Gray hair is typically linked to age; in many cases, people consider gray hair a sign of getting older. However, gray hair is not always linked to age. In fact, some people begin to notice gray hair in their teen years and early twenties. This condition is known as premature graying and commonly affects people before the age of 30. The development of gray hair at a young age can be caused by a variety of factors.
According to Disabled-World.com, “The main reason for our hair turning grey is heredity.” Although researchers have not yet identified a single gene or a cluster of genes that indicate premature graying, genetics are certainly a contributing factor. In fact, IntelliHealth.com notes that, in some families, many members develop gray hair before the age of 30. An easy way to predict whether you will experience premature graying is to look at the graying patterns of your parents, uncles, aunts and grandparents.
Pernicious anemia is a disease characterized by a deficiency of vitamin B12. This vitamin is responsible for producing healthy amounts of red blood cells in the bone marrow. Although pernicious anemia can cause premature graying of the hair, the gray hair typically occurs in conjunction with several other symptoms, such as fatigue, poor appetite, weight loss, jaundice and dizziness. Vitiligo is a condition of the autoimmune system that destroys melanocytes, which are the cells responsible for producing the pigment of your hair color. The condition typically results in patches of white hair on various parts of the body. Another medical condition that can cause premature graying is hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid.
According to a 1996 study published in the British Medical Journal, people who smoke cigarettes are four times more likely to go gray at a young age than non-smokers. In some cases, medication use may be to blame for premature graying. The exact cause behind the phenomenon remains unknown, yet a link has been noticed between premature graying and certain medications, such as lithium. However, it is important to note that some drugs simply result in hair loss that reveals, rather than produces, gray hair.
References and ResourcesDisabled World: What Causes Gray Hair?
Aetna InteliHealth: The Science of Gray Hair
"British Medical Journal;" Premature Grey Hair and Hair Loss Among Smokers: A New Opportunity for Health Education? J. G. Mosley and A. C. Gibbs; December 1996
ResourcesAetna InteliHealth: Vitamin B12 Deficiency
MSNBC: Going Gray? Scientists Uncover the Root Cause
WebMD: The ABCs of Premature Graying