My hair started to grey when I was in my early 20s. By this time I had experimented so much on my hair, that I thought this greying was inevitable. I vaguely remembered reading something about how premature greying was genetic. My Mum had also begun greying although in her 30s. So I chalked my premature greying down to the effect of genetics and severe experimentation on hair .
Today I have much clearer answers, thanks to Ayurveda, about exactly why greying happens. Funnily, the answers in Allopathy and Western research continue to be vague and merely describe the symptoms without explaining what the actual cause behind premature greying is.
Western theories behind premature greying:
Damaged melanocytes are states as one cause of premature greying. Melanocytes provide both colour and regulate sebum for the hair. It is speculated that stress can cause this premature damage. Some other reasons for this melanocytes damage are improper nutrition, hair colouring, and excessive use of products, excessive use of the hair dryer and anaemia. Certain illness and treatments related to this like radiation and chemotherapy also are said to result in premature greying.
Malfunctioning of the thyroid gland is also cited as a cause for premature greying.
Given how much improper diet and stress is blamed in western science for premature greying, it is again surprising that there is no clear cut answer as to what this mythical right diet should be. This confusion is evident when we ask sufferers of premature greying what they eat.
Ayurveda on premature greying:
“Palitya (white hair) and Hariprabha(grey hair) is produced when the scalp is burned gradually by aggravated Pitta or aggravated Pitta with Vata dosha” – Charaka Samhita, Sutrasthana
The 3 doshas in the body:
We have spoken many times about the 3 doshas in the body: pitta, kapha and vata. Each dosha performs important functions in the body – everyone needs a healthy balance of all three doshas for good health and well being. Depending upon our individual nature, environment, geography, nature of parents, each of us has a unique mixture of the 3 doshas. – This unique mixture is termed our “prakriti” or our constitution.
When our doshas are in the right proportion for us, they are called samya or normal. When any of our doshas increase, it is called vriddhi or increase. As the sum of the 3 doshas always adds to the same number, when there is vriddhi of one dosha, another dosha decreases. This decrease is called ksaya. Depending upon whether this increase or decrease in doshas is alpa (mild), Madhya (moderate) or utkrishta (severe), Ayurveda advises therapies ranging from diet control, external application and medicines to bring your body back to a state of balance.
What does Pitta dosha control in the body?
Normal (prakrta) Pitta dosha helps nourish the body by performing the function of digestion and helping separate nutrients and nourishing parts of the food from waste products. Pitta dosha also produces heat and warmth through the body. It stimulates desire, produces hunger and thirst. The pitta dosha also determines the colour and complexion of our skin, and is responsible for our intellect, understanding, courage and our decisiveness and ability to get things done.
When we grey prematurely – a few signs that Pitta is out of balance:
As the Acharyas say, whenever Pitta is aggravated in the body, all the functions governed by Pitta go out of balance.
Pitta governs colour and complexion of skin and hair. So when Pitta is aggravated, we may find that our hair is turning grey / white prematurely. Similarly we may find an increase in Pitta-like symptoms on our skin. We may develop much greater sensitivity to the sun, have skin that quickly develops reddish, itchy or burning conditions, or develop frequent acne as well.
Pitta also governs digestion and our appetite. So we may find for example that our hunger, appetite and digestion is extra high – so no matter how much we eat we seem to digest it very quickly and crave more food. Or we could find that we often develop “Delhi belly” and our bowel movements are loose and liquid, signifying high Pitta in the body.
Pitta governs focus, clarity and our ability to manage anger. When Pitta is high we could find that we have anger management issues, literally and metaphysically erupt often, are irritable and are stressed or too attached to what we are doing and unable to see a different point of view.
Our Prakriti: Reason 1 for Pitta going out of balance
Our prakriti itself could be leaning towards a slightly high Pitta dosha – this is when we are called Pitta prakriti. When a Pitta prakriti eats pitta aggravating food, or puts herself into pitta aggravating situations, the pitta dosha in our body is used excessively, going out of balance.
If our basic nature is Pitta dominant, we must take care to keep ourselves in balance: to eat food that balances us and choose cooling, pitta balancing activities and behaviours.
Over exposure to the Sun: Reason 2 for Pitta going out of balance
Ayurveda considers the sun as the source of all Agni in the Universe. When we constantly expose ourselves to harsh sun, especially during mid day, the Agni in our body increases because of this constant sun exposure. IF we do not take adequate measures to cool ourselves down and remove this excess Agni, we could easily aggravate the Pitta dosha in our body.
