What early gray hair can tell you about your health


Genetics, stress and bad luck can all be causes of going gray at a young age.

In most cases, it is nothing to worry about, and given the fact silver is ‘in’ at the moment, some people may enjoy their new look.

But doctors warn that in some cases, a sudden burst of gray or white could be a sign of underlying health issues. 

Some of these could be due to a simple vitamin deficiency, which can be reversed by just getting more sun. But in rarer cases, gray hairs – particularly before middle age – could be a sign of heart disease, autoimmune disorders or even brain tumors.

While gray hair is a natural part of the aging process, in some cases it could be a sign that a person is suffering from a potentially devastating disease. These include heart or brain tumors, vitiligo or a severe nutrient deficiency (file photo)

Vitamin D Deficiency 

Sometimes the key to keeping your color is just getting more sunshine.

Vitamin D, a nutrient the skin absorbs through sunlight, plays a key role in the development of melanocytes

In a 2013 study, an Indian research team found that teenagers suffering from a vitamin D deficiency were more likely to have gray hairs.

While this can be a relief to some – as it means the hair pigment could return if the person gets more of the vitamin – it also signals a potentially dangerous deficiency. 

Vitamin D is key to the body’s processing of calcium – which is needed for a person’s bone health.

Conditions such as osteoporosis, when bone density, strength or structure weakens, can result from a vitamin D deficiency.

The lack of enough sun can also lead to fatigue, unhappiness, muscle aches, weakness and other symptoms.

In some cases, hair follicles will begin to break and fall off when a person does not have enough vitamin D. 

Brain tumors

Tuberous sclerosis complex is another inheritable disorder that causes benign tumors to form on the brain, spine, eyes, lungs, heart and kidney.

The inheritable disease affects around one in every 6,000 children born in America.

In one in five of these cases, a baby born with the disease will suffer from poliosis – a white patch in the hair that does not match the rest of the head.

This condition is caused by a lack of melanin in the hair – or pigments produced by melanocytes responsible for coloring in many living organisms.

The white patch is a mild symptom, but it could signal a deeper problem in the future.

Tuberous Sclerosis tumors grow around the body and can interfere with the body’s ability to function.

Growth of the tumors around the brain can lead to seizures as it can harm brain activity.

Previous research has also linked the tumors to an increased risk of developing autism or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

If the tumors form on the eye, they can cause vision problems, and heart and lung tumors can cause symptoms such as shortness of breath and an irregular heartbeat.

While these cases will usually be detected in childhood, some are not inherited and develop later in life.

These occur via a random genetic error that occurs in some people.

Von Recklinghausen’s disease 

Neurofibromatosis Type 1, known by doctors as NF-1 or Von Recklinghausen’s disease, is a disease that causes tumors to grow along a person’s nerves.

The disease is inherited genetically and affects one out of every 3,000 people.

One of the distinct signs of the disease is the discoloration of hair it can come with, which can be especially jarring in young children that develop it.

Because people are usually born with the disease, its symptoms can begin to appear at a young age. 

Korean researchers published a report in 2014 of a five-year-old boy suffering from NF-1 who began to develop white hair just above his forehead.

They say this occurred because piebaldism is a symptom of NF-1. Piebaldism is a condition with an absence of cells called melanocytes in the hair and skin.

These cells are responsible for the color of these organs.

It also explains some of the other symptoms of NF-1, such as discoloration of the skin.

Other symptoms include light brown patches around the skin, freckles under the arms or on the groin and small lumps forming under the skin.

The disease is considered to be mild, though its symptoms can often be shocking to sufferers. The tumors associated with it are benign and rarely will develop into cancer.


A well-known, fairly common condition, vitiligo does not only cause discoloration to the skin, but can also cause white patches to appear in the hair.

Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease, meaning it is caused by the immune system mistakenly attacking the body’s own natural cells.

In the case of this disease, the immune system believes melanocytes in the body are foreign. Without the melanocytes, the body will develop white patches around the skin.

Sometimes, the body will also begin to target melanocytes in the hair, causing the discoloration to spread to the hair.

Vitiligo occurs when the body's immune system reads melanocytes as a threat, attacking and killing the cells responsible for producing melanin. This leads to patches of white skin appearing around the body. In some cases, it can even lead gray hair. The disease strikes in young age (file photo)

Vitiligo occurs when the body’s immune system reads melanocytes as a threat, attacking and killing the cells responsible for producing melanin. This leads to patches of white skin appearing around the body. In some cases, it can even lead gray hair. The disease strikes in young age (file photo)

The disease affects around one percent of people in varying levels of severity. A small portion of these people will suffer vitiligo of the hair.

While some may try steroid creams, topical treatments and other medicines to treat vitiligo, experts are not sure if there are any cures to it.

In some cases, a person’s loss in pigment will continue to spread throughout their lives, while others may only suffer one small patch that never grows. 

The condition is mild and no other significant side effects are associated with the disease.