We have an aversion to aging in America. Most people, especially women, resist aging and do whatever they can to slow down, avoid, or reverse the process. If you disagree, consider these facts:
“…in the past few decades, the market for anti-aging products and services has grown into a global industry valued at an estimated $261.9 billion in 2013, up from $162 billion just five years ago, according to BCC Research, a publisher of technology market research reports based in Wellesley, Mass.”(1) AND “This is expected to increase to nearly $345.8 billion in 2018, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.7% between 2013 and 2018.” (2)
By these figures, you would think that aging was unnatural or a disease, but…
- Does growing old equate to illness?
- Does aging necessarily mean a loss of beauty?
- Is gray hair really a natural occurrence associated with aging?
Biblically gray hair is referred as a crown of splendor to the aged, but what about to those in their 20s, 30s or 40s? Their glory or brilliant appearance is in their strength according to Mishlei (Proverbs) 20:29. I found my first wild, gray hair when I was around 25, probably because these silvery strands seem to have a mind of their own. Often sticking straight up, they are much more coarse and kinky than the hairs of our youthful color-- so annoying! At first I yanked them out, but then as time went on, I realized that soon I would be bald, so I resigned myself to these wily critters in agreement that gray hair is a glory, and I internally vowed to accept my crown with dignity…. but I was not elderly yet, and I’m still not! It wasn’t until my training as a Certified Master Herbalist, subsequent research, and continuing education that I learned that there are CONTROLLABLE factors that contribute to a "silver crown":
- Genetics-- you may not be able to control your genetics, but a relatively new field of scientific study called epigenetics holds that environmental factors influence the expression of genes. While early onset of graying hair may be genetic, the actual occurrence of canities (graying of hair) may differ between those who experience certain environmental factors versus those who don’t. This concept is concisely expressed by Chris Kresser:
“Genes load the gun and environment pulls the trigger.” (3)
- Environmental factors-- some have claimed that chlorinated water may lead to premature graying, as chlorine can accumulate in the tissues, and chlorine is a component in oxidation hair dyes. (4) Drinking purified water free of chlorine (and fluoride) is said to unblock the follicles and allow your natural color to return, taking 3-12 months. Aside from helping to protect and restore our natural hair color, chemical-free water benefits your overall health, especially the thyroid because chlorine, bromine and fluoride can take up the receptor sites for iodine and block the absorption of iodine in the body. Dry, brittle and/ or thinning hair may all be signs of a thyroid imbalance, and iodine is critical for thyroid health. Read more about iodine deficiency and strategies for a healthy thyroid here.
By the way, the same folks that claim that chlorine is linked to gray hair say there is no such thing as male pattern baldness; it is due simply to blocked follicles that become starved of nutrients, leading to a gray color. So unblocking hair follicles by eliminating toxins in the diet and environment can not only restore the color of your crown but its abundance as well!
Blood circulation to the scalp can restore hair color and growth. Cutaneous circulation to the scalp is proven to be affected by cigarette smoking (5), so one more reason to NOT smoke! Additionally, exercise, inversion equipment, slant boards, or using herbs, supplements, and essential oils that promote circulation to the periphery may be helpful.
- Stress-- legend has it that Marie Antoinette and Sir Thomas More both went gray overnight before their executions. True or not, can pychological stress produce gray hair? Experts are quick to dismiss this as a myth stating that,
“Not a shred of evidence for this notion has been reported in the scientific or popular literature. Our hair becomes gray from using the same chemical used by those who bleach their hair from bottles; as we age we become peroxide grays.” (6) (more about peroxide graying later)
However, regardless of scientific evidence, there are thousands of people (do your own Google search) who attest to the fact that after a major stress or trauma such as the death or injury of a loved one, serious injury, intense pain, surgery, grief, or even no apparent stress, hair color can turn white literally overnight or over the course of several days. (7) Why not? After all, if stress can impair your immune system, and your immune system regulates normal bodily functions (pigmentation being one of them), then a high level of stress can impair pigmentation production. B Vitamins are excreted more rapidly during stress as fuel for the adrenals and pituitary, and a few studies seem to indicate that specific B vitamins such as B1, B6 & B12 can help restore melanin in grey or white hair. (8), (9)
“Human hair greying is linked to a specific depletion of hair follicle melanocytes affecting both the bulb and the outer root sheath.” (10)
Extreme stress can exhaust B vitamin stores in the body, thus depleting the melanin which would cause gray hair, and then over time when the body has built up its stores of B vitamins, the melanin is restored along with natural hair color. Interestingly, many people have reported having dark roots return to white hairs, indicating that graying can be reversed and natural color restored!
