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Hair for good

Greying hair is no longer just a sign that you are well past your prime. It can also be a pointer to other health problems that are typical to our stressful lifestyle.

health and fitness Updated: Jan 28, 2010 20:40 IST

Abhay Patil* is wary of mirrors. Because every time he looks into one, he ends up cringing at the sight of a new grey hair that seems to sprout up on his head so often these days. He desperately tries to cover the grey strands up by combing the darker hair over them, but it doesn't always help. If you are wondering why Patil cannot take age in his stride then you should know that Abhay is just a 13-year-old boy studying in class VIII who is the butt of his classmates' jokes, thanks to his fast, greying hair.

Dr Jolly Kapadia, a consultant dermatologist and trichologist, Jupiter Hospital, Thane, says that she can't put a number to it, but adds, "From 10 years ago, there's been a marked increase in the number of youngsters, especially teenagers who come to me with complaints about greying hair."

And the condition, she adds, takes a heavy psychological toll on the youngsters, especially since having grey hair at that age invites many insensitive jibes from friends and family.

Greying early — causes
Greying hair is no longer just a sign that you are well past your prime and are on the normal course to getting old. Premature greying of hair in your teenage or when you are in your early 20s could also be a symptom of a whole lot of other problems as well. Greying of hair in the normal course is caused due to a degeneration of melanocytes, which are a kind of cells that generate colour or pigment for our hair. These cells degenerate as you age. However, premature greying of hair occurs due to a decreased activity of these cells and not because of their degeneration or death.

“For premature greying of hair, the cause is genetic, nine times out of ten. But a host of other factors like stress, deficiency of the B-complex group of vitamins, zinc or even protein may cause hair to grey early,” says Dr Satish Wadhwa, consultant dermatologist, Breach Candy Hospital.

Stress is the trigger
And when you see how stressed out teens these days are, coupled with all the junk food they eat, it’s easy to see why hair starts greying early. “Stress is a major factor in our lives today, which can cause hair to grey early. Eating junk food more often and not having a balanced diet only adds to the problem as it causes nutrient deficiencies,” says Dr Sunita Rawat, consultant cosmetologist.

And in a few cases, insufficient thyroid hormone in the body has also known to trigger off hair greying. “A recent study has shown that smokers are four times more likely to begin premature greying as compared to non smokers. But many cases of premature greying have no abnormality in their vitamin B12 or thyroid tests. So there could factors other than we know at present,” says hair transplant surgeon, Dr Sandeep Sattur.

Battling the grey
If a doctor has established premature hair greying as having a genetic cause, then reversing the condition is next to impossible. However, in cases where hair greying is caused by nutrient deficiencies, controlling the growth of new grey hair is possible with adequate supplementation. “One of my patients, a young girl with grey hair who had thyroid insufficiency improved significantly with thyroid supplementation. Another boy with vitamin B12 deficiency improved to some extent by improving his diet and additional B12 supplementation,” adds Sattur.

Apart from nutrient supplementation, relaxation techniques can also go a long way in cutting out the stress your body goes through. “Pranayam — breathing exercise and yoga can be great stress relievers for youngsters and can help them battle premature hair greying as well,” says Kapadia.
*(Name changed on request of anonymity)