Many people wonder what causes hair to turn gray. Now the question is being asked again by the Washington Post, and the answer, according to expert Shilpi Khetarpal, associate professor of dermatology and dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic who specializes in hair disorders and laser and cosmetic dermatology, is that “many things can cause our hair to go gray, including genetics and stress,” but more often than not, the graying of hair “is not, however, related to stress alone, but it certainly can make it worse for it to go gray.”
Technically and scientifically, the newspaper explains, “hair follicles have stem cells called melanocytes that produce a pigment called melanin, which gives hair its color. Melanocytes continue to produce melanin for a certain period of time,” although there are two types of melanin: eumelanin and pheomelanin, and the diversity in hair color comes precisely from “the amount and ratio of brown-black eumelanin to red-brown pheomelanin,” such that-for example-“a mutation in a certain receptor (melanocortin-1 or MC1R) leads to red hair.” The point is that “as we age, these melanin-producing cells undergo a phenomenon called apoptosis, or programmed cell death, which turns hair gray or white.”
In any case, genetics also have a role : if one’s parents started going gray at an early age, there is a chance that their children will become gray as well. But ethnicity also plays a role: “Graying has been shown to occur earlier in Caucasians than in African Americans,” so much so that one study showed that the average age of gray hair in Caucasians is 34 compared to 44 in African Americans. And then there is another reason, no less valid, related precisely to stress, which generally has multiple effects on the body, and hair is no exception. “The theory,” writes the Times, “is that melanocytes are depleted when under stress. While genetics seems to be a more important factor when you go gray, and stress may contribute to that.”
Possible remedies if you don’t like gray or white hair? “A good diet, however, may be able to reverse some of the negative effects of stress on hair,” the article states, “a diet rich in antioxidant sources, such as fish, olive oil, and fresh fruits and vegetables, may reduce oxidative stress,” while aggravating factors of gray hair are smoking and nutritional deficiencies such as vitamins D, B12 or ferritin, a globular protein found mainly in liver, spleen, bone marrow and skeletal tissues. In these cases, correcting their deficiency has been shown to restore some of the pigment or color of the hair.