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Sunday, July 9, 2017


Anderson Cooper, age 37, in 2005. Photo Credit: Michael Nagle for The New York Times

Anderson Cooper, age 37, in 2005. Photo Credit: Michael Nagle for The New York Times

What causes hair to turn grey? Why do some people go grey at a young age? Is there any evidence that rapid weight loss, slow weight loss or intense exercise accelerates greying? 

I’ve noticed that women in dieting “after” pictures commonly have a new hair color, while older male marathon runners are more grey and haggard than average.

Hair goes grey as cells called melanocytes at the base of each hair follicle get damaged by disease, environmental exposures or simply age.

Everyone has some grey hairs throughout life, but the balance tends to tip in the 40s or 50s, with the rate of change varying by genetics, gender and ethnicity, said Dr. James Kirkland, director of the Robert and Arlene Kogod Center on Aging at the Mayo Clinic.

Blacks tend to go grey later than Caucasians, with Asians falling somewhere in between. Women generally grey later than men. The age you go grey is determined primarily by genetics, so if one or both parents went grey at an early age, you would be more likely to go grey at a younger age as well.

Smoking can also accelerate color change, and early greying could be a sign of autoimmune, thyroid or heart disease. “If you’ve got heart disease and your hair is grey, it’s a sign of worse heart disease,” Dr. Kirkland said.

Some people held in concentration camps during World War II who were deprived of proper nutrition also went prematurely grey, said Dr. Wilma Bergfeld, a dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic, who specializes in hair disorders. “Everything is determined by the health of the pigment-producing cell,” she said.

Dr. Bergfeld said she doesn’t know of anyone who has gone grey because of weight loss or exercise. Most activities that are damaging to the hair, like rapidly losing more than 20 pounds or getting chemotherapy treatment, will cause hair loss rather than a change of color, she said.

Unfortunately, there are no medications approved to restore hair color, though in early testing of the anti-hair-loss drug minoxidil, Dr. Bergfeld said that she and other researchers noticed the drug sometimes also restored hair color, suggesting it was rejuvenating the melanocytes.

It’s not clear whether chronic stress turns hair grey. Although President Obama’s hair turned grey during his time in office, studies that have looked at stress and hair color have been inconclusive, Dr. Kirkland said. 

(He also aged from 47 to 55, a time when many people’s hair turns grey.) “The consensus is that stress possibly does it,” he said. “But that’s a gut feeling rather than convincing evidence.”

Source: The New York Times: By KAREN WEINTRAUB

1 comment:

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