Is there a cure for gray hair?

cure for gray hair

 

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.

Oxidative stress causes gray hair

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)

Are hair-color cells gone permanently?

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.

How to boost antioxidant activity

Here are some ways that overall antioxidant activity can be boosted.

  • N-acetylcysteine. This OTC supplement provides cysteine, the rate-limiting amino acid in glutathione synthesis. In turn, glutathione is the body’s most abundant internal antioxidant.
  • Lower body iron. Iron accumulates with age and is a reactive metal, catalyzing the formation of hydroxyl radicals, and is a main source of oxidative stress.
  • Activation of Nrf2. Nrf2 is a gene transcription factor that causes the up-regulation of genes that produce antioxidant enzymes like catalase and superoxide dismutase, as well as so-called phase 2 enzymes, which detoxify toxic compounds. Nrf2 can be activated by resveratrol, curcumin, sulforaphane (found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage). Also, any hormetic intervention will boost Nrf2, such as exercise and fasting.

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.

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15 comments
Matt says December 30, 2015

What about premature graying? I’m 32 years old and have a lot of gray hair, probably about 20% of all my hair. Do you think this is indicative of rapid aging, or could there be some other mechanism at play? I also feel tired all the time and I think my face is aging quite a bit despite getting lots of sleep and exercising, I wonder if these are related.

Reply
    P. D. Mangan says December 30, 2015

    Hate to say it, but I do think it’s indicative of rapid aging. There’s also a genetic component, but this is also probably related to overall aging. Gray hair at an early age runs in my family, but I don’t think my gray became really noticeable until my 40s. My father, who smoked cigarettes, grayed earlier than that. Anyway, the best way to deal with it is through general anti-aging measures.

    Reply
      Matt says December 30, 2015

      Got it, thanks. I’ll definitely step-up my anti-aging routine.

      Reply
    posthasty says December 30, 2015

    Might be a good idea to also have your doctor do a thyroid panel.

    My uncle, who used to boast about the gallons of blood he donated, hardly had any gray hair even in his 50s. Too bad it didn’t save him from lung cancer … he looked good in the coffin though.

    Reply
      Matt says December 30, 2015

      I’ve got a doctor’s appointment coming up, I’ll request a panel. I’ve never looked up hypothyroidism before, but I sure as heck have the symptoms (fatigue, high cholesterol, premature gray hair). My doctor knows all this though, if I end up having this and he just ignored it I’m gonna be ticked. You may have saved my butt, thanks bud.

      Reply
        P. D. Mangan says December 30, 2015

        I take thyroid hormone myself, and have for the past 25 years. It’s a lifesaver.

        Reply
          B says May 28, 2016

          Which thyroid hormone specifically? Do you do anything else for your thyroid? Iodine?

          Reply
          P. D. Mangan says May 28, 2016

          I take T4, brand name Synthroid, and also known as levothyroxine or just thyroxine, the most commonly prescribed type of thyroid hormone.

          Reply
awesome says December 30, 2015

12 months ago I started taking Rogaine topically at about half the recommended dose as i noticed some thinning starting on the top of my head. It thickened my hair right up, but also darkened it. I’m greying a little at the sides (where i don’t apply it) and my chest hair is greyer than my head.
My old man went grey in his thirties, which I’ve avoided, but still has plenty hair but also has very low test levels. I lift regularly and I assumed that the thinning may be due in part to higher T

Reply
awesome says December 30, 2015

In other words Rogaine, in supporting scalp circulation and I assume clearance of oxidants/delivery of antioxidants, has noticeably increased the pigmentation of my hair.

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Garrett says January 2, 2016

Do you know of any more information about using high doses of PABA as a treatment?

http://www.nature.com/jid/journal/v15/n6/full/jid1950121a.html

Reply
    P. D. Mangan says January 4, 2016

    Garrett, thanks for the link, first I’ve heard of that, so no, I don’t know anything else about it.

    Reply
Rich says January 20, 2016

I love what Washington State University had to say about NRF2 just this past February.

“While no doubt it is too early to make a conclusion, it is difficult to escape the suggestions, from Tables 1 and 4, that we may be on the verge of a new literature on health effects of Nrf2 which may well become the most extraordinary therapeutic and most extraordinary preventative breakthrough in the history of medicine.” 🙂

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Nick says May 17, 2016

I swear, my greying at the sides has nearly vanished in the weeks since I got pretty serious about lifting and HIIT in February. My wife agrees. I’m 51. I also started tracking my nutrition and ratcheted up my protein intake, a lot of casein.

Reply
Grey Hair Reversal - Rogue Health and Fitness says May 30, 2017

[…] once asked whether there was a cure for grey (or gray) hair. There might be, because my hair is turning dark, or at least darker, and might be a case of grey […]

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