I think you’ll agree that no one gets excited, in a good way, when they see their first gray hair, especially if they’re under the age of 40. Graying is something we all experience at some point in life, yet as natural and expected as it is, its’ presence is never a welcomed sight.
Gray hair reminds us we’re getting older, which most of us would rather pull out our fingernails then become. However, since graying is out of our control, I guess we just have to accept this fact of life. But, wait… is it truly out of our control? Many people believe it’s not, and have scientific evidence to back the theory that lifestyle and diet, and not only genetics, can have substantial impact on when and how much gray hair we get.
So, why do we gray, anyway?
There are several theories, with heredity and stress being blamed the most, but science is now leaning towards a new discovery and theory; giving more insight and hope for future treatment. People who go gray have too much natural hydrogen peroxide in their bodies. Human skin cells produce small amounts of hydrogen peroxide as part of the body’s oxygen cycle, which serves to kill bacteria. We also produce the enzyme catalase, which breaks hydrogen peroxide down into water and oxygen. As we age, our production of catalase drops off, so hydrogen peroxide doesn’t get converted into water and oxygen at the rate it does when we’re younger; resulting in higher levels of hydrogen peroxide, which the body can’t get rid of. Melanin, the pigment that gives skin its’ color, also gives hair its’ color. Unfortunately, hydrogen peroxide interferes with melanin and causes hair to turn gray. Obviously, it’s all part of the aging process, which can’t be avoided. However… how we age and the rate at which we age are within our control to some extent.
Genetics do play a part in graying, especially for the premature grayer, so controlling when graying begins is more of a challenge for these individuals – but not necessarily impossible. If you find you’re graying prematurely, I suggest you see a doctor about it, even if premature graying runs in your family, since it’s possible a health issue may be the cause. Some autoimmune and genetic conditions, in addition to thyroid and pituitary problems, are also associated with early graying. Graying from certain causes, like thyroid and pituitary problems, can actually be reversed once the health issue is addressed – so rule out any medical cause.
Diet and Nutrition
For the majority of us who have no health problems associated with graying, cleaning ourselves up and making sure we get what we need may actually have some positive affects on postponing inevitable gray hair. I’m talking about diet and nutrition.
I can’t think of a time or reason eating healthy isn’t beneficial. Vitamins and minerals are essential for every bodily function, including hair growth and color retention. It stands to reason, if our bodies get what they need, their performance will be optimized. Taking proper care of ourselves, which includes exercise, will only result in a better quality of life.
Before I get into the specific nutrients that defend us from gray hair, I want to explain another, more recognized, theory that directly relates to nutrition. Melanocytes, the cells that produce melanin, decrease as we age. As a result, we lose hair pigment or color and hair turns gray. Free radicals, produced from cellular waste, plus environmental factors such as pollution, cigarette smoke, radiation, chemicals and herbicides in our foods, attack our bodies causing disease and aging. Our defense? Antioxidants! They come to our rescue by essentially fighting and stopping free radicals in their tracks, so damage to our bodies is minimized. Ok, so that wasn’t the most scientific explanation, but I’m sure you get my point – antioxidants are the good guys.
So, how do we get these antioxidants?
Well, nature has an incredible, fool proof plan: fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, spices, even chocolate, coffee and tea! 5 to 8 servings a day of assorted plant life provides us with what we need. And, for those who can’t seem to eat that many servings a day, that’s what God made antioxidant supplements for. You know that was a joke, right?! Anyway, in order for our bodies to effectively fight the damaging pollution that lurks within, we must have antioxidants. So, the more antioxidants we have, the healthier and more efficient our bodies are. And the healthier our bodies are, the better and longer it can produce melanocytes. And the longer our bodies produce melanocytes… drum roll, please… the longer we keep our hair color and avoid graying! Gentlemen, the bottom line is get an adequate amount of antioxidants – through food or supplements such as Alpha Lipoic Acid, Beta Carotene, Glutathione, Vitamin E, Selenium, etc.
Check out this site for tons of information on antioxidants: http://suite101.com/article/a-ranking-of-antioxidant-values-of-foods-a156916
Here’s a list of other nutrients that will not only help you keep your hair color, but will keep your skin looking young, too. There are many more foods that contain these nutrients than I listed, so research for additional foods.
- B12 – shellfish, liver, beef, Swiss cheese, feta, and supplements
- Folic Acid – dark green leafy vegetables, citrus fruit and juice, dried beans and legumes, and supplements
- Vitamin C – citrus fruits, broccoli, bell peppers, and supplements
- Copper – shellfish, organ meats, and supplements
- Iodine – Shellfish, seaweeds, and supplements
- Iron – egg yolk, dried beans, dried fruit, blackstrap molasses, and (supplements; only if needed)
- Curry – spice and supplements
- Protein – low intake may promote graying
Gray hair happens, but with a little knowledge, we can, hopefully, postpone the inevitable. Your hair won’t be the only thing to benefit from eating healthy – your entire body and image will thank you, too!
by Aaron Marino