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Creating a hairstyle. A man combing his hair in the morning

Can You Stop Your Hair From Greying?

Are you discovering the first few signs of silver strands in your hair and wondering why, or maybe how, this is happening? It's not uncommon to worry about greying hair. It's a visible sign of ageing, and let's be honest, not everyone is thrilled about discovering new grey strands. We're here to help you understand what's really going on beneath the surface. Greying hair isn't as mystical as it seems. As a matter of fact, there is a whole science behind our changing hair hues. In this in-depth look at hair greying, we'll explore everything you need to know about the biological intricacies of how and why your hair changes colour over time.

Decoding the Genetics of Grey Hair

Although you might feel a twinge of disappointment every time you catch a glimpse of another grey hair peeking amongst your locks, there's more to the story than simply growing older. Greying hair isn't just an inevitable consequence of time; it's also a fascinating showcase of your genetics at work.  

Science has been successful in revealing that the colour of your hair is determined by cells called melanocytes. These cells inject pigmentation, or colour, into the keratin that makes up your hair. As you age, these melanocytes gradually lose their efficiency, causing your hair to lose its colour and eventually turn grey.

Your chances of greying early are largely decided by your genes. Researchers have found that for most people the process begins in their mid-30s, but for some the greying can commence as early as their 20s. Genetic factors influence the lifespan of the melanocyte cells that inject colour to your hair.

The gene identified as the main contributor to grey hair is called IRF4. This gene controls hair colour by regulating the production and storage of melanin – the pigment responsible for your hair and skin colour. If you've started greying prematurely, it's probable that the IRF4 gene in your DNA may be following a different, faster pace than most. 

Interestingly, your lineage plays a significant role here too. Studies have shown that gene variants linked to greying hair aren't evenly distributed across all human populations. For instance, early greying is less common in people of East Asian descent, owing to their different genetic makeup. 

However, despite the critical role of genes in dictating the onset and rate of hair greying, they're not the sole players. Multiple other influencing factors intertwined with genetics, like environmental factors and overall lifestyle, also hold influence. 

Young woman examining her scalp and hair in front of the mirror

The Role of Stress in Accelerating Hair Greying

Have you ever found yourself exclaiming, "This stress is turning my hair grey!"? Well, there might be some truth to your statement. Stress plays a significant role in the process of hair greying. In a nutshell, it's a partnership no one likes but can't ignore entirely. 

Excessive stress stimulates the nervous system, causing an imbalance in your body's physiology. This imbalance consequently heightens the body's oxidative stress, which is often implicated in grey hair onset. For you, this might mean a noticeable salt-and-pepper change after a prolonged period of stress. 

A study published in the journal Nature showed a possible link, revealing that stress triggers nerves involved in the fight-or-flight response, which leads to the permanent damage of pigment-regenerating stem cells in hair follicles. That means, hair can't restore its original colour, leading to more greying over time. 

Moreover, stress can have indirect effects. It often disturbs sleep patterns, alters diet, and leads to unhealthy habits—all of these factors can contribute to early greying. So, you might want to think twice before pulling an all-nighter or skipping meals during those high-pressure periods. 

Recognising the power stress has over your hair colour might encourage a more stress-managed life. Remember, stress is part and parcel of life, but it's your response to it that counts in the end. Taking steps to reduce stress can not only help maintain your hair colour longer but also contribute to overall well-being. 

From practising mindfulness to improving your sleep hygiene, there are several ways to help keep stress—and its repercussions, like grey hair—at bay. 

Diet and Grey Hair: What's the Connection?

The health and vitality of our hair, like a plant, rely on essential nutrients to maintain its colour and prevent premature greying. 

A study conducted by the European Journal of Nutrition found a connection between low copper levels and grey hair. Copper is an instrumental mineral in the synthesis of melanin, the pigment responsible for your hair colour. When the melanin production in your hair follicles decreases, your hair starts greying. Including copper-rich foods such as sunflower seeds, lentils, almonds, and whole grains in your diet might be beneficial. And if you're missing out on these foods, you can simply bridge the gap with a daily multivitamin supplement! 

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Moreover, vitamins, especially B12, are crucial in retaining the natural colour of your hair. Vitamin B12 deficiency often leads to premature greying. Foods such as fish, meat, eggs, dairy, and fortified cereals are rich in Vitamin B12, useful for those looking to hinder the process of greying. 

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Vitamin B12 plays a vital role in the normal functioning of the brain and the nervous system and in the formation of red blood cells. It also helps to regulate and synthesise DNA. It is needed in the metabolism of every cell in the body, and it plays a part in the synthesis of fatty acids and energy production. By helping the human body to absorb folic acid, it facilitates the release of energy.

Antioxidants also enjoy a significant role in this narrative. These powerful substances combat the oxidative stress believed to accelerate the greying process. Foods including berries, green leafy vegetables, and olives are packed with antioxidants. Incorporating these foods into your daily meals might in-turn protect your hair pigmentation. 

