One shade of grey: The white on your head could mean that you are sick


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Countless times, colleagues at work – and friends – have come up to me and blurted: “What! You have grey hair!” And since I subscribe to the tenets of Gandhi’s utopian wishes, and Mandela’s signature ubuntu lifestyle, I would smile, cajole, and say: “I believe so… I’ve had ‘em since my high school days.” Goodness! You have seen grey hair on my head. Now, unless your eyes have also grown grey, you shouldn’t be asking if what they can see is actually true. It is like me asking right now, “Gosh! Is that The Nairobian you are reading?”

“You will be rich,” some would say. Truth is, those of my ilk, with silky, one-shed-of-grey hair strands are not being mysteriously primed for the high life. Our chances of owning some property in Rongai aren’t any different from those of the regular Kenyan walking the streets of Nairobi.

If superstition could buy time, then our forefathers would be very much alive; wouldn’t you agree? In April 2015, a team of researchers published findings in the journal Science, postulating that grey hair is a sign that cells from which the hair strands grow are aging and can no longer produce melanin, the pigment for the skin, eye and hair.

Dr Jeffrey Benabio, a dermatologist at Kaiser Permanente in San Diego, is quoted by Time saying: “Hair goes grey when colour-producing cells stop producing pigment.” However, there are unique instances where naturally occurring hydrogen peroxide can also build up in the hair (be careful not to interpret this as air). For those green in chemistry, hydrogen peroxide is the corrosive chemical found in hair bleaching solutions.

But, according to Dr Lilian Mbau of AMREF, greying while still young may have a lot to do with genetics than naturally occurring hydrogen peroxide. “If in your lineage there are people who had grey hair at an early age, you may as well be genetically primed for premature greying,” she points out.

Never, in my life, have I ever thought that the grey in my hair could be a pointer to a health problem. It turns out, according to the online portal WebMD, that premature greying may be a sign of a vitamin B-12 deficiency or problems with your pituitary or thyroid gland. Such an occurrence can only be discovered through blood tests. It is however highly unlikely that such a deficiency manifests itself as grey hair; the symptoms should feature other physical struggles.

And if it is true that your greying is due to nutrient deficiencies, treatment should immediately reverse it, says Benabio.

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In a majority of cases, going grey, by itself, does not mean you have a medical problem. It could be a sign that specific cells in specific hair follicles have aged, but not you. You are still as virile as your age would indicate. You won’t however be rich – unless you put in the necessary hard work.


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