I wrote this post because there was little information on the internet about how to solve graying hair, and what was available didn’t seem to be supported by science. Almost all of the information is gleaned from more than a hundred scientific papers.
The Cause of Greying Hair: Hydrogen Peroxide
Whitening of the hair is a result of increased levels of hydrogen peroxide, which can bleach the hair from the inside out. Hair cells in people of all ages produce some hydrogen peroxide. But in young people, it’s quickly broken down into its harmless elements of hydrogen and oxygen. With advancing age, hydrogen peroxide is broken down less and builds up in larger amounts in the hair follicle and ultimately inhibits the synthesis of the color pigment melanin. Increasing hydrogen peroxide clearance or breakdown should delay hair whitening.
Another enzyme, Methionine Sulfoxide Reductase A and B (MSR A and B), normally helps hair follicles repair the damage caused by hydrogen peroxide. But as we age, the levels of these enzymes also decline, and they can’t do as much damage control. The combination of higher levels of hydrogen peroxide and lower levels of MSR A and B make it harder for the body to produce enough of another enzyme, tyrosinase, which facilitates melanin’s transfer to the hair shaft. (Melanin gives the hair its color).
The Causes of Excess Hydrogen Peroxide
According to recent scientific studies, low levels of catalase may play a role in the graying process of human hair, since catalase breaks down hydrogen peroxide. If catalase levels decline, hydrogen peroxide will increase and accumulate at an accelerated clip.
Glutathione peroxidase may also play a role in the graying process because it converts hydrogen peroxide into the water in the body. So increasing glutathione peroxidase may be another mechanism to decrease hydrogen peroxide.
Elevated homocysteine may accelerate graying hair because it has been suggested to directly generate hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). Decreasing homocysteine, it seems, should decrease hydrogen peroxide. (Homocysteine is a risk factor for and likely contributory cause of heart disease.)
Xanthine oxidase is an enzyme that can produce hydrogen peroxide. Inhibiting this enzyme should decrease hydrogen peroxide. (This therapy is used for gout to decrease uric acid).
It may also be the case that certain substances can protect the damage done by hydrogen peroxide.
Catalase has applicability to other diseases. Low catalase may be a causal factor in diseases such as diabetes, schizophrenia, and atherosclerosis. Hydrogen peroxide has been found to damage pancreatic β-cells and cause insulin resistance and removal of it has been shown to increase insulin signaling.
Overexpression of catalase may also increase lifespan.
In Summary: The 5 Mechanism’s To Prevent Greying Hair
So there are 5 possible mechanisms by which you can block/clear hydrogen peroxide and delay graying hair. These are:
- Increasing catalase,
- Increasing glutathione peroxidase,
- Lowering homocysteine,
- Using a xanthine oxidase inhibitor,
- Directly scavenging hydrogen peroxide,
Diet And Lifestyle to Delay Graying Hair
Now that we know graying hair comes from H2O2 as a result of low catalase, the question is why people have low catalase.
Graying hair isn’t life threatening, so it doesn’t cause for drastic action. While there’s a lot of things that can be done – much more than listed here – I delineated the most important and sensible solutions that can delay graying hair. These solutions offer the most bang for your buck. They are:
- Exercising. I like to use a Pull-up bar and a Push-up bar.
- Eating well.
- Eating lots of vegetables- especially leafy greens and whole grains.
- Eating fish and egg yolks in moderation – 2 yolks a day.
- Eating foods such as flax, sesame, white mushrooms, sweet potatoes, preferably 85% dark chocolate, raw honey (in moderation), tempeh, olives/olive oil, Fenugreek, Ceylon Cinnamon, turmeric, ginger and likely many other spices. Eating less red meat. (obviously follow lectin avoidance diet if lectin sensitive).
- Staying away from excessive alcohol, excessive sun, and toxins – especially heavy metals.
- Stopping to smoke. Smoking causes serious oxidative stress.
