Goin' Gray


Last Thursday I went to see Tim Gunn (host of Project Runway) speak at Eisenhower auditorium. Mr. Gunn has a very iconic look to him with combed back silvery hair. I was greatly surprised when he announced that he was 59 years old... I guess I had assumed that he was older than that because my own father, who will be turning 60 in about a month, still has a full head of dark brown hair. Thus, I found myself wondering what are the causes gray hair and at what age an individual starts to go gray?

I've heard all my life that stress causes hair to go gray and I have found that be a general commonplace for most people. It's really easy to believe when you look at a picture of President Obama in 2008 before he took office and then a picture in 2012 as the end of his first term comes to a close.


There's a lot more gray there! But is stress really the culprit behind those gray hairs that pop up on our heads later (0r earlier) in life?

According to an article on Web MD, stress is not a proven cause of gray hair. I found similar conclusions in other articles I read including one on The Scientific American.com which notes that no clear link between stress and gray hair has been found. While stress is not the leading cause of graying hair it can possibly speed up the process by 5 to 10 years according to this same article.

So if stress is not a big cause of gray hair... what is?

After doing some more research, I found that there are in fact several factors in the graying process that also help determine what age you go gray at. According to an MSNBC article, as we age, the body produces less and less catalase which is the enzyme responsible for breaking down the naturally occurring hydrogen peroxide in the body. Because of this, there is a buildup of hydrogen peroxide which interferes with the body's production of the melanin which is the pigment that gives our hair and skin color. So when melanin is not adequately produced, hair starts to turn gray.
There are many factors that determine at what age one's hair turns gray. Each article that I read said that the age at which our hair goes gray is largely determined by our genes. According to the Web MD article, there are several genetic conditions that can cause premature graying. Two examples are Werner Syndrome which is a rare condition that causes premature aging and Alopecia Areata which causes all of the colored hair to fall out leaving only non-pigmented hair behind.

Other factors that play a role in determining at what age people will go gray are race and gender. According to the article from MSNBC and the Web MD article, Caucasians go gray earlier than Asians and African-Americans. It is also important to note that men generally start going gray at an earlier age than women.

Well there you have it. If you've started to notice a few gray hairs here and there (even if you're only in your early twenties) hopefully I've given you a bit of an insight of why that may be happening!


The Scientific American




Though it may not be the sole cause, I do think that stress can result in the graying of your hair. You noted the example of Barak Obama's hair. Besides his case, there is a long pattern of presidents who entered the presidency with a full head of dark hair and left grayed. This would make perfect sense if stress is the cause of graying as being the president is a high-pressure job that is bound to create a great deal of stress. If you don't believe that there is at least a correlation between stress and graying, take a look at this site that has before and after pictures of various presidents. Aging is undeniably apparent, especially on their heads.
Link: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2010/08/12/presidential-pictures-before-and-after/

My parents always complain about their hair getting gray. They are always confused as to how their hair is gray and their friends hair isn't. My dad, who now has a full head of gray hair, once considered dying his hair back to black, which I was very much against because he would just look flat out weird. After reading your article I decided to look for another article suggesting why peoples hair turns gray as they age and what other causes it may have. I found this article (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/10/health/10well.html?_r=0) on the New York Times website. They also use President Obama as an example that stress causing hair to gray. But they say a more likely cause is genetics and that its because of heredity. The article actually splits it up by race, saying that white people are the first to get gray hair while Africans are the last like you said above. The article does say that gray hair has more to do with genetics and not much to do with premature aging caused by stress. It seems that most studies have found similar results which would cause me to believe that these findings are true.

This is a great topic to talk about. I always wondered why this happened. My dad's hair has gotten grayer since my 5 year old brother was born. I always joke that my brother is the reason for my dad's hair going grayer; however I realized this is not the case. My grandpa (dad's dad) is not even 70 yet and has a full head of gray hair. My uncle (dad's younger brother) already has gray hairs (more gray than my father). This link speaks about what else causes gray hairs http://www.disabled-world.com/health/dermatology/hair/gray-hair-causes.php. Also, after you made the president analogy to gray hair, I found this website called "Presidents Gone Gray" http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/03/07/presidents-gone-gray-slid_n_172672.html. Have you witnessed any of your family members going gray? Do you think it is genetic in your family.

I found this article very interesting because I always assumed that grey hair was always a result of stress. While researching more about grey hair I came across the myth of how when you pull out one grey hair, 3 more grow in. According to an articlethat examined facts vs. myths, they said that this myth was 100% false. According to this website, pulling out one grey hair, will only result in a single grey hair molecule forming, thus, resulting in just one new grey hair. All of these years we have been believing that pulling out a grey hair results in 3 more growing, is a misconception given by our eyes.

I do agree that stress does have some sort of affect on what age you go gray at and that the presidents are the best example. However, also think about the fact that most of the presidents are either at the age that they normally would start to go gray anyway or are already beyond that age when they take office. I think this process, like the science tells us, is controlled by our genes, for the presidents as well. I definitely think that stress can speed up the process. The one article that is liked in my blog post says that stress can change the age of graying by several years in some cases.

My mom has said for the longest time that my dad went gray very early on because of stress from his job. I'm not entirely sure if that is true, because I don't remember when the transition from non-gray to gray happened. However, even though you say grayness is not caused by stress, I still think, whether scientifically proven or not, it definitely does. I agree with the first common who said that stress advances graying and aging. We know that stress takes a physical toll on a person's body, and I certainly believe that can extend to your hair. This article states that while graying simply written in our genes, stress can certainly contribute to it. I think there is just too much evidence to say that a person's hair does not turn gray under pressure. And if it doesn't? Well then they're one of the lucky ones.

I'm very surprised to learn that stress is not the main cause of hair going gray. I always just assumed it was, because as you get older the stress catches up with you. President Obama is a great example of this and the picture you use really emphasizes what four years of one of the most stressful jobs can do to you. Even though four years is a long time, he looks like he has aged incredibly since he was first elected in 2008. Not only is his hair much grayer, he looks more wrinkly and more tired. I began to wonder if stress was a cause in physical appearance at all and if it had to do anything with his increase in wrinkles. Studies have shown that when the body is under a ton of stress for a long period of time, cortisol production increases. Among other things, when the production of this increases, it speeds up muscle and collagen loss. Collagen is what keeps our skin firm and less wrinkly. While there are tons of other factors to again, it can be concluded that stress definitely speeds this process up and directly effects how wrinkly people are at a younger age. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/face-it/201203/does-stress-cause-wrinkles-and-gray-hair-fact-or-fiction

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