What is it that makes our hair turn several shades of gray as we get older?
I’m sure many of us recall the first streaks of gray and realize we are older whether we like it or not. It’s a time when we start to wonder, “Is it age that’s causing the gray? Or have we been doing something wrong?”
Maybe too much stress or excessive work? Or is the result, according to one 19th century dermatologist, due to overindulgence in sexual appetite? But why will Hilary Clinton never have white hair if she wins the White House?
We’ve all heard stories about people going gray overnight due to overwhelming anxiety. For instance, there are historical reports that this happened to Marie Antoinette the night before she was beheaded by angry mobs in France. The same has been said about Thomas Moore, Archbishop of Canterbury, before he too was killed by knights faithful to King Henry VIII. There is no hard proof this happened. Nor will there ever be. After all, I’m sure no one will be persuaded to participate in a scientific double-blind study of this problem! Nevertheless, a report in the University of California Wellness Letter says that stress can hasten the appearance of gray hair.
I must admit that the question of why hair turns gray has never been one of my major medical concerns compared with many other serious medical topics.
To my knowledge gray hair has never killed anyone, so why bother about it? But since many people become concerned about graying, it would be good to know what triggers the change. Studies do show that what keeps hair black or dark are cells in the hair follicle called melanocytes. These cells produce a pigment called melanin and as we age less and less melanin is produced. But it’s not the original hair that turns gray. Rather, it’s the new hair that grows in with less melanin.
But why is it that some people become gray early in life and others later on?
Two reasons are gender and race. For instance, in 2012 the British Journal of Dermatology published a survey of 4,000 middle-aged people from around the world. 74 percent of those aged 45 to 65 had gray hair, but men were more affected than women. And people of Asian and African descent had less gray hair at any age than Caucasians.
Since I always try to find reasons why people should not smoke, here is another one. In 2013, a report in the Indian Dermatology Online Journal, stated that smokers were two and a half times more likely to be gray before the age of 30 than non-smokers.
The Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology reported the same findings. The cause was believed to be the formation of free radicals produced by smoking. Free radicals are the by- products left over during metabolism and are believed to be associated with the aging process.
As you might suspect there have been some studies that associate gray hair with a number of illnesses. But there is no concrete proof that HIV infection, Hodgkin’s Disease, or severe iron deficiency increase the risk of premature graying.
So what will happen to Hilary Clinton’s hair if she becomes the first female President of the United States? If this were a Trivial Pursuit question you would think it was merely a matter of time before her hair started to whiten. Have we ever seen a U.S President who hasn’t gone noticeably gray while in the White House? Just look at the shades of gray in President Obama’s hair after eight years in the White House. So how long will it take to see these changes in Hilary Clinton?
This is one Trivial Pursuit question we would all miss because we will never see it happen. Clinton recently remarked on the campaign trail that “You will never see my hair turn white in the White House because I’ve been colouring it for years.”