Why Hair Turns Gray As People Get Older? ‘Stuck’ Stem Cells Linked To Loss Of Hair Colour

Why Hair Turns Gray As People Get Older?  ‘Stuck’ Stem Cells Linked To Loss Of Hair Colour
Stress can cause hair graying.

Many factors can accelerate hair graying and cause premature gray hair. Is it possible to prevent hair turning gray or white? Read on to find out.

Written by Longjam Dineshwori |Updated : April 28, 2023 4:07 PM IST

Hair turning gray, silver, or white hair is a natural aging process. Some people may get it earlier, others a little later. But do you know what makes your hair lose its colour as you get older? A new study has linked 'stuck' stem cells to gray hair.

Melanocyte stem cells, or McSCs, located in hair follicles, produce and distribute melanin pigments, which are responsible for your hair colour. These cells move between growth compartments in hair follicles, but they get stuck as people grow older and thus lose their ability to mature and maintain hair colour, causing hair to turn gray or white, according to the study.

The study led by researchers from NYU Grossman School of Medicine was recently published in the journal Nature.

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Can graying of hair be prevented?

As revealed by the study, melanocyte stem cells are remarkably plastic and constantly move back and forth on the maturity axis as they travel between compartments, the germ compartment and the stem cell compartment or the hair follicle bulge, of the developing hair follicle.

In their experiments in mice, they found that more and more McSCs get stuck in the hair follicle bulge as hair ages, sheds, and then repeatedly grows back. When they McSCs get trapped, neither they mature and produce pigment, nor they move back to their original location.

If the jamming of melanocyte stem cells is confirmed in human studies, it may help find a way to revere or prevent the graying of human hair by making jammed stem cells to move again between developing hair follicle compartments, opined study lead investigator Qi Sun, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at NYU Langone Health.

Next, the team is planning to find means of restoring motility of McSCs.

Factors that can accelerate hair graying

Studies have also stress to graying hair in people. Luckily, it's reversible. A study by researchers at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons conclude that stress can accelerate hair graying, but it also suggested stressed-induced gray hairs are not permanent and eliminating stress can help restore hair colour. The findings were reported in eLife in the year 2021.

Premature hair graying is largely associated with genetics. Race and ethnicity also play roles in premature hair graying. It can start as early as 20 years old in white people, while by age 25 among Asians, and 30 years in African Americans.

Hair may also turn gray or whilte due to certain medical conditions, like thyroid dysfunction and alopecia areata, vitamin deficiencies (lack of vitamin B-6, B-12, biotin, vitamin D, or vitamin E in the body), smoking, use of chemical hair dyes and hair products.

How you can reverse premature gray hair

Preventing or reversing premature gray hair is not possible, as of now, if it is caused by genetics or aging. It may be possible to reverse the problem or stop it from worsening if the cause of your graying hair is a medical condition or vitamin deficiencies.

Include more antioxidant-rich foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, green tea, olive oil and fish to your diet to reduce oxidative stress. Correct the vitamin deficiency that is turning your hair gray. If you're lacking in vitamin B-12, good sources of this vitamin include seafood, eggs, and meats are good sources.

And quit smoking, which not only contributes to gray or white hair but also increased risk of many serious health issues, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), tuberculosis, and certain eye diseases.