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When the grey gold rains too early

By Vision Reporter

Added 11th July 2013 04:36 PM

My hair has been losing its natural colour steadily. It is prematurely getting grey and making me look way older than I am. I am disturbed because my hair is my personal statement,” exclaims 31-year-old Joseph Okwalinga, a computer technician in Kyebando, Kampala.

When the grey gold rains too early

My hair has been losing its natural colour steadily. It is prematurely getting grey and making me look way older than I am. I am disturbed because my hair is my personal statement,” exclaims 31-year-old Joseph Okwalinga, a computer technician in Kyebando, Kampala.

BY Richard Wetaya

My hair has been losing its natural colour steadily. It is prematurely getting grey and making me look way older than I am. I am disturbed because my hair is my personal statement,” exclaims 31-year-old Joseph Okwalinga, a computer technician in Kyebando, Kampala.

On the other hand, 43-year-old lawyer, Andrew Mutenyo, wears his grey hair with pride. “Even the Bible is on my side; read Proverbs 16:31. It says grey hair is a crown of glory, it is gained by living a godly life,” he boasts.

However, Mutenyo is careful not to look too old. “Much as I take pride in my grey hair, I always endeavour to keep it short and trim to avoid looking too old,” he says.

Why premature grey hair?

According to Mbale-based dermatologist Catherine Onyait, hair has an inevitable tendency to lose its natural colour and turning grey with advancing age.

However, when hair greys prematurely, like in Okwalinga’s case, it could mean many things.

First, family genetics may be at play or one’s hair may be facing inadequacies. Much as genetics may be at play, nutritional deficiencies cannot be ruled out.

Premature greying of hair could also mean the melanin pigment (substance that gives hair its colour) may be damaged.

“For the majority of people, however, greying of hair is principally due to age, genetic or hormonal factors beyond their control,” Onyait says.

The sebaceous glands of the scalp secrete an oily substance called sebum. This oily substance gives the hair its colour and shine and is primarily the source of nutrition, lustre and blackness of hair.

“A deficiency in sebum is causedby the lack of vital dietary minerals such as copper, iodine and iron. When an individual is deficient in sebum, the hair will prematurely turn grey,” Onyait explains.

Wandukwa Wabuyi, a dermatologist at Mukhuwa Health Centre, Mbale, adds that a deficiency in Vitamin B complex eventually dampens the scalp, leading to a reduction in the production of sebum.

Onyait adds that a reduction in melanocytes in the bulbs of hair follicles also explains why premature hair greying occurs. When the body stops producing melanocyte pigments, the hair becomes colourless. This, she says, leads to grey hair.

Wandukwa says the scalp is adversely affected by mental worries. He notes that this not only interferes with the supply of vital nutrition necessary for the health of the hair, but also dries out the scapular marrow,the vital sap at the root of the hair.

High levels of hydrogen peroxide found in hair products can accumulate in the hair follicle, triggering premature greying of hair.

Before buying your hair bleaches, factory-made hair oils, dyes, conditioners and shampoos, check for their levels of hydrogen peroxide and oils.

Wandukwa asserts that factory made hair oils are cleaned with harmful acids and some of the acids have a tendency to remain in the oil.

Onyait also notes that an unclean scalp caused by insufficient hygiene may cause premature hair greying.

An unclean scalp weakens the roots of the hair as the pores are blocked.

Stress highlighted in early greying cases

Researchers from New York State University in a recent study deduced that human hair goes prematurely grey when cells responsible for hair colour are wiped out as a result of the body producing stress hormones.

Stress, they pointed out, leads to the depletion of hair stem cells.

The research findings also brought to light the fact that grey hair occurs as a result of vitamin B-12 deficiency or problems with an individual’s pituitary or thyroid gland.

Researchers from Tokyo University have also cast light on how exposure to damaging hair chemicals, ionising radiation and ultraviolet light can harm hair stem cells.

Onyait explains that once hair stem cells are damaged or stressed, there is insufficient production of melanocytes (cells that produce the pigment melanin) leading to hair losing its natural colour and turning grey.

The researchers noted that hair damaging agents cause cellular stress, which eventually leads to premature greying. Recent research too has brought to light evidence suggesting that smoking can lead to premature greying of hair.

