A reader contacted me and noted that my hair was, in his words, white. (Thanks!) While I would like to consider it gray, in bright light it does indeed look white. Anyway, he asked me if I planned to do anything about it or knew of anything that worked. Other than dye, presumably, which I ruled out ages ago. Is there a cure for gray hair?
Lots of anecdotes abound on this. For instance, the reader himself said that his sister got her dark hair back by eating umeboshi, which are also called Japanese salt plums or pickled plums. Color me skeptical, but whatever, if it works. As far as I know, no scientific studies on umeboshi exist.
Gray hair is obviously associated with aging. In aging there’s an increase in oxidative stress, which means the inability of cells in the body to properly control excess oxygen radicals. It makes sense that this is involved in gray hair, since both bleach and hydrogen peroxide cause a loss of color by generating oxygen.
A few years ago, scientists got to the root of the gray hair problem: Senile hair graying: H2O2-mediated oxidative stress affects human hair color by blunting methionine sulfoxide repair.(1)
In essence, higher levels of oxidative stress in the hair shaft cause a loss of the activities of the enzymes catalase and methionine sulfoxide reductase, resulting in the accumulation of hydrogen peroxide and the loss of melanocyte (cells that produce color) activity.
The scientists noted that the oxidation of methionine can be prevented by the addition of l-methionine, but methionine supplementation is a bad idea, as it promotes aging.(2)
The same scientists have now developed a proprietary treatment, a for of pseudocatalase.(3)
However, other researchers in this area point to multiple causes of gray hair: “Altogether, oxidative stress may contribute to age-induced hair graying via multiple pathways.”(4)
Another recent report confirmed that oxidative stress lies behind gray hair, and this is due to far lower levels of antioxidant activity in the hair follicle.(5)
Involvement of copper and thyroid hormones have also been fingered.(6)
The big question that remains is whether damage done to hair follicles can be reversed. If melanocytes are destroyed, then the damage probably cannot be reversed, since this would involve growing new melanocytes, presumably from stem cells.
If the melanocytes are merely overwhelmed by hydrogen peroxide and temporarily out of commission, then reversal may be possible. I doubt if anyone has the answer to that one. The proprietary formula that scientists developed, if it consists solely of an enzyme, pseudocatalase, would need to be applied regularly, since enzymes break down.
Would it be possible to boost antioxidant activity in the hair follicle? Maybe. It’s definitely p;ossible to boost overall antioxidant activity, but whether this would affect the hair follicle is unknown. Perhaps something would need to be applied topically, something that can be absorbed through the skin.
Here are some ways that overall antioxidant activity can be boosted.
In short, gray hair is so closely associated with the physiological processes of aging that anything that fights aging ought to affect graying. But again, whether gray hair is the result of permanent damage or can be cured is unknown at this point.
I’m already doing just about all of these myself, but haven’t noticed any decrease in gray in my hair. I’ll let you know if it happens, but I’m not holding my breath.
Personally, I don’t think it’s that big of a deal anyway. Better to work on more important things that you have some control over, like body composition, learning, and charisma.