“Going gray, by itself, does not mean you have a medical problem, except in rare cases.” – WebMD
Jennifer Lopez began sprouting gray hairs around the age of 23. Taylor Hicks, the former American Idol winner, had a full thatch of grays when he won the contest at age 29. By all accounts, both individuals are healthy and successful.
In the vast majority of cases, gray hair pops up naturally. “Caucasians typically start going gray in their mid-30’s, Asians in their late 30s, and African-Americans in their mid-40’s,” according to WebMD.
Age-wise, “A white person is considered to be prematurely gray if his or her hair turns gray by age 20; gray before 30 is early for African-Americans,” per WebMD. Using this measure, we can deduce that Asians are considered prematurely gray in their mid-20’s.
Surprisingly, scientists are unsure about what causes premature graying, although genetics are believed to be a key determinant. David Bank, MD, the director of the Center for Dermatology, Cosmetic and Laser Surgery, says: “Premature graying is genetically determined for the most part. Graying is natural. We all do it eventually.”
Other theories have been put forth, but haven’t gained any traction.
Although underlying health issues associated with grey hair are few, the fact that a link does exist should be enough to warrant some caution. Hence, the reason for this article.
Here, we discuss the links between rapid or premature development of gray hair and five possible health issues, along with each condition’s related symptoms.
5 Reasons To Never Ignore Gray Hair
Hypothyroidism is a medical condition in which the thyroid gland does not produce necessary hormones in sufficient amounts. Early symptoms of the disorder include fatigue and weight gain. It is also common for patients to experience cognitive impairment and sensitivity to cold.
Patients diagnosed with hypothyroidism display premature greying at a higher rate than the general population. This disorder is more common in women than men, although the symptoms are similar.
The Mayo Clinic recommends seeing your doctor if you’re experiencing a sudden onset of fatigue, excessive dry skin, paleness/puffiness of the face, constipation, or a hoarse voice.
The good news is that the condition can be diagnosed with a simple blood test. Treated early, the patient often experiences a sudden reduction in their symptoms.
Anemia is a condition that occurs when blood lacks enough healthy blood cells or hemoglobin. The latter is what binds oxygen to compounds within the blood – allowing for efficient delivery of oxygen throughout the body.
Anemia often develops from an iron deficiency – a problem worsened when trace elements of the nutrient cannot be properly delivered. This deficiency, along with inadequate amounts of B12, can expedite the whitening of hair.
Fatigue and other symptoms of anemia occur because organs are not receiving the necessary elements that allow them to function properly. Rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, brain fog, dizziness, pale skin and insomnia are potential symptoms.
Anemia is a complex condition with many variations. It is recommended to see your doctor if you experience a sudden onset of any of the abovementioned symptoms.
3. Risk of Coronary Artery Disease
Coronary Artery Disease (CAD), otherwise known as heart disease, is a serious medical condition resulting from plaque buildup in the arteries. This plaque narrows the lining of the arteries, restricting blood flow to the heart and increasing the risk of heart attack or sudden cardiac death.
In a study published in the journal European Society of Cardiology, researchers administered a CT coronary scan on 545 men for suspected CAD. Patients were divided into five groups according to their amount of grey or white hair.
Controlling for age and known cardiovascular risk factors, patients diagnosed with CAD had a “statistically significant higher ‘hair whitening score’… than those without coronary artery disease.”
Chest pain, shortness of breath, health palpitations, weakness or dizziness, nausea, and sweating are common symptoms.
4. Vitamin B12 deficiency
Not getting enough B12 may manifest into premature or sudden growth of grey hair. The effect is systematic; B12 deficiency can lead to melanin deficiency – the pigment that gives your hair (skin, and eyes) their color. Folate deficiency may produce the same effect.
B12 is considered an essential vitamin for normal bodily function. Although grey hair is not considered a primary symptom of B12 deficiency, premature or sudden growth of grey hair should be considered.
Adequate consumption of B12 is vital for a number of number of reasons. It keeps the blood cells healthy, helps make DNA, and prevents megaloblastic anemia.
The body does not produce B12; we must acquire the vitamin through our diets. Good sources of B12 include: liver, mackerel, sardines, fortified cereals, red meat, salmon, fortified soy, low-fat dairy, cheese, and eggs. B12 supplements are available to those who abstain from these foods.
Vitiligo is a disease that causes the loss of skin color that, similar to a B12 deficiency, results from inadequate melanin production. The disease can affect the hair, inside of the mouth, and eyes.
Vitiligo patients often see their hair color quickly transition from grey to white. Other signs of vitiligo include: loss of color in tissues inside of the mouth and nose, loss or change in color of the retina, and discolored patches around the armpits, genitals, navel, and rectum.
Promisingly, scientists believe they have discovered a biological pathway that – when manipulated the right way – may reverse vitiligo. These same scientists also think that their discovery may lead to pharmaceuticals that reverse the greying process!