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Causes of White Hair Discovered by Scientists

Updated on July 2, 2010

You can’t blame your boss anymore for causing the stress that led to your gray hair. The nasty little mechanism that steals the color from your locks is now understood.

British researchers have found that when hydrogen peroxide produced by the body becomes too plentiful, white hair sprouts up from the scalp.

Normally the peroxide levels are kept in check by catalyze, however, as we age catalyze production diminishes. The excess hydrogen peroxide then wreaks havoc on melanin processes, which provides pigment for hair and skin. In the end, hair bleaches itself from the inside out.

Breakthroughs in this field where discovered when a genetic defect called vitiligo was being studied. Sufferers with patches of skin of a lighter color than the rest of their body where found to have problems producing an adequate supply of catalyze, the same protectant that staves off gray hair.

The full results of the study were printed in the FASEBJ Journal of Experimental Biology in 2009.

CNN newsman Anderson Cooper is known for his striking white hair.
CNN newsman Anderson Cooper is known for his striking white hair.

Is the Cure for Gray around the Corner?

Although antipodal reports of successful treatment of gray hair abound on the internet, there is currently no scientifically-proven solution. The quickest, most efficient solution know of today is merely to cover it up by dying your hair.

Herbalists and practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine have claimed He Shou Wu (aka Fo-Ti) can reverse gray hair for centuries. Instead of solid evidence the Chinese point to a story of a man named Old Man He, an aging drunkard that decided to camp out in the wild for a while and nibble on a mysterious root. Of course Mr. He returned to civilization with the black hair and vigour of his youth restored.

To add a little light at the end of the tunnel, since we now better understand the causes of gray hair, treatment via pill may be available in the future.

Professor Schallreuter and her team based out of Bradford University, UK, found that unbound L-methionine (an amino-acid found in some foods) can prevent the inhibition of tyrosinase by hydrogen peroxide. L-methionine may be the missing link that can prevent or even reverse gray hair. Schallreuter stated that it is not possible to get enough L-methionine from the diet to create an effective treatment so supplementation may be the answer.

Cheap, Easy Ways to Avoid Future Grays and Foster Good Health

For those that absolutely need to do something to get to the root of the problem of gray hair, there are a few low-risk interventions that may help.

  1. Supplement with L-methionine – This amino acid was tested in the studies by Schallreuter and is so far the best known method of blocking damage caused by hydrogen peroxide. Supplements now available may be worth a shot.
  2. Eat an apple (or two) a day – Apple polyphenol extracts, particularly procyanidins and quercetin, may increase catalase levels in the body. This antioxidant-rich fruit is a good source of vitamin C, A and E.
  3. Drink red wine in moderation – Resveratrol, a powerful compound found in red wine was able to mimic the effects of caloric restriction in mice by enabling “the survival gene” known as SIRT1. Simply put, it may keep up our youthful appearance. Massive dosages may be even more effective. Dr. David Sinclair, co-founder of Sirtris, is currently conducting clinical trials to see if resveratrol capsules are as effective in humans.
  4. Improve diet and exercise moderately - Although genetics are mostly at play when it comes to white hair, lifestyle choices also have significant effect.
  5. Quit Smoking – Tobacco use is known to cause hair to gray faster than our genes may dictate. Worse yet, it can accelerate the entire aging process.

Twin sister: Once dyes her hair, the other does not.
Twin sister: Once dyes her hair, the other does not.

Final Thoughts

Young people with premature white hair who feel they may be aging sooner than their peers can rest these worries. Aging of the body as a whole is not connected with early gray hair. Although everyone is bound to go gray eventually, excluding rebels and rock stars that die young, some are genetically programmed to lose hair color at an earlier date.

Today’s youth obsessed culture can make women and some men self-conscious about a perfectly normal process. More women than ever have stopped dying their hair, opting for a more natural look. If you decide to keep your gray it is also important for the sake of your happiness that you also embrace each new strand.

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    • carozy profile image

      carozy 4 years ago from San Francisco

      This is a really interesting article. My dad has gray hair while my mother still has her brown hair. I always wondered who I would take after. Maybe there's hope for me yet!

    • Ilona1 profile image

      Ilona 4 years ago from Ohio

      Wait. Isn't that Condoleezza Rice in those pictures? She is an only child!

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