Typically, many of us accumulate excess Agni if we go on a beach holiday where we spend long hours in the open sun. A reddish and strong sun tan, dry and aged looking skin and skin sensitivity and sunburn are immediate effects of excess Pitta dosha caused by sun exposure. When this is not addressed, it can build up to premature grey hair in time.
Agni increasing treatments: Reason 3 for Pitta going out of balance
Commercial tanning beds and tanning for treating certain skin diseases like psoriasis, eczema and vitiligo, are based on directing UV light to treat skin disorders. All of these treatments come with a warning of limiting sun exposure. As per Ayurveda, if this treatment is followed with pitta aggravating food, the pitta in your body will get aggravated leading to the symptoms we discussed above.
Laser based treatments to treat acne, wrinkles and to permanently remove hair also come with similar effects on the body. Similarly radiation based therapy and chemotherapy are also Agni increasing therapies.
When these agni increasing therapies are used, you may find that you are experiencing premature hair greying as a side effect.
Pitta aggravating food: reason 4 for Pitta going out of balance
We often hear from consumers who tell us they eat a balanced, homemade South Indian meal that is vegetarian. They wonder why their hair and skin is not looking better.
Pitta dosha is aggravated by eating sour, salty and spicy food.
South Indian food is generally a bit high in the sour taste. There is an extensive use of tamarind in south Indian preparations like Sambhar and Rasam and the use of red and green chillies is also quite pronounced. The use of sour extends to the use of curd and Mor (buttermilk) either everyday along with rice or in preparations like Mor kuzhambu or avail. South India also uses a lot of fermented rice preparations like idly and dosa for breakfast and as a meal.
As far as Ayurveda is concerned, sour increases pitta. Fermented foods also have a sour component – therefore eating a lot of idlies and dosas in your diet can also increase pitta dosha. When the pitta dosha climbs to an unchecked excess, every morsel of sour can drastically throw doshas out of balance. So if you have a high pitta dosha or are seeing symptoms of high pitta dosha like premature greying, then you need to drastically cut down on sour foods- even if you believe you are having a small quantity of sour foods. Remember the imbalance can be set off by very miniscule quantities of food.
Chaats are notoriously high in sour especially when you have tamarind water based golgappas or dahi-based chaats. Remember, chaats are not healthy, are full of Maida and fried food, and the sour isn’t going to help your greying either. Avoid!
Reducing or removing ALL souring agents from your food can help immensely with balancing pitta dosha and slowing greying. Avoid curd, buttermilk, tamarind, kokum, lemon, tomatoes, amchur and any form of sour, however small the quantity may be.
Pitta dosha increases with salty food. Generally not too many of us would be adding excess salt in our diet. However, if we frequently consume pre-packaged, processed foods, our body begins to crave much more salt. This is because most pre-packaged foods are very high in sodium which is used as a preservative.
This is true even in sweetened foods like breakfast cereal, instant oats, etc. With time, our taste buds get adapted to a much higher degree of salt, so we unconsciously start using much higher amounts of salt in our food as well.
If you are experiencing the effects of pitta aggravation like premature greying, a wise thing to do would be to cut down completely or drastically educe your dependence on pre-cooked processed foods: this can include chips, biscuits, instant soups, breakfast cereal, instant noodles, pre-packaged sauces and condiments, flavoured cheeses and butters. Within 3 weeks of reducing these foods, your tongue will readjust to lower salt levels, this reducing the pitta imbalance in your food.
Ayurveda says that the nature of pitta dosha is “Teekshana” or intense and sharp. So eating foods that are Teekshana will also aggravate pitta dosha. Many of the spices we regularly consume are not only Teekshana in their nature, but also foreign to India. Chillies and peppers, for example, were introduced into India a scant 400 – 500 years ago. Their effects on the body, however, have been well described by Ayurveda as these spices may have been known to us in ancient times due to trading and seafare.
Red and green chillies are considered much more Teekshana in Ayurveda compared to indigenous varieties of pepper. So when we use chilli powder in our cuisine, we are sharply aggravating pitta dosha, which has a further effect on our skin and hair.
One of the first things to do when your pitta dosha is out of balance is to severely restrict or do away with the use of red and green chillies and all varieties of capsicum and bell peppers.
Many spices are warming in nature, but are not as Teekshana as chillies. Ayurveda advocates using a mixture of warming spices like jeera and black pepper and spices like methi and coriander to spice your food, instead of chillies and capsicum.