- Autoimmune disorders-- alopecia and vitiligo are tissue-specific autoimmune diseases. Alopecia attacks the hair follicle resulting in bald patches of skin, and if the hair eventually grows back, it can be de-pigmented or white. (11) Vitiligo attacks the melanocyte (cells that manufacture pigment), resulting in white patches of skin which can affect the hair pigmentation in those areas as well. (12) Autoimmune disorders can be addressed through the use of nucleo-proteins or protomorphogens to repair and restore proper cell function. Dermatrophin PMG neutralizes the circulating antibodies that attack skin and epithelial cells in autoimmune situations. Necrotic or damaged tissues can trigger an immune response, and the source of the decaying tissue (in this case, the hair follicles or melanocytes) is attacked, causing more damage to these cells. It becomes a vicious cycle.
Proteolytic enzymes, or enzymes used between meals on an empty stomach, scavenge stray proteins from the blood and work in much the same way as protomorphogens to heal organs affected by autoimmune disorders.
- Gut function-- Gut health is also a key to correcting autoimmune disorders because a “leaky gut” is often the source of autoimmune disorders. If undigested proteins resembling hair follicle or melanocyte proteins enter the bloodstream through a permeable intestinal wall, then auto-antibodies can end up attacking the body’s tissues as well. If leaky gut is the culprit, gut health can be restored through following the GAPS diet, Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), or Paleo Diet, avoiding high FODMAPs foods, consuming foods high in pre-biotics, FOS, and beneficial bacteria, or supplementing with probiotics. There are also herbs which help soothe and re-build the small intestine, such as aloe vera, golden seal, marshmallow, and slippery elm. For more specifics about healing your gut, check out this FREE eBook by Chris Kresser.
- Kidney & liver/ blood deficiencies-- Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) holds that gray hair is a result of deficient kidney chi or vitality. The kidney is essential to youthful vitality and is responsible for the development and regulation of the brain, spinal cord, bones, teeth, blood, hair, and REPRODUCTION.
“By age 40, it is estimated that the average adult has cumulatively lost approximately 40% of their kidney function.” -Dr. Larry J. Milam, HMD, PhD
These TCM herbal combinations enhance kidney chi:
Ayurvedic Medicine commends Shilajit for strengthening vitality and is reported to due to its nutrient-dense profile, containing at least 85 minerals inionicform, as well as triterenes, humic acidandfulvic acid. Bringaraj and Amla powders are two more Ayurvedic remedies believed to enhance hair health and growth. Read on for a truly unique source of colloidal minerals from nature’s ancient treasure chest….
- Protein/ amino acid deficiencies-- meats are rich in B Vitamins, and the building blocks for proteins in meats are amino acids. So, a protein-rich diet is necessary for healthy hair growth and pigmentation. For vegetarians, B12 deficiency is very common, which may contribute to premature whitening of the hair, so be sure to supplement if you are vegetarian and include fermented foods (rich in B12) or nutritional yeast in your diet on a daily basis!
L-methionine is another amino acid often deficient in vegetarians and which deficiency can promote canities. Again, adequate protein intake including all 9 essential amino acids is important, which may include whey protein, eggs, or vegetarian sources such as avocado, chia, or quinoa.
- Hydroxyl radicals – literally hydrogen peroxide, a bleach, can be naturally produced in the hair follicles from oxidative stress. Just like commercial hydrogen peroxide bleaching agents, natural peroxide bleaches the hair! (13)
- Co-enzyme deficiencies--Scientists from the Institute for Pigmentary Disorders in association with E.M. Arndt University of Greifswald, Germany and the Centre for Skin Sciences, School of Life Sciences at the University of Bradford, United Kingdom reported in The FASEB Journal that low levels of the following co-factors promote the repigmentation of skin and eyelashes (14), (15):
- PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid) is a co-factor to B Vitamins and has been documented to restore natural hair color. This action is believed to be due to its antioxidant capacity. (16), (17), (18)
- Catalase is necessary to break down hydrogen peroxide which is produced in hair follicles due to oxidative stress. Magnesium naturally leads to the production of catalase, but it can also be found in beef liver, potatoes, carrots, garlic, onions, cruciferous vegetables, and wheat sprouts. PC-KUS (a modified pseudocatalase) is a synthetic, UVB-activated compound that may also be beneficial in reversing the build up of hydrogen peroxide.
- Methionine sulfoxide reductase (MSR) is an enzyme that converts methionine sulfoxide to methionine, which helps repair any damage to the hair follicle, mostly resulting from the presence of hydrogen peroxide. L-methionine amino acid, mentioned previously, can even block hydrogen peroxide damage in hair follicles.
- Tyrosinase is another enzyme responsible for the production of melanin in hair, and without adequate levels of this co-factor, proper pigmentation is compromised. (19), (20) Potatoes, apples, bananas, and mushrooms contain this anti-aging co-enzyme.