Research shows that smokers are four times more likely to have grey hair and increased hair loss.

They also laid emphasis on the fact that chemicals found in cigarette smoke damage DNA in hair follicle cells and constrict blood vessels that supply the follicles, which makes the hair lose its pigment.

Remedies for prematurely greying hair

Proper diet is paramount in the prevention and treatment of premature greying. “Hair is an indicator of health; when it greys early, it is a warning sign that one is not on a proper diet,” Wandukwa says.

Dermatologists recommend consuming foods rich in vitamin B complex, particularly pantothenic acid, para-aminobenzoic acid, and inositol to reverse premature greying of hair.

Vitamin B-5, also known as pantothenic acid or the happiness vitamin, is not only good for the prevention of grey hair, but for raising one’s spirits.
According to Wandukwa, foods rich in vitamin B-5 such as liver, fish, avocados, cheese and rice should be regularly added to one’s menu. One’s diet should also have all essential nutrients like vitamins, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.

“Eat more antioxidant foods such as carrots, green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits and fish. Antioxidants fight free radicals that damage and impede the production of melanin,” Wandukwa says.

Carrots, he says, are especially useful in furnishing fresh blood and maintaining the health of the hair. Drinking a litre of yogurt daily with a tablespoon of yeast before each meal will also be an excellent remedy for premature greying of hair.

Wandukwa also recommends eating foods rich in iron, minerals and vitamin A, B and C. “Eat foods rich in iodine such as banana, carrots and fish.”

Iron deficiency, Onyait says, can also lead to premature hair greying.

To steer clear, Onyait recommends eating more iron-rich foods such as leafy vegetables, fruits, whole grains, egg yolk, beans and liver.

Foods rich in proteins such as beans, soy, cereals, whole grains and meat should also be an essential part of your diet if you want healthy hair. Proteins improve the texture of hair.

Wandukwa says managing stress is one of the best ways to steer clear of premature hair greying. “Stress slows down the production of melanin and it drains the body of vital vitamins.

Most cases of premature greying are caused by a person’s social, occupational and physical environment. If one develops positive ways and strategies of handling stress, they will be able to reverse the onset of grey hairs,” Wandukwa says.

Onyait says eating nutritious foods that help in sebum production comes in handy too as a remedy. Foods such as legumes, liver, natural fruit and vegetable juices, nuts, papaya and potatoes as well as whole grain products should be consumed more.

When you visit the salon

Excessive blow-drying and the usage of harsh hair chemicals should be avoided. Keep blow drying to a minimum of no more than once a week. Use mild and natural ingredient hair shampoos and conditioners.

Washing hair in hot water should also be avoided, Wandukwa says.

Your greying could be hereditary

Onyait says premature greying of hair either in men, children or women does not necessarily mean one has a medical problem. For example, premature greying might run in the family.

The gradual loss of pigment melanin from skin layers may, however, result in an auto-immune skin disorder called vitiligo. According to Onyait, vitiligo not only results in blemishing white skin patches, but grey hair too.

Premature hair greying can also spell a deficiency in vitamin B-12, which is sometimes associated with pernicious anaemia.

This, according to Onyait, is a condition in which the body cannot produce enough healthy red blood cells as a result of a deficit in vitamin B-12.

“Vitamin B-12 deficiency can also lead to serious neurological problems that may be irreversible if it is not checked,”Onyait warns.

At what age does greying start?

Why do grey hairs appear in some children?

A Genetic inheritance explains it. If other members of the child’s family had a streak or developed premature grey hair, it will inevitably happen to that child too.

Not consuming enough vitamin B foods such as milk, eggs, liver, whole grains can also cause this.

Some children may suffer from skin conditions like vitiligo, which cause gradual loss of pigment melanin from the skin layers. Vitiligo destroys melanocytes cells which are responsible for producing the pigment of hair colour.

Can smoking cause premature greying of hair?

There is no research that shows or provides proof that smoking can lead to premature greying of hair. However, smoking stresses the body and it has been scientifically proven that it triggers premature aging of the entire body.

Premature aging of the body also means one’s hair may not be spared.

At what age does greying start?

The time or age when greying starts depends majorly on one’s genetic inheritance. If other members of one’s family have hair that turned grey at a younger age, there is a likelihood that one will too.


When the grey gold rains too early

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