Remember, a nourishing diet rich in whole foods, proteins, and healthy fats can do wonders for your hair's health and radiance. 

The Impact of Lifestyle Choices on Hair Pigmentation

Your lifestyle choices have a massive impact on many aspects of your health, and this includes your hair health and pigmentation as well. You may not realise it, but much of what you choose to do (or not do) every day plays a role in how your hair ages and greys. 

Unhealthy habits like smoking can speed up the greying process. Cigarettes are known to generate free radicals that cause oxidative stress, leading to premature ageing including greying. Similarly, excessive consumption of alcohol can lead to dehydration, which affects your hair health adversely. 

Exercise and regular physical activity can be beneficial for your hair health too. Regular exercise increases blood flow to all parts of your body, including your scalp, which can help maintain the natural colour of your hair. 

Furthermore, getting enough sleep is equally important. Sleep deprivation can lead to stress, which we already highlighted as a factor that can speed up hair greying. It's recommended you get at least 7-9 hours of sleep per night. 

These are all habits within your control, and making a conscious effort to improve them may significantly help in preventing premature hair greying. But remember, everybody's body works differently, thus the effects can vary from person to person. 

Do Natural Remedies Help in Preventing Grey Hair?

Interest in natural remedies for preventing grey hair has surged in recent years. It feels great to think that a simple tweak in your daily routine has the potential to keep your crowning glory vibrant, doesn't it? But let's dive in and see if they actually work. 

Natural home remedies often involve ingredients that are easily available and may already be a part of your pantry staples. Some of the most commonly cited remedies include coconut oil, amla (Indian gooseberry), curry leaves, and even ginger. People believe these ingredients help by either revitalising your hair follicles or helping produce the pigment necessary for your hair colour. 

While some people report remarkable experiences with these remedies, the truth is the evidence is largely anecdotal. Medical and scientific studies that back these claims are sparse, if not non-existent. So while there's no harm in trying them out - who knows, you may be an exception - you may have to manage your expectations. 

Remember that greying hair is a natural part of life and it’s largely influenced by genetics. Although these remedies are natural and generally safe, it's always best to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new treatments for grey hair. This way, wrong strategies can be avoided, and the right approach can be tailored according to your specific needs.

Are Certain Hair Colours More Prone to Greying than Others?

It's a question that's been circulating around the beauty and health spheres for some time now: are certain hair colours more prone to greying than others? If you're speculating about your brunette tresses or questioning the future of your red locks, let's explore this intriguing theory. 

Interestingly enough, it's not entirely a myth. The colour of your hair may, in fact, play a role in how early or how rapidly you go grey. This all depends on your genetics, though, rather than the colour pigment itself. Redheads, for example, are known to grey earlier than their blonde or brunette counterparts. This is generally because the melanin pigment that causes red hair tends to transition to grey more effortlessly. 

On the other hand, brunettes don't necessarily go grey any faster or slower. Instead, it might seem this way as the contrast between dark hair and grey is much more evident than it would be in fairer hair. The change can be more noticeable and impactful, creating the illusion of a quicker greying process. 

It's important to note, though, that regardless of the average trends, greying can occur at any time and at any age for all hair colours. There are also various external factors that could impact hair greying such as stress, nutritional deficiencies, and lifestyle choices. 

women posing cheerful together on brown background

The Truth About Hair Dyes: Are They Helpful or Harmful?

One of the most common approaches to masking grey hair is using hair dyes. But the question on many minds is, 'Are they a helpful solution or a harmful quick fix?' 

Hair dyes, both those sold over the counter or applied professionally in a salon, offer a swift change of colour, effectively covering up grey strands. This is arguably their main draw - the convenience and immediacy of the results. In fact, many people also enjoy the opportunity to experiment with a whole spectrum of colours, allowing them to reinvent their look from time to time. Temporary, semi-permanent, and permanent hair dyes provide varying degrees of colour commitment, catering to a wide range of individual preferences. 

However, it's important to note that hair dyes could be doing more harm than good. Although they are regulated, some dyes contain chemicals, such as formaldehyde, coal-tar, and other potential allergens or suspected carcinogens. Their long-term use has been linked in some studies to adverse health implications like skin irritation, allergic reactions, and even an increased risk of cancer, although further research is needed to confirm these claims. 

Another downside of hair dyes is their impact on hair health. Regular use can lead to dry, brittle hair as the chemicals found in hair dyes can strip the hair of the natural oils that keep it healthy and shiny. Continued use may also cause the original hair colour to fade faster. 

So, in the battle between helpful or harmful – it seems hair dyes can be a bit of both. They offer a solution for covering greys swiftly and giving you control over your hair colour. But to ensure you're not compromising your overall health and your hair's vitality, it may be best to use them wisely and moderately.


Written by Riya Lakhani-Kanji MSc ANutr

Riya Lakhani-Kanji MSc ANutr is a registered nutritionist and health writer with a special interest in plant-based nutrition. She has completed a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Human Nutrition, and has developed a passion for writing about all things plant-based.

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