Graying hair? It could be in your genes, scientists claim

© Mike Blake
Scientists have detected a genetic factor that causes graying hair, a discovery that could pave the way for methods of slowing or hiding signs of aging.

Research, published in the Nature Communications journal, analyzed more than 6,000 Latin Americans on features of their scalp and facial hair, such as shape, color, graying, balding, beard thickness, presence of a monobrow and eyebrow thickness.

Subjects were chosen from a mixture of European, Native American and African ancestry, representing a “melting pot” that shows “a high genetic diversity and extensive variation in head hair appearance.”

“Hair plays a range of important functions, including thermal regulation, camouflage, sensory and social signaling, and the evolution of hair has been proposed to be influenced by both natural and sexual selection,” the research states.

Scientists say our hereditary genes are responsible for the way we look and how fast we age. This discovery can lead to further developments in controlling aging.

Melanin can determine a person’s actual age. It regulates natural hair color, skin and eye pigmentation. With age, melanocytes cells that sit in the roots of human hair stop producing the pigment and the hair goes gray.

Speaking to RT, lead researcher Dr Kaustubh Adhikari of University College London said: “All the genes are the components of the big machine. We have just discovered one graying gene.

“Many different genes work in tandem to produce this particular feature. We need to make further research and, if we have a better understanding, we may target specific components, such as a particular intermediate protein, with suitable drugs, which can then, for instance, delay or stop hair graying.”

Scientists behind the research believe the gene is not the only factor behind the graying of hair.

Dr Adhikari said: “This gene is not the main reason behind grey hair. The proportion of the feature that can be explained through genetics is only 30 percent, which means that around 70 percent of graying is caused by external factors, such as diet, environment, stress and so on.”