- An international team of researchers has discovered the first gene linked to gray hair
- The gene has previously been linked to blonde hair in Europeans and is now connected to gray hair as well
- The gene accounted for about 30 percent of hair graying among study participants
Your hair color comes from pigment called melanin. Each hair may contain dark melanin (eumelanin) and light melanin (pheomelanin), which blend together to form the many shades of hair color among humans.
When you're young, special pigment stem cells called melanocytes inject pigment into keratin-containing cells.
Scientists Discover Gene Linked to Graying HairWhat exactly causes melanin to be reduced and hair to turn gray has remained a mystery until now. An international team of researchers has discovered the first gene linked to gray hair.
A gene that has previously been linked to blonde hair in Europeans turned out to be connected to gray hair as well and accounted for about 30 percent of hair graying among the study participants.
Does Your Hair Have Its Own 'Biological Clock?'According to Desmond Tobin, Ph.D., professor of Cell Biology from the University of Bradford in England, your hair follicles may be regulated by a "melanogentic clock" that eventually slows down the activity of melanocyte cells. Further, according to the Library of Congress:5
"... Tobin suggests that hair turns gray because of age and genetics, in that genes regulate the exhaustion of the pigmentary potential of each individual hair follicle. This occurs at different rates in different hair follicles. For some people it occurs rapidly, while in others it occurs slowly over several decades."
It's known, for instance, that white people may start going gray in their mid-30s, while Asians typically go gray beginning in their late 30s. African Americans typically don't go gray until their mid-40s.6
What Else Causes Gray Hair?Other factors for why hair turns gray include:
Is Premature Gray Hair an Indicator of Health Problems?It's thought that going prematurely gray is largely genetic; if you have family members who turned gray early on, there's a chance you might too.
"The association between premature graying and low bone mass could be related to genes that control peak bone mass or factors that regulate bone turnover."Thyroid disorders, anemia and vitiligo have also been linked to premature graying, and it's even been associated with an increased risk of coronary artery disease (CAD) in young smokers. According to researchers:15
"Premature graying of hair can be used as preliminary evidence by clinicians for classifying patients at risk for premature CAD especially in smokers."
Does Stress Cause Gray Hair?It's commonly believed that stress causes gray hairs (and many parents of teenagers or former presidents, whose hair often turns gray during office would likely attest to that). Science on this topic has frequently come up short, save a 2011 study published in the journal Nature and led by Nobel Prize winner Dr. Robert Lefkowitz.16
Scientists Reveal 2 Potential 'Cures' for Gray HairResearchers believe they are getting closer to finding a cure for gray hair. Scientists at New York University's Langone Medical Center, for instance, isolated the Wnt protein, which coordinates pigmentation between melanocytes and another type of stem cell that guides the development of hair follicles.17
When the researchers inhibited the Wnt pathway in black mice, they turned gray. They believe that one day adding the Wnt protein to hair care products or supplements may "cure" gray hair.
"For generations, numerous remedies have been concocted to hide gray hair. but now, for the first time, an actual treatment that gets to the root of the problem has been developed."The search for a cure for gray hair assumes that gray hair is a problem that needs solving. But there's nothing intrinsically bad about having gray hair. In fact, from a health perspective you're far better off going gray than using toxic hair dyes.
"Granny hair is basically silver hair, any tone of grey in your hair: steel grey, silvery grey, really, really white, platinum-ish with either violet or silver undertones ... That's the trend."Originally published Jan. 2, 2023 on Mercola.com
Sources and References
- 1, 2, 5 The Library of Congress, Everyday Mysteries
- 3 Nature Communications March 1, 2016
- 4 TIME March 1, 2016
- 6 J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2021;14(1):38–44. January 1, 2021
- 7 FASEB J. 2009 Jul;23(7):2065-75
- 8 Niger J Surg. 2014 Jul;20(2):83-6
- 9 Indian Dermatol Online J. 2013 Apr;4(2):90-2
- 10 FASEB J. 2006 Jul;20(9):1567-9
- 11 Int J Trichology. 2015 Jul-Sep;7(3):91-4
- 12 Arch Dermatol. 1986 Aug;122(8):896-9
- 13 J Am Acad Dermatol. 2015 Feb;72(2):321-7
- 14 J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1994 Sep;79(3):854-7
- 15 Ethiop J Health Sci. 2015 Apr;25(2):123-8
- 16 Nature September 15, 2011
- 17 ABC News June 17, 2011
- 18 FASEB J. 2013 Aug;27(8):3113-22
- 19 Medical News Today July 13, 2015
- 20 Reuters April 29, 2015