What is premature greying?
Premature greying is when a person’s hair starts growing grey in their 20’s or 30’s. It is when the cells that produce the colour of hair, melanocytes, stop producing pigment. Genes are said to play a large role in whether or not you have a predisposition to going grey early. However, other factors involved are dietary and lifestyle habits. Following a healthy diet and lifestyle lower your chances of premature greying.
Although there are no definite diseases or illness related to premature greying, according to traditional Chinese medicine, the quality of your hair is linked to the quality of your blood and the energy of the kidneys.
When researching this topic, it was interesting to note the similarities and differences between traditional Chinese medicine and western / orthodox medicine in relation to greying of hair. Some were not obvious similarities, but they linked up. For example in orthodox medication there has been research done which shows the link between premature greying and lower bone density later in life. From a traditional Chinese medicine point of view premature greying is a sign of congestion alone the kidney bladder meridian, bone health is related to this meridian.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine the kidneys dominate growth and development. If someone has strong ‘kidney energy’, they will have strong, vibrant and healthy hair with few grey hairs when they are older. Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners recommend a diet rich in essential fatty acids, proteins and minerals. 
What is the cause of premature greying?
Basically, the main cause of premature greying is due to an unhealthy lifestyle. Generally it is because there is a lack of certain nutrients and an increased amount of toxins in the body. The causes of premature greying are not limited to specific problems. One common cause is a lack of vitamins and / or minerals. A lack of the following vitamins may cause premature greying: Vitamin B12, vitamin C and vitamin E. A lack of the minerals zinc, copper and iodine are related greying of hair. These minerals are essential for melanin (which gives hair its pigment) production.
Problems with the pituitary gland or thyroid gland can also be a cause of premature greying.
Free radicals in the body cause oxidative stress, which is ‘an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the ability of the body to counteract or detoxify their harmful effects through neutralization by antioxidants’. The increase in free radicals, and thus oxidative stress speeds up the aging process, including the decreasing the production of pigment of the melanin cell.
Smoking is one of the causes of increased free radicals in the body.
Eating ‘junk food’ or ‘dead food’ lacking antioxidants to counteract oxidative stress is also one of the causes. Junk foods, especially if fried, contain a lot of free radicals. These foods also contain AGE’s: Advanced Glycation Endproducts, which speed up the aging process, including greying. 
Junk food doesn’t contain enzymes necessary for the digestion of food; therefore, the body needs to use its own enzymes to break down the food. The enzymes that the body has are limited. When these enzymes run out the body ages quicker. This happens because chemical reactions in the body occur at a slower rate. Without enzymes the nutrients we take in cannot be utilised properly.
From a Chinese medicine point of view premature greying happens because there is congestion in the kidney / bladder meridian. This relates to an imbalance of minerals in the intracellular fluid, caused by insufficient vitamins, minerals and enzyme availability.
How to prevent premature greying
Antioxidants in the diet are important for preventing greying of hair. Antioxidants help fight against free-radical and slow the aging process. It helps the cells in our bodies remain healthy.
Enzymes are important for utilisation of vitamins and minerals and all other cellular activity. Enzymes are only found in raw food. Therefore it is important that we include raw fruits and vegetables in our diets.
For the treatment of greying hair it is important to get sufficient vitamins, minerals and enzyme for intracellular fluid balance.
The following vitamins are important for the prevention and reversal of greying hair:
- Vitamin B12 – required for DNA synthesis, new red blood cell production, healthy nervous system and skin. It is found in mostly animal products; some of the best sources include liver, oily fish, egg yolk, lamb and beef.
- Vitamin C – antioxidant, bone health, capillaries, healing, synthesis of steroid hormones and absorption. It is found in many fresh fruits and vegetables including peppers, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, strawberries, citrus fruits, parsley and oysters.
- Vitamin E – antioxidant, heart and circulation, sex hormone regulator, growth. It is found in sunflower seeds, almonds, pecan nuts, olive oil, butter, spinach, salmon, brown rice.
The minerals: zinc, iodine and copper are vital for the synthesis of melanin. They also have other properties vital for healthy cells.
- Zinc – antioxidant, anticarcinogenic, immune system regulator, antiviral, DNA and RNA synthesis, enzyme activator, skin, hair, fertility and reproductive health. It is found in ginger, red meat, nuts, dried beans, liver, egg yolk, rye, oats, chicken, sardines, buckwheat, oily fish and white fish.
- Iodine – synthesis of the thyroid hormone. It is found in seaweed, sea salt, kelp, haddock, salmon, sardines, pineapple, eggs, lettuce and spinach.
- Copper – synthesis of enzymes required for iron absorption, red blood cell formation, maintenance of skin, bone and nerve formation, collagen synthesis. It is found in oysters, nuts, shellfish, dried beans, split peas, buckwheat, liver and lamb.
Omega essential fatty acids; found in fish liver oils, oily fish, flaxseed oil and some nuts, are also essential for healthy hair.
A common herb used in traditional Chinese medicine is ginseng. It improves blood circulation and promote cell metabolism. Other herbs are also used, but they are lesser known, but you will probably be able to get them if you go to a Doctor of Chinese medicine.
Tissue salt recommendations: No.3 (Calc Sulph) – a blood and tissue cleanser and No. 7 (Kali Sulph) – for pigmentation, brittle nails and thinning hair.
If you have a lot of stress and anxiety, it is a good idea to learn how to cope with and manage it. Stress and anxiety are one of the factors involved in greying hair. It depletes a lot of the vitamins and minerals, especially B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E and zinc.
What are the other symptoms you may experience if you have an imbalance in the kidney / bladder meridian?
Other symptoms that one can acquire because of congestion of the kidney / bladder meridian are also related to deficiencies in the above mentioned minerals. For example, zinc is good for sexual vitality. An imbalance in the kidney / bladder meridian can cause sexual problems or dysfunction. It can also be due to an imbalance of the minerals in the intracellular fluid, for example high blood pressure because of an imbalance of the minerals sodium and potassium or headaches commonly caused by magnesium deficiency. Magnesium and other minerals are also good for heart health. The health of the heart declines when there are problems along the kidney / bladder meridian.
Other signs of congestion vary from hair loss to crown headaches, backache and knee pain.
The pictures below show the pathways and symptoms of congestion on the kidney and bladder meridians. These meridians are related to the emotion of fear and anxiety. The bodily tissues that are affected by this meridian are the bones and teeth, as well as the quality of head hair. The ears are the related sense organ. The body fluid related is spittle around the teeth (think of nervous public speaking, needing the bathroom and have a dry mouth). The flavour that people may crave or despise when they have an imbalance is salty.
How can reflexology help?
Reflexology always helps to achieve balance in the body. Stimulation of the reflex points and the meridians will help balance the energy and enable the body to heal itself. It will stimulate the organs to work more efficiently and help to disperse any congestion along the meridian pathways. Good nutrition is highly advisable to help support the reflexology sessions and provide more beneficial energy / nutrients to the body.
A reflexologist will also be able to give you dietary and lifestyle advice according to your individual needs and to fit your lifestyle.
 Jeffrey Benabio, MD, a dermatologist at Kaiser Permanente in San Diego
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