It has been well established for a very long period of time, that our genetic structure is responsible for the color of our hair. But, recently, the scientists have managed to pick out the culprit that might be responsible for the graying of hair.
This gene, called IRF4 (Interferon Regulatory Factor 4), is not only responsible for determining hair color but has now also been linked to the loss of pigmentation in the hair with aging.
This breakthrough study was carried out by researchers at the University College, London (ULC) and was published in the journal Nature Communications.
In this study, samples of over 6,500 people were taken from Latin American men and women, having European, Native American, and African ancestry. These people belonged from Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Colombia, and Peru. Genome analysis based on their DNA samples helped them identify that IRF4, which was once associated with hair color to identify gray hair, can now also be used to control graying. This is because this gene is now linked with melanin pigment production.
Hence, apart from genetics, a major factor influencing graying hair is the role of a pigment. This pigment, called melanin, is produced by cells called melanocytes.
This pigment is known to impart color to our skin and hair. With aging, our cells produce less and less melanin, which causes graying of hair. Hence, Graying of hair is not only determined by genetics but also the amount of melanin pigment produced by our pigment cells- melanocytes.
The ratio of salt and pepper in our hair and the rate at which the graying happens varies from person to person, as each individual has a different genetic structure. People start developing gray hair as soon as their hair follicles run out of the melanin pigment which gives the hair its natural color.
But, genes are not the only factor for graying hair. About 70% of gray hair is caused due to environmental influences, including factors like sun exposure and stress. Moreover, habits like smoking and some vitamin deficiencies play a key role in premature graying of hair.
This study also succeeded in finding out the genes responsible for hair texture (straight or curly) as well as genes responsible for the thickness of beard and eyebrows, including unibrow.
The lead author of this study was Kaustubh Adhikari, from the University College London. He pinpointed to the fact that scientists were already aware of the genes involved in hair color and balding, but through this study, they have managed to find out genes responsible for graying for the very first time, as well as other genes that influence hair texture and density.
This study has a great potential, especially in the field of forensic medicine, apart from the obvious- application in the cosmetic industry to prevent or slow down the graying of hair.
This news gives a new ray of hope to those who are unable to embrace their grays and are struggling with hair dye. Although it is still important that people who are experiencing premature graying must keep their health in check and watch out for thyroid issues or vitamin deficiencies.
And people whose hair has already turned gray, it’s important to take care of your less-pigmented hair to prevent it from becoming dry and brittle with age.