London: Stress really can make your hair go grey, scientists have found. As the pressure builds, the stem cells that replenish your hair color become damaged, leaving the tell-tale silver crown, a study has shown. But the very visible sign of aging appears to also have a beneficial effect reducing the risk of cancer, a leading expert has claimed.
When scientists from Kanazawa University in Japan studied the effects of radiation and other chemicals on the fur of mice, they found that their coats greyed early. This is because stem cells in their hair follicles were forced to mature, slashing the production of melanin into the chemical that gives color to the hair and skin.
Premature Grey Hair Causes and Treatment
Premature graying of hair, also known as poliosis, is the appearance of gray hair before the age of 30. It is a common condition that affects about 20% of the population. The exact cause of premature graying is unknown, but it is thought to be due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
But Dr. David Fisher, chief of the department of dermatology at Harvard Medical School, said that blocking these stem cells, which have damaged DNA, from dividing is also beneficial. It could stop you from developing a tumor, which is a ball of damaged cells that grow out of control.
‘Greying may actually be a safety mechanism,’ Dr. Fisher told Bloomberg. ‘They’ve shown that this mechanism is actually removing damaged stem cells. ‘The good news is if you do find yourself greying, you’re probably better off not having those cells persist.’
He said the findings, reported in the journal Cell, have ‘far-reaching’ consequences because they suggest that early maturation and differentiation in other groups of stem cells could help prevent cancer as well. Stem cells are the life source of the body, continually making copies of themselves which may differentiate into other cell types.
When those located in the hair follicles of mice stopped replicating, the animals soon ran out of those cells that create pigment in their fur. Dr. Fisher commented on the findings made by Dr. Emi Nishimura at Kanazawa University in Japan, with who he worked at Harvard.
Dr. Nishimura had previously discovered the stem cells within hair follicles and showed that their depletion during aging causes hair to turn grey. For this study, her team exposed mice to radiation and drugs used in chemotherapy, then monitored changes in the color of their fur as well as the status of their stem cells.
By looking at the hair follicles under microscopes, they saw when the stem cells turned into other cell types and linked the change to greying hair. A similar mechanism may operate in people, she said.
The findings challenge existing theories about how the body tries to protect itself when it suffers genetic damage from radiation or other toxins, Dr. Nishimura said. People have speculated that cells die when their DNA is damaged by apoptosis, a scientific term for cell suicide, Dr. Nishimura said.
Some of the possible causes of premature graying include:
- Genetics: Premature graying is often inherited from one or both parents.
- Nutritional deficiencies: A lack of certain vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin B12, iron, and copper, can contribute to premature graying.
- Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as thyroid problems, vitiligo, and autoimmune diseases, can also cause premature graying.
- Lifestyle factors: Smoking, excessive stress, and exposure to certain chemicals can also accelerate the graying process.
There is no cure for premature graying, but there are a number of treatments that can help to slow down the process or mask the appearance of gray hair. These treatments include:
- Hair dye: Hair dye is the most common treatment for premature graying. There are a variety of hair dyes available, including permanent, semi-permanent, and temporary dyes.
- Dietary supplements: Taking certain dietary supplements, such as vitamin B12, iron, and copper, can help to slow down the graying process.
- Hair growth treatments: There are a number of hair growth treatments that may help to stimulate hair growth and reduce the appearance of gray hair. These treatments include minoxidil (Rogaine) and finasteride (Propecia).
If you are concerned about premature graying, it is important to talk to your doctor. They can help you to determine the cause of your graying and recommend the best treatment options for you.
Here are some additional tips to help you slow down the graying process:
- Eat a healthy diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Get regular exercise.
- Avoid smoking and excessive stress.
- Protect your hair from the sun and other environmental damage.
- Use a good quality shampoo and conditioner.
- Get regular haircuts.