One day we are all going to get white hair and wrinkled skin. But I reckon that greying and for that matter signs of ageing can be pushed forward by leading a healthy lifestyle.
Yet, it’s not all straightforward.
People start going grey at different ages and to different degrees – it may begin in 30s or 40s or much earlier or later. There’s no correct answer to it. Although, it is said that Caucasians go grey first, followed by Asians and lastly Africans
Going grey can also mean that you have a hidden medical problem.
When I was researching on vitamin B12 deficiency, a lot of people on forums said that their grey hair turned back to original colour after supplementing with vitamin B12. That is unfair on people who go undiagnosed for years and turn grey; plus you suffer too many ill-effects of the B12 deficiency such as depression and brain fog.
But it’s not just B12, there are many more reasons that can turn you grey at a young age.
Having an unhealthy lifestyle — sleeping late and eating junk — is a big one. Also, if you have an underlying medical condition such as low thyroid, or have deficiencies of other vitamins and minerals, you are more likely to grey early. Furthermore, a stressful event such as the death of a loved one or financial loss can also affect your health and hair badly.
The good news is that it may be possible to reverse grey hair if you look after yourself. So eat healthily, deal with medical issues and deficiencies and don’t let stress overwhelm you. It sounds like too much works, but it’s not, you take one issue at a time and sort it. We will look into it, but first, let us understand how greying happens…
Hair colour is very fascinating.
The answer lies in the pigment called melanin. The root of your hair is located below the scalp and is seated in a tube like structure called as the hair follicle. And within these hair follicles lie melanocytes which produce pigment granules – melanin. When the hair is still inside the follicle, melanin is injected into the growing hair fibres, and gives hair its colour.
melanocytes = melanin (colour) producing cells
melanin = natural hair dye
Melanin is of two different types: Eu-melanin – which contains brown and black colour pigments, and Pheo-melanin – which has red and yellow colour pigments. These combine in various proportions to give a beautiful range of shades – black, brown, blonde, red, et al. The colour of your hair will depend on your gene code; which will determine the quantity and combination of these colour pigments.
Earlier it was thought that hair turns grey merely due to the loss of the pigment-forming melanocytes.
But new research says something else….
Greying happens due to increasing levels of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), which literally bleaches the hair from the inside out. At any age, our body cells, as well as our hair cells, produce H2O2 as a by-product of regular metabolism. But in young and healthy people these H2O2 molecules are quickly broken down into harmless oxygen and hydrogen.
As we age, H2O2 is broken down less and builds up in large amounts in the hair follicle and ultimately stops the synthesis of the colour pigment melanin. Besides, a high concentration of H2O2 and other free radicals in our body causes signs of ageing such as: wrinkles, arthritis, brain degeneration, heart disease, etc.
So the answer to staying youthful and delay greying lies in the quick removal of these free radicals.
Our body is pretty incredible. It has an answer for every problem. To counteract the effect of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), it produces various antioxidant enzymes such as: Catalase, MSR and Glutathione peroxidase.
Also, the nutrients we eat — vitamin C, E, D and A — function as antioxidants and protect our bodies (including our hair) from the damaging effects of free radicals.
In a recent study, researchers found that people with grey hair had a massive concentration of H2O2 in their hair; plus they had low levels of enzyme catalase and MSR. Just the opposite, people with dark hair contained significantly higher levels of catalase and MSR. And they also had very minimal H2O2 in their hair.
So these antioxidant enzymes play a vital role in preserving our hair colour. Let’s see each of them:
Catalase is your first line of defence in protecting the hair follicles from harmful effects of H2O2. It quickly breaks down H2O2 to water and oxygen. Apparently, one molecule of catalase can convert approximately six million molecules of hydrogen peroxide to water and oxygen each minute. So this enzyme is very potent.
But as we age, our bodies produce less catalase. Even factors such as stress and poor nutrition can cause catalase levels to go down. This leads to the buildup of hydrogen peroxide in the hair follicles and leaves us with ever-increasing grey hair. The worst is, high levels of H2O2 further inhibit our body’s ability to make catalase. So it becomes a vicious cycle.
Furthermore, catalase also protects our body cells from the damage of H2O2. Catalase deficiency has been implicated in age-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions.
The good news is that several foods contain high levels of catalase. And eating them will help return your natural hair colour. Catalase rich foods include: almonds, garlic, onion, leeks, cabbage, broccoli, kale, cucumber, collard, turnip greens, carrots, radish, potato, sweet potato, banana and pineapple.
So that was antioxidant enzyme catalase, now let’s look at the second one…
This is another important antioxidant enzyme which helps to preserve our hair colour. It doesn’t act directly on H2O2 but works to repair the damage caused by the peroxide. MSR stands for methionine sulfoxide reductase, and A & B are its two variants.
The presence of H2O2 creates hydroxyl radicals (free radicals) that break tyrosinase down.
Tyrosinase is the enzyme needed for melanocytes to produce the pigment melanin. Tyrosinase activates the production of melanin from a type of amino acid – tyrosine by oxidation, the same as the blackening of a peeled potato exposed to air (source).
The breakdown of tyrosinase blocks the synthesis of colour pigments. But to the rescue comes the enzyme MSR. It can fix the damaged tyrosinase so that it can carry on with colour production.
