What Is White Hair a Sign of Deficiency in?

Spotting a white hair glinting in your normally brown, black, blonde or red hair can be an upsetting experience, especially if you're seeing one for the first time. Although some nutrition and herbal aficionados routinely prescribe certain vitamins and herbs to "correct" or reverse emerging white hair, there's not currently enough scientific research available to validate those claims. Genetics are a big part of the explanation for white hair appearing; it's not necessarily a sign of any type of deficiency.

older woman going gray brushes and inspects her hair in the mirror
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All of your hair is initially white, according to Everyday Mysteries, a Library of Congress site. Two types of pigment, called eumelanin and phaeomelanin, begin formulating before you're born and together create the variations of light and dark pigments that together constitute your hair color. Pigments are injected into strands of your hair during the growth cycle, but this process slows as you get older. Reduced melanin leads to gray hair, or a mix of white and colored hair strands. White hair occurs when melanin becomes completely absent from the hair shaft. Although healthy nutrition often leads to healthy hair, it is time, not deficiencies, that account for melanin reduction or absence.

Premature Occurrences

The roots of your hair sometimes appear pale or white because some strands have finished their growing cycles, including receiving melanin injections, and are ready to shed by falling out. Your hair is continuously growing and shedding on different cycles. The slowing of melanin directly corresponds to your genes, according to Everyday Mysteries. Other internal factors related to hair pigmentation include hormones and age. External factors that could lead to premature occurrences of gray or white hair include climate, pollutants, toxins or exposure to chemicals. Nutritional deficiencies aren't included on that list.

White Overnight

People sometimes attribute sudden occurrences of white hair to tragic or highly stressful events. This theory hasn't yet been validated by scientific study. It's possible that this occurrence can be caused by a condition known as alopecia areata, when dark hairs suddenly fall out and leave behind only white strands, according to David Bank, director of the New York-based Center for Dermatology, Cosmetic and Laser Surgery, in a June 2006 FOX News article. Alopecia areata, an autoimmune condition, is not associated with nutritional deficiencies.

Popular Theories

If you'd like to address white hairs without visiting your hairdresser for an all-over dye job, some alternative remedies exist. Advocates of the Chinese herb He Shou Wu claim it prevents and reverses graying hair, although in some users this leads to negative consequences including liver problems, jaundice and hepatitis, according to the Institute for Traditional Medicine. Para-aminobenzoic acid, also known as PABA, may stimulate both hair growth and color, according to the Huntington College of Health Sciences. Copper deficiencies might be another explanation for white hair, according to natural therapist and toxicologist Walter Last in his article, "Copper Salicylate." Each of these claims requires further scientific examination, however. Consult your physician before introducing nutritional changes to your diet.

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