My patients often complain to me about getting more and more gray hairs all the time. It makes them feel older and deflates their spirit every time they look in the mirror. They want to know if there’s anything they can do about it besides coloring it. I reassure them that although graying hair is a natural part of getting older, recent research has identified certain nutritional deficiencies that cause hair to go gray. Here’s what researchers have learned about graying hair and what you can to do to slow it down or prevent it.
Gray Hair A Sign of Deficiencies
In cultures that preserve ancient customs and lore, getting gray hair indicates a person’s rite of passage into an “age of wisdom” and gains more respect for them as an “elder” from younger generations. However, in more modern cultures like ours that seems to revere youthfulness, many people do not see gray hair in this light. Rather they often see gray hair as a sign of aging and all the frequently negative connotations that go along with it. As a result, many people start coloring their gray hair to keep a more youthful appearance for a longer time.
Recently, however, a group of experimental biology scientists out of the University of Bradford in West Yorkshire, England, reported that they have found the reason hair goes gray in the first place. Like many diseases and conditions associated with aging, the answer to gray hair lies in a kind of domino effect of deficiencies – especially in antioxidants that fight free radical damage to cell DNA.
With your hair, graying likely starts with magnesium deficiencies that inhibit the production of enzymes catalase and methionine sulfoxide reductase (MSR). With the deficiencies of these critical substances, oxidation and the production of hydroxyl radicals – literally hydrogen peroxide, a bleach – starts in the hair follicles. Also, the production of tyrosinase – another enzyme responsible for the production of melanin (the color part) of your hair – is also disrupted. A build-up of the hydrogen peroxide results in damage to the melanocytes – the cells that give color to your hair. If your hair follicles had enough catalase, it would be able to break down hydrogen peroxide into harmless water and oxygen and remove it from your body.
Without sufficient catalase, however, the peroxide-filled hair follicle literally bleaches the color out of your hair cell. Your hair then grows out of the hair follicle gray. As deficiencies in catalase continue, more and more hydrogen peroxide radicals form, the damage to the hair’s color cells continues and hair goes from gray to eventually white.
The hopeful news is that these researchers also found that an amino acid called L-methionine can block the free radical hydrogen peroxide damage to the hair follicle – working as an antioxidant against it. In addition, magnesium has been found to stimulate more production of the catalase enzyme. Interestingly, U.S. RDA studies state that about 75% of Americans have critical magnesium deficiencies.
L-methionine is one of the essential building-block amino acids of human health. It is necessary for maintaining the tone and pliability of skin, hair and nails. Many people could be deficient in L-methionine if they are not getting enough protein in their diet – especially vegetarians, or people who have just cut down on animal protein.
What Can You Do About Gray Hair?
As I always tell my patients, preventing conditions from developing is much easier than trying to reverse them once they’re already present. There are products on the market that claim to replace the enzyme catalase that stops or reverses graying. Many people have reported success with these products and you may want to look into them.
In addition, I believe that addressing any nutritional deficiencies could likely help prevent, or greatly slow down, hair from graying. Here are some common deficiencies relative to gray hair:
Magnesium deficiency: Facial tics, muscle cramps/pain, poor sleep (fibromyalgia patients). Soda consumption per day/week may make you magnesium deficient. The phosphorus in these drinks binds to magnesium and it gets removed from your body through waste. High refined sugar intake (cakes, pies, pastries, candy, etc) causes more magnesium to be excreted through the kidney. Too much stress can cause a magnesium deficiency. As well, lack of magnesium can result in too much stress hormone cortisol which aggravates stress. Also, medications for chronic health conditions like diabetes, asthma, heart conditions can drain magnesium out of your body as can too much caffeine. Supplement with 250-500 mg a day.
L-methionine: Brittle hair, dry skin, peeling, chipping dry nails. If you’re a vegetarian or have cut way down on eating animal protein, you could likely have an L-methionine deficiency. Get added protein into your diet with either vegetable based or whey protein shakes that contain all the 8 essential amino acids.
PABA: A co-enzyme critical to the development of hair and skin color. May restore gray hair if its cause was a deficiency in the PABA enzyme.
Pantothenic acid (B5): B vitamin that supports hair health and color and prevents hair loss.
Zinc and Copper: Deficiencies in these minerals can cause hair to prematurely gray.
I personally think that gray hair looks strikingly attractive when well-cared for. However, I also feel the day is near when you’ll have specific nutrition-based supplements that will stop hydrogen peroxide hair color damage in your hair follicles. By eliminating deficiencies in critical hair color enzymes and antioxidants, gray hair and hair dyes will soon be in the past!
Jay Brachfeld, M.D.
Need More Magnesuim? 10 Signs to Watch For? http://www.ancient-minerals.com/magnesium-deficiency/need-more/?gclid=CPfv5r_0m7ACFdEDQAod2UAdaQ
Why Hair Turns Gray is No Longer a Gray Area: Our Hair Bleaches from the Inside Out, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090223131123.htm
photo credit: Beautybible.co.nz