Is it possible to reverse or slow down the graying process of the hair? We saw in a previous article that, sometimes, in case of a great stress, the hair can turn white and that, when the stressful period is over, the same white hair can return to its natural color. In general, however, apart from this particular case, when a hair becomes gray it is no longer possible to make it return to its natural color. However, since premature graying is often linked to an increase in free radicals and to a lack of certain nutrients, it is certainly possible to slow it down by making some lifestyle and diet choices. However, it should be emphasized that the article does not want to indicate a food or a group of portentous foods that, if eaten in large quantities, can bring the hair back to its natural color. The idea is that a healthy lifestyle and balanced diet are the basis of a healthy body, capable of counteracting inflammation, free radicals and premature aging of which white hair is one of the symptoms. But let's understand better.
Gray hair and lifestyle
Oxidative stress can speed up and anticipate graying of hair, since free radicals, if they accumulate, can damage melanocytes, which are cells that produce melanin, the hair pigment ( Kumar et al, Int J Trichology, 2018). It has been observed, for example, that cigarette smoking and the excess of alcohol are one of the most important causes of the premature appearance of white hair (Zayed et al, Indian Dermatol Online J, 2013). Not only that, as mentioned at the beginning, moments of great stress can cause hair to turn white. In some cases, once the great stress has passed and you experience a moment of calm such as during a holiday, it is possible that the hair will return to its natural color (Rosenberg et al, bioRxiv, 2020). Chronic inflammation can also cause increased oxidative stress and hence the importance of combating inflammation with foods and drinks such as green tea, spices, such as turmeric and cloves, vegetables, such as tomatoes, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, but also citrus and berries (Kumar et al, Int J Trichology, 2018).
The role of vitamin D
Low levels of vitamin D have been found in the blood of people with premature graying of hair (Kumar et al, Int J Trichology, 2018). The main source of vitamin D is definitely the sun. In fact, UVB rays induce the production of vitamin D in the skin (Nair et al, J Pharmacol Pharmacother., 2012). So, exposing yourself to the sun regularly, but always with due attention, avoiding the central hours of the day and without exaggerating, allows the body to synthesize this important vitamin. However, vitamin D can also be introduced into the body through the diet. Food sources of vitamin D are fish, egg yolk, mushrooms, butter and fatty cheeses (Keegan et al, Dermatoendocrinol., 2013).
Scientific studies have observed that a vitamin B12 deficiency can be linked to premature graying of hair before the age of 50 (Kumar et al, Int J Trichology, 2018). In addition, vitamin B12 contributes to stabilize the anagen phase of the hair, which represents the first life phase of the hair in which it grows continuously (Chakrabarty et al, Int J Trichology, 2016). Vitamin B12 is found predominantly in foods of animal origin, such as meat, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, milk and dairy products. However, this vitamin can also be found in nutritional yeast flakes and in some algae, such as wakame seaweed (Obeid et al, Front Nutr, 2019).
Iron, zinc, calcium and copper
It has been observed that some nutrients may be involved in the onset of premature graying of the hair. For example, copper, iron and zinc deficiency is linked to the premature appearance of gray hair (Kumar et al, Int J Trichology, 2018). In fact, these minerals are believed to affect melanogenesis and thus hair pigmentation. Zinc is contained in whole grains, dried fruit, legumes, yeast and meat, copper is found in legumes, mushrooms, cocoa, nuts and seeds, while iron is contained in beans, lentils, chickpeas, cocoa, seafood as well as in the liver (Rabinovich et al, Stat Pearls, 2021 - Collins et al, Adv Nutr, 2011). A calcium deficiency is also linked to premature graying. Calcium is present in dairy products, especially hard cheeses, nuts, especially almonds, and seeds, especially sesame and chia, cabbage, broccoli and watercress (Cormick et al, Nutrients, 2019). It is possible that, in case of unbalanced nutrition, the hair receives little nourishment and this leads to a change in color (El Sheikh et al, Int J Trichology, 2018).
Gray hair and state of health
Studies have observed that premature graying may be due to conditions of hypothyroidism, which however must be diagnosed and evaluated by a doctor. Conversely, blood glucose problems have not shown a link with early gray hair (Sonthalia et al, Indian J Dermatol, 2017).