There is no scientific evidence that any diet, herb, supplement, or product can reduce or reverse gray hair, however, there are some underlying conditions that may result in premature gray and some ancient approaches you might be interested in.
It might help to first understand why we get gray hair. Hair color is produced by tiny hair pigment cells within our hair follicles called melanocytes. As we age, the activity of these melanocytes gradually declines until they stop making pigment. New hairs grown in without pigment, resulting in gray hair.
Each one of us has a genetically determined time when we will get gray hair. Although nothing can stop hair from turning gray, there are some conditions that can cause hair to gray earlier or more quickly than normal.
- Thyroid disorders. Conditions such as Grave's disease, Hashimoto's disease, hyperthyroidism, and hypothyroidism have been linked with premature gray hair.
- Vitamin B12 deficiency anemia. It can be due to a diet low in vitamin B12, which is found mainly in meat, eggs, and milk. It can also occur if the stomach can't absorb vitamin B12, due to surgery involving the stomach or small intestine (such as gastric bypass surgery), diseases that affect the small intestine, such as Crohn's disease, celiac disease, fish tapeworms, or small intestine bacterial overgrowth, or a lack of protein called intrinsic factor due to an autoimmune reaction or a genetic defect.
- Vitiligo. A condition in which your skin loses melanocytes, resulting in very light patches of skin and possibly premature gray hair.
- Early menopause
- Smoking. Cigarette smoking has been linked to premature gray hair.
Addressing these underlying conditions, in some cases, may help to prevent hair from going premature gray.
Hair, according to TCM, reflects the quality of blood and the strength of the kidneys. The kidneys and blood have a broader role in TCM than they do in Western physiology.
Foods that are thought to strengthen the blood and kidneys are:
- Hijiki seaweed
- Blackstrap molasses
- Black sesame seeds
Keep in mind though that consuming excessive amounts of these foods is not recommended. For example, excessive amounts of iodine (from seaweed) may increase the risk of developing thyroid problems, which itself is a cause of premature gray hair.
Foods to avoid, according to TCM, are excessive meat, dairy, and salt
Many commercial products that claim to restore hair's natural color contain herbs that are used in TCM to strengthen the kidneys and blood. The most popular is a herb called He Shou Wu, also called Polygonum multiflorum or Fo-Ti.
The name He Shou Wu means "black-haired Mr. He" in Chinese. This name refers to a legend of an older villager named Mr. He who took this herb and restored his black hair, youthful appearance and vitality.
He Shou Wu isn't right for everyone with grey hair, say TCM practitioners, which is why a consultation is recommended. If used improperly, it is thought to lead to emotional ailments such as anger or depression. Learn more by reading my article onaml He Shou Wu / Fo-Ti.
In Ayurveda, hair is associated with an imbalance in the pitta constitutional type. An imbalance in the vata constitutional type, aggravated by stress, is also associated with premature greying.
A herb that is used in Ayurveda for gray hair is called bringaraja, translated as "king of the hair". It is taken by mouth to support the liver and kidney energies, however, there aren't any studies on the safety or effectiveness of this herb. It is also an ingredient in Ayurvedic hair oils and tonics, which are applied topically to the scalp.
Another popular Ayurvedic herb is called amla. It is used for inflammatory conditions, to strengthen eyes, and to address prematurely gray hair.