate different body functions. If it is not functioning appropriately, you may find yourself beginning to spot grey hairs prematurely.

Thyroid problems are also associated with changes in energy levels, weight changes and blood pressure issues. They are easily diagnosed through testing of blood and can be managed with the help of your doctor.

Vitiligo

This is a condition in which the body's immune system "misfires" and begins to attack the cells that give colour to both the skin and hair (melanocytes). This gives patches of pale skin and grey hair.

Once it sets in, there is currently no known cure for vitiligo. However, there are several things that can be done to improve the appearance of your skin, including medication and light therapy.

Vitamin deficiency

Severe deficiency of vitamin B 12 can lead to premature greying and blood-related issues (anaemia). Vitamin B 12 deficiency often occurs in alcoholics, people with problems in their digestive system (especially stomach), people who have had stomach surgery (even if it is for weight loss), and vegans (people who eliminate all animal products from their diets including milk and eggs).

Treating Vitamin B12 deficiency usually requires a change in diet or use of supplements. In severe cases, one may receive Vitamn B12 injections.

Alopecia areata

This is when a person with the characteristic salt and pepper appearance of hair (dark hair with speckles of grey) begins to lose the darker strands of hair (they fall off – thought to be related to stress). The person is then left predominantly with the grey strands of hair (giving them the appearance of having gone grey overnight).

Cigarette smoking

Smoking is harsh on every organ in the body, including the skin, teeth and hair. It has been associated with premature greying of hair, among the many other damages it does to the body.

Premature ageing syndromes (Progeroid Syndromes)

This is a very rare condition in which a person appears decades older than they really are. They develop features such as thin skin, loss of hair, wrinkling, premature greying and other signs of old age. Usually these features are initially noted in childhood. Currently, there is no cure for this syndrome.

Children

Some children may have a small patch on their head with grey hair (may be present since birth). Usually, it is because the child was born with this section of the scalp lacking the cells that produce hair colour. This patch of grey hair is usually lifelong.

Can I reverse the process of greying?

If your greying is due to a treatable medical issue, then yes, you can but for the majority of cases, you just have to embrace your silver strands. A lot of research (especially by scientists in the cosmetic industry) is going into finding a way of reversing the greying process with a lot of breakthroughs in the recent past.

However, there is currently nothing approved for mass use in the process of fighting the grey except hair dyes.

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