Gray hair is a natural part of the aging process, but have you ever wondered if there’s more to it than just growing older? As we get older, our hair follicles produce less melanin, the pigment responsible for hair color, leading to the gradual loss of color and the appearance of gray or white hair. However, what many people don’t realize is that gray hair can also be influenced by factors beyond aging, including thyroid health. If you live with a thyroid condition such as hypothyroidism or hypothyroidism and have already noticed the graying of your hair, you may be rightfully wondering if your thyroid condition may be responsible. Other causes of gray or white hair include vitiligo and alopecia areata, although these account for a minority of all cases of gray hair.
As discussed in a previous blog article, the thyroid affects many organs and tissues, including those of the integumentary system. How thyroid dysfunction can negatively affect hair growth by causing hair loss has also been highlighted in another article. In this article, we shift our perspective to the graying of hair, the role of thyroid dysfunction in this phenomenon, and how it can be managed.
Understanding the thyroid gland
Before we explore the connection between the thyroid and gray hair, it is essential to first understand the thyroid gland’s role in the body. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the neck, and it plays a vital role in regulating various bodily functions, including metabolism, energy production, and the growth and development of hair and skin.
The thyroid gland produces two primary hormones: thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). These hormones are crucial for the proper functioning of cells throughout the body, including those responsible for hair pigmentation.
Iron is a major component of hemoglobin, a protein in the red blood cells that takes oxygen from the lungs and carries it to all parts of the body. Iron also makes myoglobin, a heme protein that takes oxygen and stores it in the muscle tissues. Iron is stored in ferritin, a protein that then carries the iron to cells when needed. Ferritin is a valuable clinical tool when looking at iron deficiency as ferritin reflects how much available iron is being stored in the body. Your doctors may order a ferritin blood test to measure the amount of blood protein available to help store iron. The test will show whether there is too little or too much iron being stored in the body. Normal ferritin levels will range from 24 to 336 μg/L in men and 11 to 307 μg/L in women. Lower-than-normal results are a significant indicator of iron deficiency and anemia. Finally, iron is also important for healthy brain development, and growth in children.
The thyroid and hair pigmentation
Melanin is the pigment responsible for the color of your hair, skin, and eyes. Thyroid dysfunction can interfere with the production and distribution of melanin in hair follicles, resulting in a reduction in pigment and the appearance of gray or white hair.
Interestingly, while hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism tend to present opposite symptoms, they seem to have a similar effect on hair pigmentation. Early graying of hair can be linked to autoimmune thyroid disease, hypothyroidism, and hyperthyroidism.
Thyroid problems can affect the body’s ability to absorb essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals. In turn, deficiencies of vitamins such as vitamin B12 and vitamin D can contribute to hair problems such as premature hair graying.
Is it possible to reverse graying and restore your hair color?
The good news is that if the thyroid is the responsible for your gray hair, then your hair color may be restored when thyroid hormone levels return to normal. According to findings from a case report published in 2007 in the medical journal Actas Dermo-Sifiliográficas, treatment of severe hypothyroidism (myxedema coma) and iatrogenic hyperthyroidism can result in the the darkening of gray and white hairs. The researchers also pointed out that this change was effected likely due to the action of the thyroid hormone on follicular melanocytes. The follicular melanocytes are cells within hair follicles responsible for producing melanin pigments for our hair color.
It is, however, worth noting that hair color reversal is practically impossible if the cause of gray or white hair is genetic. In this case, the hair grays out progressively as the rate of melanin production by melanocytes reduces over time. Eventually, the hair becomes white once melanin production has ceased.
How to manage thyroid-related gray hair
If you suspect that your thyroid health is contributing to premature graying, it’s crucial to consult with your healthcare provider for medical advice best-suited to your particular situation. As mentioned earlier, the graying of your hair may, in fact, be due conditions other than your thyroid health in particular. However, in cases where the thyroid is actually responsible for premature gray hair, treating or managing the thyroid dysfunction, often involving medication and lifestyle changes to regulate hormone levels, can be an effective management approach.
Additionally, you can consider these general tips to help manage gray hair:
A well-balanced diet rich in essential nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, can promote healthy hair growth and prevent premature graying. Ensure you are getting enough iodine, selenium, and iron, which are essential for thyroid health. Before making any major decisions regarding diet changes, you should discuss with your healthcare provider some practical approaches for improving your diet.
- Stress Management
Chronic stress can accelerate the aging process, including the graying of hair. Practice stress-reduction techniques like meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises.
- Hair Care
Use hair care products that are gentle on your hair and avoid excessive heat styling. Consider using shampoos and conditioners designed to nourish and protect your hair. Regular trims can also help manage the appearance of gray hair.
- While genetics play a significant role in determining when your hair turns gray, there are various other factors at play, including thyroid health.
- Early detection and treatment of thyroid disorders can help prevent or slow down premature graying.
- While some health conditions such as thyroid dysfunction, stress or nutritional deficiencies may cause “premature” gray hair, it is essentially impossible to restore your natural hair color if your gray or white hair is due to natural aging or genetics.
- If you suspect thyroid issues might be causing your premature graying, you should consult with a healthcare professional who can diagnose and provide appropriate treatment.
- Proper thyroid management may not only address graying hair but also improve overall health and well-being.
- A balanced-diet, proper stress management, and hair care can be effective ways of managing the graying of hair.
- Remember, gray hair is a natural part of aging, but understanding the underlying causes can help manage it effectively.
Besides the graying of hair, there are many other symptoms associated with thyroid disorders. If you are looking for a better way to keep track of these symptoms, download the ThyForLife app today! What’s more, on the ThyForLife app, you get to interact with an anonymous community of others living with thyroid conditions, some of whom may share the same or similar experiences as you.