Sadly, with advancing age, the production of MSR too declines and they can’t do as much damage control.
Thankfully, there’s one more antioxidant enzyme that saves the colour pigments…
This enzyme also plays a decent role in reversing grey hair. Although not as potent as catalase, it works similar to catalase and converts H2O2 into water. So increasing glutathione peroxidase may be another way to decrease hydrogen peroxide. And how do you do that?
By eating foods that promote the production of glutathione. These include, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and mustard greens. The vegetables belong to brassica family and are rich in sulphur compounds. And sulphur is essential for creation of glutathione.
Problem solved. Not quite. We looked at what causes greying — the build-up of hydrogen peroxide and dwindling of antioxidant enzymes. We also saw which foods can help replenish the antioxidant enzymes. Now, we have to look at reducing the root cause — formation of free radicals or hydrogen peroxide molecules in the first place. Let’s see how to do that…
Did you know that 1 billion people smoke on this planet? The statics is pretty mind-boggling, but it is what it is.
Smoking has long been linked to premature ageing of the skin, now it’s also associated with greying hair and hair loss. A study published in Indian dermatology found that smokers are 2.5 times more likely to begin greying prematurely compared to non-smokers. Why is that?
Not surprising, smoking generates H2O2 and other harmful free radicals. And we saw earlier how these free radicals breakdown the colour-producing cells – the melanocytes. And cause white hair.
Taking stress doesn’t change the situation; in fact, it makes it worse. Stress is exhausting for your body as well as your mind. And stress also exhausts the supply of enzyme catalase.
Besides, stress also increases the production of free radicals, which then disrupts the activity of melanocytes. So it’s a double whammy.
Stress ⇒ low catalase + excess free radical ⇒ ageing and greying
Don’t stress out, stay calm and solve the problem!
Junk foods are also one of the worst offenders in generating free radicals – especially fries, which taste delicious. You don’t have to give them up totally, just reserve them for weekends or family celebrations. That way, you still eat them but not overload your body of bad boys.
Fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamin A, E and C — which function as antioxidants. And we saw above that antioxidants can knock out free radicals and preserve your hair, health and beauty.
Now if you plan to cheat by buying antioxidant supplements and avoid eating vegetables, it may not work at all. As there’s nothing more effective as eating the real stuff. So don’t cheat, and do the right thing — and you know what that is.
What to eat: You don’t have to eat exotic, expensive fruit and vegetables. Just eat more local and seasonal produce. This is because the seasonal and local food is fresher and tends to be tastier and more nutritious. Plus, you also support your local farmers.
Henna has been used since ancient times to colour hair. But is that a good reason to use henna even now. Well, yes, because there’s no natural alternative to henna found, yet. Henna is not only safe to use, but when mixed with herbs such as indigo, coffee, bhringraj, beetroot and clove, it creates beautiful shades of red, brown, auburn and mahogany.
And why ditch hair dyes? Because they contains ingredients such as PPD (p-Phenylenediamine), formaldehyde, resorcinol, ammonia and DMDM Hydantoin. These are not just difficult to pronounce names, but they can cause bad side effects such as skin and eye irritation, hormonal disruption and even cancer. Yikes!
The good old henna is a safe and natural way to cover the greys. And it also makes hair incredibly shiny, voluminous and vibrant. If you have never used henna, here’s a step by step guide on using henna.
So those were 5 tips on how you can reduce grey hair or tint them. Now let’s look at the medical conditions and deficiencies that cause grey hair.
The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ located at the base of your neck. It releases hormones T3 and T4 which influence the metabolism of your body cells – meaning it regulates the speed with which your body cells work.
When the thyroid is underperforming (hypothyroid), less T3 and T4 will be produced — this can considerably affect the synthesis of hair colour. The opposite is also true; a hyperthyroid condition will produce excess amounts of T3 and T4, but it will also lead to an increase in autolysis (self-digestion) of catalase, thereby decreasing catalase levels in the body over time.
But once you correct the hormone levels there are fair chances that darkening of white hair may occur.
Vitamin B12 protects your hair colour.
When B12 levels go down, homocysteine levels rise. Homocysteine is a by-product of protein metabolism. A high level of homocysteine contributes to greying through the generation of H2O2. Plus, it’s also a risk factor for heart disease. And you want to avoid both — heart disease and greying, right?
B vitamins, especially B12 and folic acid, reduce the levels of homocysteine by converting it into amino acid methionine. You can read more on what foods contain vitamin B12 and how to correct the deficiency here.
Of course, vitamin D contributes to bone health and immunity. But there is also a link between greying and low vitamin D. One study found that levels of vitamin D3 were either deficient or insufficient in all the participants with premature grey hair. Which indicates that vitamin D may play some role in pigmentation of the hair.
Vitiligo occurs due to a lack of melanin in the affected areas of skin. It’s not clear exactly what causes this lack of melanin, but it has been linked to problems with the immune system (autoimmune conditions).
Other medical conditions that cause premature greying include: albinism and Werner syndrome
That’s it guys and gals. We saw what causes grey hair and how you can avoid it. Before ending let’s recap:
Do you have early greying of hair? What has helped you to reduce greying? I would love to hear from you…
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