Not oiling the hair and scalp regularly: Reason no. 5 for Pitta dosha to go out of balance
We have mentioned that Ayurveda is very particular about the care of the eyes, brain and scalp. This is because the eyes are a seat of Pitta. Through Pitta dosha, the eye is able to see, make observations and pass these observations to the brain which then analyses and makes sense of our world.
Ayurveda says that the constant working of the brain and the eyes produce ushna or heat. When this ushna is not released properly from the body, it affects not just the working of the body but also the brain and the eyes.
The brain and the eyes have a high amount of fatty matter or kapha built dhatus. When the heat in these areas builds up and is not released, it can affect these fatty tissues and impair their functioning.
For these reasons, Ayurveda advises generous and frequent oiling of our scalp and hair. The fine srotas and the openings in our head help dissipate heat generated by the eyes and the brain when we give this coating of oil in the scalp. Oil helps soothe the nerves in the brain, nourishes the brain and scalp and also acts as a medium to trap and send out excess heat.
As an additional benefit, this frequent and generous hair oiling helps keep scalp and hair in good health. We cannot overstate the importance of this practice of oiling.
Unfortunately, modern aesthetic trends dictate that our hair is left dry and un-oiled and is instead frequently shampooed with products that have drying and heat increasing synthetics in them. This has a very large effect on the pitta in our body. This is also a practice that is guaranteed to leave the hair dry and under nourished and can also hasten premature greying.
Stress: Reason no. 6 for Pitta dosha to go out of balance
Legend has it that Marie Antoinette’s hair turned white overnight the night before she was guillotined. We do not know the truth behind this legend. But what is true is the effect of grief and stress on our doshas.
Ayurveda chikitsa believes in treating the mind and body and our diet and mental health have a great deal of synchronicity and correlation on our overall health and well being.
Ayurveda opines that whenever we suppress emotions like grief, this in itself imbalances pitta dosha in the body. Apart from grief, “krodha” (anger) is another form of stress. The twin emotions of “shokha” and “krodha” are listed as one of the causes of premature greying.
We have written an extensive post on how stress affects the body earlier. The truth of modern living is that we have a million small stressful things affecting us everyday and sometimes one or two really big issues as well. It is important to deal in a healthy way with the stress that affects us. Ayurveda advocates constantly examining our minds and lives and seeking a state of balance which is unique to ourselves and our circumstances.
To sum up:
Ayurveda believes that premature greying is a trait of pitta going out of balance. In this post we have looked at 6 reasons why Pitta dosha can go out of balance. These are as follows:
- Having a pitta prakriti and aggravating our dosha by choosing pitta aggravating foods and practices
- Over exposure to the Sun
- Undergoing agni increasing treatments
- Eating Pitta aggravating food
- Not oiling the hair and scalp regularly
- High stress that is not addressed or dealt with properly
Any or all of these reasons can give you classic signs of Pitta dosha going out of balance like premature greying, acidity, GERD, Ulcers, frequent stomach upsets, adult acne and high skin sensitivity, cracked heels and palms and fine ,thinning hair. When we address the cause behind these symptoms, we pull the body back to a state of balance and work on the core issue.
We hope this post resonated with you and you were able to get a sense of how deep, holistic and interconnected the science of Ayurveda is. Do write to us with your questions, reflections ad if you would like us to write about a particular subject you are seeking answers or insights to.
Here are some Krya hair and skin products that are suitable to a Pitta based prakriti or to help bring down excess Pitta:
Hair products : Suit straight, slightly oily hair that has a tendency to grey prematurely, is fine or is experiencing Pitta symptoms like thinning:
- Krya Classic Hair Oil with Yellow Eclipta & Indian Gooseberry
- Krya Classic hair mask with Rose Hip & Liquorice
- Krya Classic hair wash with Rose & White Bhringaraj
- Krya Classic hair nourishing system (all 3 above products at a special price)
- Krya festive abhyanga hair wash with Vana Tulsi & Rose
Skin products: suit Pitta prone skin that is normal – oily, sweats well, has a tendency towards body odour, and is sensitive to heat and gets red or inflamed easily when pitta is out of balance . This skin may also experience occasional acne:
- Krya Classic face wash with Green Tea & Chamomile
- Krya Classic face mask with Rose petals & Guava
- Krya Classic Skin Oil with Carrot & Wintercherry
- Krya Classic Body wash with Rosemary & Cassia flower
For acne prone skin, we have the following Krya products:
For skin that is frequently exposed to the sun, we have the following Krya products: