Children and Gray Hair

Children and Gray Hair
Q:
Children and Gray Hair

My 4-year-old son has had scattered gray hairs for about two years. Does he have a vitamin deficiency? Does this mean he will be prematurely gray?
Debbie O’Leary – Indiana University – Bloomington, Indiana

A:

Dr. Greene’s Answer:

Hair color is produced by tiny cells called melanocytes that live within the hair follicles. In the course of a lifetime, the activity of the melanocytes in each follicle begins to wane, resulting in gray hairs. Each individual’s melanocyte-clock is different, but in Caucasians this reduction of melanocyte activity usually occurs earlier than in other groups. If gray hairs appear in childhood, this is called premature graying, or canities (pronounced kah-nish’-eez).

The appearance of gray hairs may be the result of a child’s genetically determined maturational schedule. If so, it is likely (but not certain) that others in the family tree would have followed a similar schedule. If these others had scattered gray hairs in childhood, but did not progress to a full head of gray hair until later, then it is likely that your son would follow the same pattern. Gray hair can also accompany a number of uncommon familial syndromes, including neurofibromatosis and tuberous sclerosis.

Several conditions can alter a child’s preset melanocyte-clock. If these conditions are present for a short time, a few scattered gray hairs may be the result; if they persist, the graying is likely to progress.

The most common of these is vitamin B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12, or cobalamin, is present widely in foods from animal sources. Dietary deficiency is difficult to achieve, unless a person is eating a strict vegan diet. Breast-fed infants whose mothers have B12 deficiency can also develop a transient deficiency. A lack of vitamin B12 can occur even in the face of adequate B12 intake. The body’s ability to absorb and use B12 can be hampered by surgery involving the stomach or small bowel, diseases affecting the small bowel (e.g. regional enteritis, necrotizing enterocolitis, tuberculosis, diverticulosis, or fish tapeworms), or a congenital lack of the molecules needed to absorb B12 (intrinsic factor or Transcobalamin I, II, or III). A simple blood test can diagnose current vitamin B12 deficiency. If your son’s gray hair resulted from a prior deficiency that has resolved, it will probably not be detectable by a current blood test; however, the graying will not progress in this case.

Some anemias — the megaloblastic ones (including the anemia caused by B12 deficiency) — can produce gray hairs as an early sign. A simple blood test detects current anemia. As in the case of B12 deficiency, previous anemia is not easy to detect, but will not continue to affect your son’s melanocytes.

Several thyroid disorders, particularly hyperthyroidism, reduce melanocyte activity while they are present. Disorders of skin pigmentation, such as vitiligo (which follows the destruction of melanocytes in the skin), can also result in a loss of hair pigmentation. A rare entity called Vogt-Koyanagi syndrome occurs in some children following a viral illness. In an attempt to fight the virus, the body makes antibodies that, unfortunately, also attack the melanocytes.

So, Debbie, it is possible that your son has a vitamin deficiency. It is also possible that the gray hairs are a visible sign of an important internal process. Gray hair in a child should be investigated. When I see a child with gray hairs in the office, I look to three sources to try to determine the underlying cause. First, I find out what I can about the family history. Next, I perform a thorough physical examination looking for helpful clues. Finally, I obtain three laboratory tests: a vitamin B12 level, a complete blood count (CBC), and a thyroid function panel.

Even if we are unable to identify any cause other than his own internal melanocyte-clock, you can readily mask the graying if desired. Although a number of effective chemical rinses and dyes are available, there has been some evidence that their use in children may contribute to later skin cancers. This risk is avoided with vegetable dyes.

Reviewed by: Khanh-Van Le-Bucklin, Rebecca Hicks
Last reviewed: March 02, 2008
Dr. Alan Greene

Article written by

Dr. Greene is the founder of DrGreene.com (cited by the AMA as “the pioneer physician Web site”), a practicing pediatrician, father of four, & author of Raising Baby Green & Feeding Baby Green. He appears frequently in the media including such venues as the The New York Times, the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, & the Dr. Oz Show.

