Is grey hair a physical indicator of larger health issues?

A recent Washington Post article put pen to paper what we at Arey have been hypothesizing and researching: that grey hair could be a physical sign from the body of health issues from lack of nutrients, to possibly even heart disease. 

Hair color relies on specialized stem cells called melanocyte stem cells which stay on the base of the hair follicle and produce pigment. Since stem cells directly impact hair color, studying grey hair could provide insights into why stem cells age and point to clues about the inner workings of other stem cells in the body. 

Could grey hair be an indicator for disease in the future? 

Scientists and researchers have had to defend studying this 'cosmetic characteristic' but one of the main reasons it is so interesting is that it is visible and obvious - which doesn't require invasive surgery to study. 

We are so intrigued by the 2018 mouse study by "Team Hair-Us" out of the University of Alabama under Melissa Harris. They found a connection between microphthalmia, a protein involved in gene expression important in managing pigment production, and the immune system suggesting that some people's hair may turn grey in response to serious illness or chronic stress

Ya-Chieh Hsu, associate professor of stem cell and regenerative biology at Harvard University studies the effect of stress on greying hair and found that stress stimulates the same nerves that trigger the 'fight-or-flight' response, which causes permanent damage to the pigment-producing cells in hair follicles. This then spikes norepinephrine, which raises our heartbeat and also tells melanocyte stem cells to accelerate activity and proliferate. This causes the cells to burst and leads to reduction of the stem cell reservoir so no more pigment-producing cells can be made and hair turns grey. 

Other stress hormones like adrenocorticotropic hormone can cause melanocyte stem cells to leave the hair follicle before it can produce melanocytes necessary for hair color. 

One of the first thing nearly everyone assumes is that grey hair is caused by genetics. Now that we know that is only a part of the story, the next question is always: then what causes the grey? We know smoking is a factor, and stress is a trigger, but diet is a huge factor, and the one we are focused on here at Arey because it is the element that is currently within our control, for now.