- Thioredoxin reductase enhance MSR functionality. (21)
- Fatty acid deficiencies-- the ends of DNA are called telomeres, and the longer the telomeres, the more vital the organism. Fatty acids such as Omega 3s have been found to lengthen telomeres, thus lengthening life:
“A past study using mice "engineered to age faster" found that lengthening the rodent's telomeres reversed the aging process, ABC News reported. After gene therapy, researchers noticed that the mice's fur went from grey back to its original dark brown.” (22)
- Vitamin deficiencies-- B Vitamins were mentioned earlier related gray hair via excess secretion due to stress. Likewise, biotin (highest in egg yolks) and inositol are beneficial nutrients for maintaining and restoring natural hair color. (23)
- Mineral deficiencies-- there are at least 60 essential minerals that our bodies require for optimum health. We CANNOT manufacture these minerals, so we MUST consume them DAILY.
- Magnesium deficiency sets off a chain of other deficiencies (catalase, MSR, tyrosinase, etc.) that permit damage to the melanocytes in hair and skin from hydrogen peroxide naturally produced by the body via oxidative stress, according to a group of scientists at Yorkshire’s University of Bradford, UK who have been studying the causes of gray hair. (24), (25) An unprocessed diet is key to proper magnesium balance in the body-- processed foods leach magnesium from the body through the kidneys-- remember the TCM connection to kidneys and gray hair? Kidney chi is reduced through a white trash diet. Read my blog series on The Chemistry of Nutrition for a complete picture of balanced nutrition for optimum health.
- Trace Minerals occur in nature in minute amounts, and although of very low concentration in soils and foods, these small amounts are still ESSENTIAL to our bodies for optimum health.
- Copper is an obscure mineral mainly associated with pennies, but did you know that it is an ESSENTIAL mineral for your body? In fact, with magnesium, copper may be the most important mineral for maintaining youthful locks. “Steely wool” in sheep translates to dry, brittle hair in humans-- both are due to deficient copper in the body. Copper is needed for the production of melanin which determines not only your skin color but also your hair color. Any type of weak membrane, whether it be veins and arteries (spider and varicose veins, aneurysms, etc.), abdominal wall (hernias), rectum (hemorrhoids), or sagging tissue signals a need for more copper in the diet. Because of these characteristics, copper is a “youth element” of sorts, able to restore color to the hair and tone to the skin including eye lids, “crow’s feet,” breast, and stomach (think “baby belly”). Perhaps this is because copper is needed to manufacture estrogen, a “youth hormone” that firms the skin and tissues.
Thyroid health is crucial to maintaining your natural hair color, and copper is a co-factor to iodine which is the key nutrient of the thyroid. Iodine deficiency will manifest in a host of undesirable symptoms, including dry, brittle hair, nails and skin (sounds a lot like copper deficiency, huh?). In fact, although several people groups around the world consume high amounts of iodine, goiter is not present ONLY in the groups that ALSO have adequate copper intake.pper is a required co-factor to utilize iodAs a side note, copper is absorbed through the stomach and small intestine, so again you can see the connection between healthy gut function and canities.
- Zinc counters copper and is necessary for the production of progesterone, which counters estrogen. So for female hormones to be in balance, a proper zinc-to-copper ratio is necessary. Similar to copper and iodine, zinc is necessary for healthy hair, skin and nails, making it critical for retaining natural hair color. Common symptoms of zinc deficiency include white spots on the fingernails, loss of sense of smell or taste, infertility, slow wound healing, and hair loss to name a few. It is an essential co-factor for no less than 70 enzymes, including those for digestion, metabolism, blood sugar handling, and respiration. So zinc too influences gut health as well as thyroid function.
- MSM, Silicon, Sulfur & Selenium (more about this mineral in my next blog) can also boost your ability to ward off silver strands, as these minerals soften the hair, skin, and nails. MSM has the added benefit of assisting the absorption of copper salicylate into the skin.
So, as you can see, the body performs quite a balancing act so that we can maintain our youthful hair color and prevent a premature “crown of splendor” from taking root (pun intended!). Whether related to genetic, physical, or emotional status, the presence of gray hairs is nonetheless heavily influenced by nutrition-- vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, protein, enzymes, co-enzymes, etc. And in today’s world, try as we might to eat a healthy diet-- which I highly recommend,
"It's not just what you eat that kills you, it's what you don't eat. The key to health is giving your body all the 90 essential nutrients." -Dr. Joel Wallach
We need more than food to be healthy. Soils are depleted, with only NPK being added in the form of chemical fertilizers containing synthetic forms of Nitrogen, Phosphorous & Potassium. Just as our children can only inherit what we have to give them in the form of genes or finances, our foods are limited to the nutrient profile of the soils they are grown in. Our foods are depleted because our soils lack the nutrients that they once had… but there is an answer! Do you wonder what the mineral levels are in your body? Contact me to get 15% off on a Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis during the month of November and to learn about An Ancient Treasure Chest of Nutrition that will get you started on The Road to Your New Vitality.
Got a penny in exchange for your “crown of splendor”?
L’chaim-- To Life!