Q: I have noticed that my hair is whitening prematurely. Is there any medication that can make hair black again?

As greying of hair is perceived as a sign of old age, premature greying of hair can have an adverse effect on the self-esteem of an individual. Greying of hair occurs with normal ageing. Hair is said to have greyed prematurely if it occurs before the age of around 20 years.

The colour of human hair is due to pigment melanin produced by melanocytes (pigment producing cells) which are situated in hair follicles. Loss of melanocytes can lead to white hair. The rate of growth and thickness of nonpigmented hair are significantly greater than dark hair. Greybeard hair can grow up to four times faster than pigmented hair.

The exact cause of greying is yet to be completely understood. It is a complex multifactorial process mainly considered to be an interplay of nutritional, genetic and environmental factors. Premature greying of hair has been observed with greater frequency among certain families, suggesting a familial predisposition for the condition. While greying is mostly genetic, oxidative stress in the body may play a part when the process happens prematurely. Oxidative stress can also be a result of ultraviolet rays, pollution, emotional factors, or inflammatory causes.

Psychological stress, alcohol consumption and chronic diseases can lead to premature greying of hair as can Vitamin B12, copper and iron deficiencies, decreased thyroid hormones, low levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), certain chemotherapeutic and antimalarial drugs and even smoking.

The treatment for premature greying hair should be directed to address the cause. Vitamin B12 deficiency and hypothyroidism are reversed with vitamin and hormone replacement. Although various vitamins and minerals such as biotin, calcium pantothenate, zinc, copper and selenium are being prescribed for premature greying hair, the results have not been promising.

Recent advances include addition of antioxidants such as Vitamins C and E in shampoos. However, their efficacy has been questioned due to short contact period. Green tea extract, selenium, copper, phytoestrogens, and melatonin are being studied as attractive topical anti-ageing compounds.

Recombinant human growth hormone has resulted in improved hair thickness, growth and even darkening of hair.

Plucking of grey hair is an option for individuals with less than 10 per cent affected scalp hair.

Another option is hair colourants. The advantage of natural hair dyes is that they could be hypoallergenic and nontoxic. There is a risk of damage to the hair shaft due to oxidation from permanent hair dyes. Temporary hair dyes do not penetrate the cuticle and wash out with shampooing. Hair dyes not only help camouflage but also protect grey hair from photo damage.

Dr Asok Cheriyan is specialist diabetologist at Al Waha Clinic Diabetes Centre, Dubai. Got a problem? Our fantastic panel of renowned experts is available to answer all your questions related to fashion, well-being, nutrition, finance and hypnotherapy. Email your queries to friday@gulfnews.com.

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