Premature graying is common for many people, especially Caucasians, and can occur at any point in a person's life. The uncommon occurrence of gray hair in children is called canities and is often the result of a genetic inheritance. However, there are serious disorders that can influence gray hair growth in children. Seek a doctor's help to properly diagnose the cause of gray hair development in children.
How Hair Turns Gray
Melanocytes are small cells that reside in hair follicles and are responsible for producing hair color. Gray hairs occur when the melanocytes in a hair follicle become inactive. This occurs gradually over the course of a person's life, and the melanocyte "lifespan" can vary significantly from person to person. However, Caucasians typically experience a reduction in melanocyte activity and an onset of gray hairs earlier than others.
Scattered gray hairs in children are often the result of genetic inheritance. When this is the case, it is common for other family members to have experienced scattered gray hairs at a similar time in their childhood. Usually, the child will follow a similar pattern of graying as the relative.
Vitamin B-12 deficiency can have a negative effect on the activity of melanocytes. Sometimes, the body simply lacks the ability to absorb B-12 vitamins properly. This can result from stomach or bowel surgery, bowel diseases such as regional enteritis, tuberculosis, diverticulosis or necrotizing enterocolitis. Transcobalamin can also result in insufficient B-12-absorbing molecules. B-12 deficiencies can occur from a strict vegan diet or a diet that lacks food from animal sources. Infants may develop a B-12 deficiency during breastfeeding if the mother has a B-12 deficiency. The cause of the B-12 deficiency can usually be diagnosed with a simple blood test.
Sometimes children lack melanocytes or other necessary pigment cells at birth, which results in a patch of gray hair. Melanocyte activity can also be reduced by many diseases and disorders. Neurofibromatosis, tuberous sclerosis, certain anemias, hyperthyroidism and other thyroid disorders, alopecia areata, vitiligo and skin-pigmentation disorders, and the bodies reaction to the Vogt-Koyanagi syndrome can all trigger an onset of premature graying in children.
Unfortunately, there are no treatments that will reverse a child's gray hairs to their original color, except for the use of hair dye to temporarily alter the hair color. If premature graying is the result of a disorder or vitamin deficiency, treating the condition will stop the development of more gray hairs.