Why does your hair turn gray?

Graying hair is a sure-fire sign of aging.  But what is going on?  Actually, the hair is being bleached.  Recently-reported research indicates that graying with age is due to a buildup of hydrogen peroxide in human scalp hair shafts – yes the same stuff used to bleach hair.  The peroxide blocks synthesis of our hair’s natural pigment, melanin.  The buildup of hydrogen peroxide is caused by a reduction of an enzyme that converts hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen, and the graying is compounded by low levels of methionine sulfoxide reducase (MSR) A and B, enzymes that repair hair follicles.  Further, these events disrupt the formation of tyrosinase, a key enzyme involved in the production of melanin.  

What can be done about all this to bring back naturally-colored hair?  That is unclear for now but there are hints.  It appears that a key step in the sequence of hair-bleaching events, oxidation of methionine sulfoxide, can be blocked in-vitro by L-methionine.  Methionine is an amino acid that can be found in sesame seeds, Brazil nuts, fish, meats, and certain plant seeds.  L-methionine is also readily available as a dietary supplement.  Taurine, an amino acid derivative from L-methionine and cysteine metabolism, and also available a dietary supplement, also seems to have a protective effect on human hair follicles in-vitro(ref).  However, so far I have seen no research evidence that dietary L-methionine or taurine can have any impact on human hair color or density.

About Vince Giuliano

Being a follower, connoisseur, and interpreter of longevity research is my latest career. I have been at this part-time for well over a decade, and in 2007 this became my mainline activity. In earlier reincarnations of my career. I was founding dean of a graduate school and a university professor at the State University of New York, a senior consultant working in a variety of fields at Arthur D. Little, Inc., Chief Scientist and C00 of Mirror Systems, a software company, and an international Internet consultant. I got off the ground with one of the earliest PhD's from Harvard in a field later to become known as computer science. Because there was no academic field of computer science at the time, to get through I had to qualify myself in hard sciences, so my studies focused heavily on quantum physics. In various ways I contributed to the Computer Revolution starting in the 1950s and the Internet Revolution starting in the late 1980s. I am now engaged in doing the same for The Longevity Revolution. I have published something like 200 books and papers as well as over 430 substantive.entries in this blog, and have enjoyed various periods of notoriety. If you do a Google search on Vincent E. Giuliano, most if not all of the entries on the first few pages that come up will be ones relating to me. I have a general writings site at www.vincegiuliano.com and an extensive site of my art at www.giulianoart.com. Please note that I have recently changed my mailbox to vegiuliano@agingsciences.com.
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7 Responses to Why does your hair turn gray?

  1. Res says:

    Hi Vince



    resveratrol upregulates catalese. So resveratrol mixed with sesame oil would be good medicine for turning that hair black :-))

  2. admin says:

    Right on about the hydrogen peroxide buildup being due to decline in catalase and the research about resveratrol upregulating catalase. But why do you suggest sesame oil rather than fish oils or oils with strong concentrations of EPA and DHA? Is it significantly better at promoting catalase?

    On a personal level I take 325mg of trans-resveratrol twice daily and lots of EPA/DHA oils. I am getting a somewhat thicker fuzz of hairs on my scalp, possibly attributable to hair folicle stem cells being stimulated by taking astragaloside IV. But they almost all remain stubornly gray.

  3. Res says:

    In India, people use Sesame oil or coconut oil (as the gel)for the hair. People there say that this oil keeps tha hair black. So there may be some truth to that. So adding Resveratrol would be doubly beneficient. Is it not?

  4. admin says:

    Res: As a matter of fact I know some older Indians who have very black hair. I am already doing the resveratrol and will look into sesame or coconut oil gels. This is a cosmetic issue but something I am willing to try. There are some Indian stores in Waltham near where I live and I will start asking about gels there.

  5. peter says:


    Two things – There is some research that suggests low protein diets, or just low in methionine, might promote health and longevity (see June article in New Scientist). Also, Tom, over at the Life Extension forums has posted quite a bit of information suggesting that fish oils in excess might actually be harmful due to the ease with which they are oxidized. http://forum.lef.org/default.aspx?m=66683&f=39&p=1

  6. maximo says:

    Research by Professor Schallreuter in the UK found that l-methionine blocks h. peroxide in vitro and she also speculated that we get cannot enough l-methionine in our diet.

    Limiting l-methionine may extend life but I don’t see how it could reverse gray hair.

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