 

Comments

  • Muhammad Zubair

    dear sir
    please tell me the food which contain vitamin b12 because my son have quantity 02 hair with white color and i am very worry about it may increase in number of white hair with the passing of time please……………suggest some good advice thanks
    Regard: Muhammad zubair from Pakistan

  • Alexander Terrazas

    should I worry my son is 7 and i found 1 white hair.. he is a very, very picky eater and only eats certain foods so he might have a vitamin deficiency. Will giving him vitamins solve this problem or should i get a blood exam? PLEASE HELP (worried mother)

  • Pamela Mariel Mauna

    i was born with white hairs gentically by my father and i want to know is there any way that i can get rid of them without dying my hair?

  • Stephanie

    Im worried about my Two year old in which I found grey hair in his head and one on his eyelash. I have a Dr apt set up for later in the month but i have reason to think he might have a bigger issue. He been have the loose stools like his body isn’t processing his food right. Might even be allergic to dairy. He’s also delayed in speech for almost a three year old. Doesn’t count, say ABC’s, nor speaks in sentences of any kind no matter how hard I try. I dont know whats wrong with him but I feel like its all related some how.

    • Amit Tamakuwala

      For delayed speech, you should consider a hearing test right away.

    • Juleah Beth Weikel

      Please take him to a pediatric gastro doctor ASAP. Get him tested for Celiac disease, request the genetic panel as well as the standard blood test. My autistic son became highly verbal after discovering that he has Celiac disease and changing his diet. I was misdiagnosed until 32 because all tests came back negative including biopsy, however my genetic came back positive and I was diagnosed after my son was. Your son very much sounds like he has all of the symptoms of Celiac. Also take him to your local Regional center for autism support and diagnostic testing.

  • Raj Vijay

    dear sir,

    i am 17 years old. my friends plucked a grey hair from backside. As i read all your report i came to know that it is not about the vitamin deficiency i am worrying about. My father used to say that he saw grey hair on his head when he was 30 years old.COULD LIVESTYLE AFFECT IT?

  • swapna nath

    my two years old son has two grey hairs on his head .i too have lots of grey hairs since 15 years of age.plz help.

  • Jayne Ives

    Hi, my son is six and has autism, he has just recently had a clump of hair turn white! With little white highlights also! He is a strange but lovely little boy!! Animals flock to him and his hearing is amazing to say the least x he can hear word perfect underwater, with external noises! Erm.. Getting to the point, should I be worried?

    • Juleah Beth Weikel

      He may have vitiligo.. My 9 year old has autism and celiac disease, I have Celiac and Lupus (mom) and most of the boys in our family have vitiligo including my Dad. The point is that auto immune issues and gut issues along with autism seem to have a strong connection. One of my brothers was born with grey hair and my other brothers have patches of white where the vitiligo is present. Hope that helps.

  • JAGANNATH DAS

    My 2 year old son has had scattered
    white hairs for about born . Does he have a vitamin deficiency ? Does
    this mean he will be prematurely white ?

    Jagannath Das

    Kolkata,India

  • omar mohamed

    hi I’m 13 years old and i am really starting to worry about my grey hair . Is there anything else i can do instead of dying my hair every more please if you know anything please tell me i really need to know because people have been taking the mik out of me and its really annoying please tell me thanks Omar Mohamed i have been trying to find a solution for this
    Omar Mohamed [email protected]

  • rell

    I am a child tween 12 and I found gray hair in school then went home and found more

  • Thara

    Hello Doctor, One of my friend’s son has complete silvery / grey hair by birth. Is there something we can do about this? The family is worried.

  • christy

    My daughter is 10 yrs old and she has had white & grey hairs since she was about 6 yrs old. I have asked doctors and no one has been able to tell me why . But its nice to know , in a way, that it has to do with her hypothyroidism.

  • http://DrGreene.com/ Cheryl Greene

    Hello Everyone!

    Such great questions.

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  • Swadha Srivastava

    Hi. I am swadha and I am 13 year old . I started finding grey hair from six months. Is there anything I can do for me? Please tell me .

  • Juleah Beth Weikel

    You should absolutely get him to a gastro doc right away. Have him checked for Celiac disease, request the genetic panel as well as the regular initial blood test.