Spotting a strand of gray hair in the bathroom mirror is something that happens to most everybody eventually. But if you're still pretty young, this appearance of a gray streak can be confusing or even alarming. Learning more about the foods and habits that can make you go prematurely gray can shed some light on the situation.
First, remember that graying hair is largely out of your control. Although your daily habits and routines may affect your hair's color to some extent, the graying process is largely written in your genes. "If your parents or grandparents grayed at an early age, you probably will too," said David Bank, director of the Center for Dermatology, Cosmetic, and Laser Surgery in U.S. News & World Reports. "There's not much you can do to stop genetics." As someone who comes from a long line of prematurely grey relatives, I know this is all too true. Frequent hair dye is just a part of life now.
Still, finding that first gray streak in your late teens or early twenties is not a fun event for most people. If you want to tweak your health habits in an attempt to make the gray go away, that's totally understandable. At the very least, evaluating your habits and making healthier choices is always a good thing, whatever the reason.
Need another reason to quit? There may be a significant relationship between cigarette smoking and getting gray hair before the age of 30, according to a 2013 study in the Indian Dermatology Online Journal. The study, which looked at a cross section of 207 participants, found that the smokers were two and a half times more likely to develop premature gray hair than non-smokers. It looks like quitting smoking can be great for your hair (as well as your health overall).
2. Vitamin B12 Deficiency
This is one of those strange but true facts about getting enough vitamins in your diet. A vitamin B12 deficiency can cause prematurely gray hair, according to WebMD. How much do you need? The average adult requires about 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 each day, as noted in the Mayo Clinic. Poultry, meat, and dairy foods tend to be a good source of vitamin B12, and oral supplements, injections, and even nasal sprays are available to treat a deficiency of the vitamin, as further noted in the Mayo Clinic.
Stress won't cause you to go gray overnight or anything, but it may reveal itself in your hair. "The majority of gray hair is genetic, but if the person is predisposed to gray hair, stress will make it appear sooner," said Sandra Gilman, trichologist and educational director for The Elan Center for Trichology in Alabama, in HuffPost.
Of course, working to reduce the level of stress in your life is not the easiest task either. But if you spot some gray strands, then it may be a sign you need to find more relaxation and calmness in your life. (Easier said than done, right?)
4. Lack Of Zinc
Really, how often do you think about zinc over the course of an average day? Getting enough of this trace element is pretty crucial. In fact, a zinc deficiency has been the suspected cause of prematurely gray hair in at least one study, according to an October 2014 issue of Observation. Eating foods such as oysters, Alaska king crab, and even fortified breakfast cereals can ensure you get enough zinc, as noted by the National Institutes of Health. It's just one of those minerals you need in your life.
5. Iron Deficiency
Iron is also an essential nutrient. In fact, low iron levels have also been linked to the premature graying of hair, as noted in a 2016 study in the Annals of Dermatology. If you're concerned about your iron levels, consider a visit to the doctor for a check-up.
6. Processed Foods
They're convenient, but overly processed foods aren't doing your health any favors. In general, eating a varied diet rich in fruits and vegetables is a healthy way to ensure you get all the necessary vitamins and nutrients, as noted in Medical News Today. It's the best way to get all the things your body needs to (hopefully) keep producing non-gray hair.
The stuff is basically in everything, so it's easy to overdo it on sugar. And consuming excess refined sugar might seem to speed up the aging process and potentially lead to earlier gray hair, as noted in an article on BT. (Note: I was not able to find any medical research supporting this claim, although the idea anecdotally appears on many websites.) Even if it doesn't adversely affect your hair color, refined sugar still not a great thing to overdo.
Overall, making some healthy dietary and lifestyle changes may decrease your chances of going prematurely gray. But even if genetics wins out anyway, you can always wear those gray strands with pride.