Serena Norr
Written by Serena Norr

Reviewed by Dr Jessica Gunawan

What are the Causes of Salt and Pepper Hair and 5 Ways to Reverse It

Salt and pepper hair is a natural part of the aging process. However, there are some ways to reverse or slow down this process using TCM and Western practices.

A middle age woman looking at her salt and pepper hair in the mirror

It is common to notice the acclimation of salt and pepper hair as you get older. This is a natural part of the aging process that is seen between the ages of 45-65. However, it is also possible to develop premature gray hair before you turn 30 due to genetics.

In contrast, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners believe that a weakened liver or kidneys are the cause of premature graying. Which begs the question: Is it possible to reverse salt and pepper hair? The short answer is yes! However, people with prematurely gray hair are more likely to treat the problem by dying it instead of seeking advice from a doctor. The real way is to understand its root causes and go beyond a quick fix.

“While in rare instances it could be cause for concern, a young person going gray is more likely to present themselves to their hairdresser than their doctor. Although we have patients coming in for other conditions mentioning their gray hair, they do not specifically seek treatment for it,” says TCM physician Alicia Lim.

This article will discuss more about the causes of premature gray hair and the steps you can take — using both Western and TCM practices — to reverse it.

Common Causes of Salt and Pepper Hair, According to TCM

A middle age man touching his grey salt and pepper hair in the mirror
The depletion of the kidney jing can cause premature gray hair.

Hair follicles produce less color as you get older. TCM explains some of its root causes and impact on the body with the depletion of kidney essence and a weak liver.

Depletion of kidney essence

The kidney functions are responsible for getting rid of toxins in the body and storing jing. Your jing is the essence of who you are, where you come from, and where you are going. To put it simply, it is a substance that comes naturally from your parents that is passed down to you. This directly influences your development up to adulthood.

Unfortunately, your kidney jing depletes as you get older. It also increases your risk of health problems such as lower back pain, poor quality sperm, infertility or impotence, and poor memory and concentration. Similarly, undernourished kidneys may also cause the thinning of the hair or hair to prematurely gray as well as to appear dry or brittle.

Weakened liver

Apart from producing glutathione, the liver is also responsible for maintaining hair health by absorbing fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, K), detoxifying estrogen, and regulating the production of glucose. In TCM, the liver is also responsible for circulating blood and supporting qi regulation.

It is worth noting that qi is also the driving force for blood, which is especially crucial for maintaining healthy hair. Excessive or prolonged stress, anxiety, anger, and emotional trauma can lead to liver qi stagnation. This will cause the color and condition of your hair to deteriorate.

Other Causes of Salt and Pepper Hair

Below, are some additional causes that can relate to the cause of your salt and pepper hair.

  • Deficiency of Vitamin B-6, B-12, biotin, vitamin D, or vitamin E.
  • Von Recklinghausen’s disease, a tumor that grow along nerves and abnormal development of the bones and skin.
  • Thyroid disease
  • Vitiligo, a condition that attacks the melanocytes at the base of hair follicles that produces hair color.
  • Alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease that causes patches of hair to disappear throughout the body.
  • Genetics
  • Obesity
  • Chemicals and harsh hair dyes

How to Naturally Reverse Gray Hair

a senior woman with grey hair sitting on a bleacher after an exercise
An active lifestyle and a healthy diet might help reverse gray hair.

The best way to reverse salt and pepper hair is to consume healthy food and herbs that help to invigorate your liver and kidneys. You should maintain a healthy and stress-free lifestyle.

“Aside from the herbs and treatments we provide to patients, creating a general sense of well-being through a healthy lifestyle is very important to restoring balance to the body, which also helps maintain hair health and color,” adds physician Lim.

1. Consume kidney and liver-nourishing foods or herbs

A diet rich in antioxidants can support your hair health. This includes consuming fresh fruit and vegetables, green tea, olive oil, and fish rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. Additionally, the consumption of blackberries, mulberries, walnuts, black beans, or sesame seeds can help to strengthen the liver and kidneys. In turn, this will prevent hair graying. In the same way, the consumption of fleece flower root (He Shou Wu) herb is effective in improving deficiencies in the liver and kidneys.

Fleece flower root, which can be found in several TCM hair tonics, has also demonstrated the ability to regrow hair in most test subjects within three months. This ability can be associated with a few of the herb’s mechanisms. They include activating hair follicle activation during the resting phase (telogen), mitigating the effects of dihydrotestosterone (DHT) — a byproduct of testosterone — and preventing further hair loss. Consuming an herbal beverage that contains ingredients such as red dates and longan can promote a healthy flow of blood and qi while also calming the mind.

2. Get sufficient rest

Not getting a restful night of sleep can cause hair loss, breakage, or damage. A reduced blood flow to the hair follicles is a direct result of insufficient sleep. It will cause hair strands to become weak or prevent them from growing optimally.

Therefore, you should go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. Getting eight hours of sleep between 10 PM and 6 AM is the standard prescription by TCM practitioners. This is based on the idea that sleep helps to support a healthy production of blood and qi, which is the foundation of healthy hair. Combining an essential oil blend and a diffuser that plays calming sounds can help promote good sleep.

3. Exercise regularly

Regular exercise can improve blood circulation and support the healthy production of melanin pigments. They are directly associated with a person’s hair color. Yoga can help tone your body and increase flexibility while also helping to keep your hair color by increasing blood circulation to the scalp. 

Alternatively, millions of Chinese people practice Qi Gong. It’s a type of exercise based on a repetitive yet very precise set of movements and is particularly designed to benefit a person’s mental and physical health. 

Specifically, Qi Gong aims to promote the movement of qi in the body. This is done by opening certain ‘gates’ by stretching and twisting energy channels. You can also relax your body by paying attention to how you breathe during Qi Gong, as both are integral to a healthy flow of qi

4. Reduce your stress

Stress is also a major factor in why the hair turns gray hair. Hair color is produced by melanocytes, pigment-producing cells. They disappear as we age, but stress can also release a chemical called norepinephrine. This chemical affects the melanocyte stem cells, causing these pigment cells to turn new hair gray or white.

Additionally, oxidative stress can cause imbalances in the body. This happens when antioxidants can’t counteract the impact of free radicals. This damages cells, leading to aging and disease such as vitiligo. Hair formulations can also aid in enhancing the quality of your hair and reducing thinning or graying.

5. Don’t smoke

Another lifestyle change you can take is to not smoke cigarettes. A study in India found that there is a connection between premature gray hair and cigarette smoking.

To reverse gray hair, it is essential to have a healthy, stress-free lifestyle. As indicated, identifying deficiencies in your organs is also important. A TCM practitioner can prescribe you remedies that can promote healthy circulation of your blood and qi and improve your hair health.

References

  1. Indian Dermatol Online Journal. 2013. Smokers’ hair: Does smoking cause premature hair graying?. [Accessed on January 21, 2022]
  2. Harvard Health. 2020. Why does hair turn gray?. [Accessed on January 21, 2022]
  3. Medical News Today. 2020. What you should know about white hair. [Accessed on January 21, 2022]
  4. NIH News in Health. 2020. How Stress Causes Gray Hair. [Accessed on January 21, 2022]

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