Grey hair
The most common cause of premature greying in children is due to genetic factors. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Spot a strand of grey hair amid your child’s lush locks? It could be indicative of an unmet nutritional need or a genetic gift.

“The most common cause of premature greying in children is due to genetic factors; it can run in families,” says Dr Santhosh George, Specialist Paediatrics and Neonatology at UAE-based Aster Hospital.

“There are studies that show that genetic factors significantly decide if your hair will turn grey and at what age,” adds Dr Merin Paul Pittappillil, Specialist – Dermatology at Bareen International Hospital. “Additionally, lifestyle factors such as emotional stress and chronic conditions can result in early greying of hair in persons with a genetic predisposition.”

Another reason could be a dip in melanin production. “Melanin is the pigment that is responsible for the colour of the skin and hair. So when there isn’t sufficient production of melanin it could result in premature greying of the hair,” he adds.

Lifestyle factors

Other reasons for premature greying may include:

  • Oxidative stress due to pollution, ultraviolet rays, emotional stress and causes of inflammation, says Dr George.
  • A Vitamin B12 deficiency could be another cause. Vegetarians may be at a greater risk, adds Dr George.
  • Iron, copper and zinc deficiencies have also been implicated in early greying, he says.
  • Rarer causes are genetic conditions such as progeria and vitiligo, he adds. US-based Mayo Clinic explains Progeria as “… extremely rare, progressive genetic disorder that causes children to age rapidly, starting in their first two years of life.” In the case of vitiligo, states the website, “…skin loses its pigment cells (melanocytes).”
  • Passive smoking: “Children exposed to passive smoking may also experience premature greying. Passive smoking induces oxidative stress in a child’s body and lowers the production of melanin,” he explains.
  • Lack of sleep: Dr Pittappillil adds: “Improper sleep due to a stressful lifestyle can add to the problem as this can lead to a lack of essential vitamins and minerals in the human body.”
  • Pituitary or thyroid gland problems can also cause premature greying that is reversible if the problem is corrected.

Can a child go grey from stress?

Surprisingly, the answer is yes. “Many studies have shown that stress levels in children have been increasing over the past decades and so is the incidence of premature greying. Emotional stress can lead to oxidative stress in hair follicles which can lead to greying,” says Dr Pittappillil.

What about some shampoos or conditioners?

“The use of synthetic soaps and shampoos could be a probable reason for premature greying,” says Dr George. “Using adult shampoos and soaps on a child’s hair makes it rough and frizzy. So for children, we should ideally use baby soaps and shampoos, which contain minerals and vitamins in them. One can also opt for herbal shampoos to wash the child’s hair.”

Shahid Gauhar, Specialist Paediatric and Neonatologist with Prime Hospital, explains that there are six harmful chemicals one should look for and avoid when it comes to hair products.

  • Sodium lauryl sulphate
  • Lauretta sulphate sodium
  • Lauryl isethionate
  • Sodium lauroyl taurate
  • Ammonium laurel sulphate
  • Lauryl sulfoacetate sodium

Is there a way to reverse the situation?

“No medication or treatment could reverse greying of hair in children. The only way to prevent it is by eating nutritious foods. In most cases, premature greying in children is due to improper nutrition. This could be handled by giving the child nutritious food or supplements,” says Dr George.

“However, if the cause is due to other medical reasons a paediatrician or dermatologist should be consulted,” he adds.

Gauhar adds that the following foods could help kids with grey hair.

  • Iron, protein and Vitamin B5, found in fish, beef, liver and yogurt
  • Vitamin B6 found in fish, poultry, potatoes and non-citrus fruits
  • Vitamin B9 found in beans, asparagus, leafy greens and citrus fruit
  • Vitamin B12 found in meat, dairy products and fortified cereal
  • Copper: Try peanuts, almonds, lentils, liver, crabmeat and white mushroom
  • Calcium found in dairy products
  • Zinc found in beans, whole grain, red meats and oysters
  • Vitamin D

“Medication can help in reducing stress. Molecular therapy to provide melanin to hair follicle and gene therapy to restore hair colour are still in the research phase,” adds Dr Pittappillil.

What does hot water have to do with premature greying?

“Hot water destroys melanocytes which produce melanin in the body. Melanin is the pigment that gives colour to the skin and hair. So it is advised not to wash hair using excessively hot water,” adds Dr George.

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