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Is Premature Gray Hair a Sign of a Problem?

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Q

My son is only 20, and his hair is starting to gray! Is this normal or a sign of a problem?

A

Most likely, there is nothing to worry about. The age at which a person begins to “go gray” is mainly determined by genetics. It’s the genes that determine when production of melanin (the pigment in hair and skin that gives them color) slows down, so if you or your husband, or your parents had gray or white hair at an early age, your son may be genetically programmed to follow the same pattern.

In some cases, premature graying could be a sign of a vitamin deficiency, especially a lack of vitamin B-12. That’s more likely to be an issue if your son is a vegetarian or vegan, since this vitamin is found in animal products such as meat, fish, eggs and milk. If a blood test determines that this is the case, or if your son has pernicious anemia (a decrease in red blood cells due to the body’s inability to absorb vitamin B-12) your son should begin taking vitamin B-12 supplements. Once the vitamin deficiency is corrected, his hair is likely to start growing in with its normal color.

Certain medications, such as the anti-malarial drug chloroquine (Aralen) and the cancer-fighting drug interferon-alpha (IntronA), can lead to early gray, as can chronic drug or alcohol abuse. Severe stress or trauma can also be a cause, but in this case the gray is generally reversible.

It is also important to rule out a hormonal issue. If your son’s thyroid fails to produce enough thyroid hormone, he will suffer from hypothyroidism, another cause of premature graying. Hypothyroidism has no symptoms in the early stages, but as it progresses common symptoms may include fatigue, constipation, dry skin and a sensitivity to cold. A blood test can diagnose hypothyroidism, and there are medications to compensate for the hormone that the body doesn’t produce naturally.

Source: Michael Aziz, MD, internist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City. Author of The Perfect 10 Diet. Date: August 9, 2017 Publication: Bottom Line Health
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