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I was 17 when it happened — I found my first gray hair. I wasn't even an adult yet, and the "signs of aging" were already staring me in the face. Like nearly everyone else who goes gray prematurely, I was pretty shocked at the time, even though the gray hairs remained so few and far between that nobody but me and the occasional extraordinarily observant hairdresser really noticed them for many years. Some people's premature graying progresses much more rapidly, however, and that can be a devastating experience. 

You're considered to be going gray prematurely if it happens much earlier than the expected time. That means before 20 in Caucasians and people from India, before 25 in Asians, and before 30 in people of African descent. If it wasn't bad enough, research additionally shows that people who gray prematurely tend to do so in the front region of the head, where it will be on public display.

What causes premature graying of the hair, what kind of impact does going gray early have on a person, and is there any way to reverse premature graying?

Factors Associated With Premature Graying Of The Hair

Research has identified quite a few factors that correlate with premature graying, and have also discovered that going gray before your time has a lot to do with the functioning of your immune system. 

Factors associated with going gray early identified by one study include:

  • A family history of premature graying
  • A family history of vitiligo, or having vitiligo
  • A history of atopy
  • Having a thyroid disorder
  • A family history of diabetes, or being diabetic yourself
  • A history of malnutrition or malabsorption
  • Having had tuberculosis and received tuberculosis medications
  • A history of stress — an often-discussed factor that nonetheless shows up pretty far down the list of likely factors

Other research, meanwhile, offers HIV, pernicious anemia, cystic fibrosis, and Hodgkin's lymphoma as additional health factors that are linked to going gray early. Conversely, going gray early has also been shown to be an independent risk factor for coronary artery disease. 

While the exact cause or causes of premature graying aren't yet well understood, one thing is clear — it's not just a cosmetic or social concern, but something that may point to health problems, as well. 

How Does Going Gray Early Impact People Socially And Emotionally?

Actively going gray when none of the age-peers in your environment are going through the same has a deep impact on a person's quality of life, research finds. Young people who are going gray may suffer from embarrassment, anxiety, depression, and mood swings are not uncommon. 

Can I Do Anything About My Premature Graying?

Besides dying your hair, therapies for premature graying are indeed being investigated. If you're going gray early, you may be interested in looking into the following potential treatments more deeply, despite the fact that they are not fully proven to work:

  • Polypodium leucotomos — a fern extract you take orally, that contains antioxidant properties, and that offers your hair protection from the sun. 
  • Melitane, a peptide that stimulates pigment.
  • Pueraria lobata, a potentially helpful herbal extract.

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