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6 Causes of Premature White Hair

Contrary to popular belief, white hair can appear prematurely on younger people. Find out why it happens and if it can be reversed.

A young woman looking stressed while checking her scalp for white hair.

White hair has long been associated with ageing but it can be seen on the heads of younger people too. If you’ve stared into the mirror and discovered strands of white hair, you’re not alone. So how does this happen?  

Read on to learn about the causes of premature white hair and ways to reverse it from the perspectives of Western and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

Premature White Hair

The occurrence of white hair is signified by two things – the weathering of the hair shaft and the ageing of hair follicles. 

It doesn’t just show up on people who are ageing. Teens and young adults in their 20s can develop it as well. This condition is known as premature hair greying (PHG). Interestingly, the term “premature” means differently according to race and ethnicity.

Research conducted by researchers at the University of Delhi considers a Caucasian person to have PHG if they have white hair before 20 years of age. Asians are diagnosed with PHG if they have white hair before they turn 25.

Causes of Premature White Hair

Several factors can cause white hair to sprout: 

1. Family history

According to a 2019 study by researchers at Universitas Sumatera Utara, Indonesia, genetics play the most major role in premature white hair growth. If one or both of your parents have it, then you’re likely to get it too. 

2. Oxidative stress

Multiple studies have found that oxidative stress can speed up the greying process. This is because oxidation produces free radicals that can destroy cells, tissues, and antioxidants, eventually reducing the content of melanin in the hair.

Hair-damaging oxidative stress can come from many sources, from UV rays and pollution to inflammation and alcohol consumption. Moreover, numerous studies have also revealed that emotional stress is a risk factor for premature white hair. So, try to relax and manage your stressors if you don’t want your hair turning white!

A plant-rich diet can help minimise oxidative stress levels. Adding herbal ingredients to your diet with a prescription from a qualified TCM practitioner will also help. Bupleurum (chai hu, 柴胡), poria (fu ling, 茯苓), turmeric root-tuber (yu jin, 郁金), weeping forsythia (lian qiao, 连翘), and lily bulbs (bai he, 百合) are some herbs that would be recommended.

A close-up view of the top of a woman’s head, showing some strands turned white
Premature white hair growth can be traced to family genetics and oxidative stress.

3. Lack of minerals 

A 2018 review on premature white hair by the International Journal of Trichology looked at the types of nutritional deficiency that can cause the condition. It found that 55% of anaemic patients in a control group had white hair before turning 50, indicating that a vitamin B12 deficiency was one of the causes. 

The review also mentioned that various studies have shown that people with the condition lacked minerals such as protein, vitamin D, and copper. Other minerals that can influence hair pigmentation are iron, calcium, and zinc.

Foods high in vitamin B12 include meat, fish, dairy, cheese and eggs. Some TCM herbal formulations like Gui Pi Tang (归脾汤) helps regenerate qi and Blood, while Wu Zi Yan Zong Wan (五子衍宗丸) regenerates yin and jing to nourish the Kidneys.  

4. Underlying health issues 

White hair is a symptom of certain illnesses such as thyroid disease, tuberous sclerosis, vitiligo, neurofibromatosis, and alopecia areata

5. Kidney jing Deficiency 

TCM believes that the Kidneys store jing (essence) which affects a person’s development. When someone has undernourished Kidneys, they’ll experience several problems, including premature white hair.

6. Weak Liver 

In TCM, the Liver is responsible for regulating qi, the driving force of life. As a result, a weak Liver can cause deteriorating conditions in the body such as premature white hair.

Liver Stagnation can be triggered by emotional reasons such as stress, anxiety, anger and trauma. This is in line with Western medicine’s view of oxidative damage as one of the causes of the condition.

Can White Hair be Reversed?

Family history and underlying diseases aside, the condition is often the consequence of unhealthy lifestyle choices. The good news is, if you can reverse these behaviours, you can potentially reverse or reduce its growth too.

Here are some natural ways to do it: 

Consume a balanced diet

Include more foods that contain antioxidants, protein, vitamin B12, and vitamin D in your diet. If needed, take appropriate supplements. 

Additionally, TCM recommends herbs and ingredients that can nourish the Liver and Kidneys: 

  1. Black foods: Black beans (dou chi, 豆豉), black sesame seeds (hei zhi ma, 黑芝麻), black fungus (mu er, 木耳), black dates (hei zao, 黑枣), and black rice
  2. Blackberries and mulberries (sang shen zi, 桑葚子)
  3. Walnuts (he tao, 核桃)
  4. Fleeceflower root (he shou wu, 何首乌)
  5. Instead of cold drinks, choose herbal beverages containing red dates (hong zao, 红枣) and longan (gui yuan, 桂圆) 
A close-up shot of a spoon of black beans
Adding black beans to your diet may help reverse the forming of white hair prematurely.

Get enough sleep 

Adequate rest is essential for health. In TCM, it’s especially helpful to support the production of blood and qi, which would stimulate your hair’s healthy growth. 

Don’t hold in your urine for too long 

Go to the toilet often if you need to. This is important to maintain Kidney health. 

Stay physically active  

Exercising regularly can improve blood circulation and boost melanin production. Furthermore, it has also been proven to reduce emotional stress.

Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol  

Try to avoid environmental pathogens that can ruin your hair. Limiting alcohol intake and quitting smoking may reverse premature white hair and improve your overall health at the same time. 

Premature white hair can be reversed. As with everything, the key is to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Eat, sleep, exercise and live well, and your hair will thank you.

This is an adaptation of an article, “为什么会有少年白发?”, which first appeared on Health123 website. 

References

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2019. Risk Factors Associated with Premature Hair Greying of Young Adult. [online]  [Accessed on 14 August 2022] 
  2. National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2018. Premature Graying of Hair: Review with Updates. [online]  [Accessed on 14 August 2022]
  3. Harvard Health Publishing. 2022. Why does hair turn gray? [online] [Accessed on 14 August 2022]
  4. Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology, and Leprology, 2013, Premature graying of hair, [online] [Accessed on 20 October 2022]

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