- Getting adequate sleep and Stress Management (Full Catastrophe Living) through mindfulness, breathing exercises, yoga, and meditation.
- Drinking Tea (jasmine, matcha, peony) and/or kombucha.
All of these actions increase Glutathione peroxidase and Catalase.
Eating lots of vegetables may also be helpful since many raise catalase and glutathione peroxidase. Unless you’re into popping lots of pills or taking lots of herbs, there’s no way around this one. Mushrooms, dark chocolate/cocoa and some fruits can be beneficial as well. Vegetables also have phenolics which inhibit xanthine oxidase.
Eating whole grains and seeds like sesame can inhibit xanthine oxidase because of the phytate.
Stress and sleep deprivation lead to whitening of hair by decreasing catalase. Astragalus is an effective method for preventing a stress-induced decrease in catalase, in addition to mindfulness, breathing exercises, yoga, and meditation.
Heavy metals like mercury and lead can also decrease catalase. Excess iron can do the same, which can be obtained by iron-rich foods like red meat.
Excess alcohol decreases catalase. In moderation, there might be a compensatory response which would prove beneficial. I’d say one beer or equivalent alcohol consumption would be considered moderation and shouldn’t be of concern.
Smokers were found to be four times more likely to begin graying prematurely.
- Rooibos tea -drinking it and putting it on your hair.
- Putting Catalase directly on your hair
- Putting brewed Tea directly on your hair, mixed with oil so that your hair doesn’t become too dry. (R)
- Avocado oil or extra virgin olive oil (R) topically.
- Black Cumin Seed Oil (R)
- Chyawanprash – a traditional remedy for graying hair.
- Hydroxytyrosol (R)
- Grape Seed Extract
- Ceylon Cinnamon -5g (R)
- Stabilized R-Lipoic Acid with meal (R)
- Fo-Ti – a traditional remedy for graying hair.
- Gynostemma (R)
- Curcumin 2g (R)
- Magnesium (R)
All of these substances affect the body in multiple positive ways. How much you take of each depends on multiple factors, so I can’t give recommendations.
Rooibos, lipoic acid, astragalus, tea,Ceylon Cinnamon, cocoa and ginger increase catalase and glutathione peroxidase and also inhibit xanthine oxidase. Tea, astragalus, and lipoic acid also scavenge hydrogen peroxide directly.
Many herbs and plants can increase catalase and glutathione peroxidase. Most herbs that are effective for catalase are also effective for glutathione peroxidase.
The following substances have been found to increase catalase: Crimini mushrooms, Sweet potatoes, Chayawanprash or Amla, Raw Honey, Ceylon Cinnamon, Cocoa, Tea, Fish Oil, Kombucha/ACV, Flax, Tulsi, Fenugreek, Ginseng, Rooibos, Soy, Grape seed extract, Milk thistle, Resveratrol, Astragalus, Rehmannia, Curcumin, Reishi, RLA, Coq10, Bitter Melon, Gynostemma, OLE, Dan Shen, Ashwagandha, Bacopa, Gotu Kola, Rhodiola, Berberine, Carnitine, Ginger.
You can scavenge hydrogen peroxide directly with lipoic acid and cysteine. Cysteine is found in eggs and sesame in high concentrations, as well as in many other foods. We may not have enough since the world we live in might place a higher burden on cysteine to detox toxins. NAC is a supplement that can increase cysteine. Lipoic acid would need to be supplemented in pill form for this purpose. My guess is garlic would also be useful for because of its thiols.
Avocado oil can be used topically to increase catalase. Amla oil can also be used topically and is used traditionally for this purpose.
Fo-ti is a traditional remedy for graying hair, but I haven’t seen any science behind it. I’m slightly concerned about its potential liver toxicity. I know herbal hype when I see it, but this doesn’t seem to be hyped. I’d wager that it works, but that’s just faith. I’d use it as a type of panic button in case my other methods don’t work.
These are all extremely safe (with the exception of fo-ti). I have tried everything I have listed here at much higher doses.