Stress can turn your hair grey prematurely, but B12 vitamins help

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 February, 2015, 6:05am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 February, 2015, 6:05am

Can stress turn your hair grey?

The straight answer: Yes

The facts: Your life has become pretty stressful of late and your roof is starting to show more grey hairs than you would like. Is there a connection? Yes, says Leonica Kei, director and senior trichologist at Philip Kingsley Trichological Centre in Singapore. Premature greying is due to a number of reasons, and stress is one of them.

Your hair and skin colour are controlled by melanocyte stem cells that are found in the base of your hair follicles, Kei explains. When these cells stop producing melanin - the pigment that gives your hair colour - your hair turns grey or white. Grey hair due to ageing is caused by the exhaustion and loss of melanocyte stem cells, but recent studies have also shown that stress hormones promote the migration of these cells from the hair follicles. When this happens, your hair's colour pigments get depleted and your locks turn grey.

Most people start to grey by the age of 30 and by the time you turn 50 you should expect about half the hair on your head to have turned grey.

Some diseases and illnesses may also cause your strands to go grey prematurely: diabetes, pernicious anaemia and thyroid disorders, for example. Genetics, too, can contribute to premature greying.

If things have been physically, emotionally or mentally stressful for you - for example, if you have been juggling one task too many or have been caught up in a personal challenge - it's likely that your diet is suffering, too. Perhaps you aren't eating as regularly as you should or are eating all the wrong types of food.

Take note of your diet, because premature greying is also linked to vitamin B12 deficiency, says Kei. Foods rich in vitamin B12 include shellfish and crustaceans, liver, meat like beef and lamb, fish such as salmon, sardines and tuna, and dairy products like yogurt and milk.

If you suspect that your premature greying might be due to an unbalanced diet, you can try to consume more of these foods, or speak to your doctor for advice and treatment with regards to vitamin B12 deficiency. If you are a vegetarian, you may want to take supplements containing vitamin B12, since this vitamin is found in animal foods.

Kei says that premature greying due to vitamin B12 deficiency - or pernicious anaemia - is reversible if you increase your intake of the vitamin.

Unfortunately, there is not much you can do to prevent or delay greying because the production of melanin is a rather complex process, she adds. You can cover up your greys with dye, but there are no treatments - professional or home-based - that can stop greying in its tracks.