A lot of people have gray hair. While some people have naturally grey hair, some acquire it over time. Besides hair loss, hair turning from black to gray as a person ages is a common occurrence.
Why Hair Turn Gray?
Although you’ve seen it on a daily basis, it may not come to your mind asking what causes hair to turn gray? Well, at least for some people. However, for some inquisitive individuals, asking such question is common.
Well, the scientists at the University of Alabama, Birmingham have figured it out. The graying of hair is caused by the body’s immune system’s activity1.
Although this study was done on mice, it offers insights as to why some people’s hair turn grey. You might have heard that grey hair is caused by stress or due to serious illness.
Now scientists figured it out that the turning of hair from black to gray is due to the immune system’s activity.
It is a normal process and role of the body’s immune system to be active during a virus or bacteria attack. The body’s immune system is comparable to a country’s military force. It is able to detect foreign invaders.
When it detects any abnormalities such as a virus or bacteria attack, it responds accordingly by producing interferons. These are signaling molecules that inform other cells in the body to take appropriate action.
In this case, to inhibit and prevent replication of the virus and staying alert while the attack is active.
How Does This Affects The Graying of Hair?
The link between innate immune regulation and hair pigmentation surprised the researchers. Melissa Harris, assistant professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Alabama and author of the study says;
Genomic tools allow us to assess how all of the genes within our genome change their expression under different conditions, and sometimes they change in ways that we don’t anticipate. We are interested in genes that affect how our stem cells are maintained over time. We like to study gray hair because it’s an easy read-out of melanocyte stem cell dysfunction.
Melanocyte stem cells play a role in hair color. They are responsible for producing and depositing pigment into the shaft of the hairs.
Study co-author, William Pavan, who is also the chief of the Genetic Disease Research Branch at NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) adds;
This new discovery suggests that genes that control pigment in hair and skin also work to control the innate immune system. These results may enhance our understanding of hair graying. More importantly, discovering this connection will help us understand pigmentation diseases with innate immune system involvement like vitiligo.
Vitiligo is a disease wherein pigment cells of the skin such as melanocytes are damage.
Managed Stress To Minimize Gray Hair
One study in Nature3 claimed a connection between long-term ongoing stress and changes in hair color. In this study, the researchers discovered that hormones produced as as reponse to stress decreases melanocyte stem cells.
Moreover, the scientists also found that stress makes the stem cells leave the hair follicles turning hair into gray. In some cases, hairs turn white.
In a different study as the Scientific American reports, the researchers did not find clear link between stress and gray hair. However, they found that stress hormones may influence the activity and even survival of melanocytes.
Perhaps, one of the natural ways to prevent or at least minimize gray hair is to manage stress. Stress is a part of life and cannot be avoided.
However, there are things we can do to keep stress at bay. Yes, we certainly experience stress but at a level wherein it does not become chronic.
If you’re already doing regular exercise, you might want to add in your routine Tai Chi and Yoga. These two ancient Eastern practices are good for keeping stress at a minimal level wherein it does not affect the body’s normal function.