Just like the skin and eyes, the hair is coloured by pigments belonging to the melanin family. In the absence of melanin, the hair and skin are white, as seen in albino mammals (1).
The main role of these pigments is to protect the skin, eyes and hair from ultraviolet damage.
This is why humans who have evolved in the world’s hot and sunny regions have dark skin, eyes and hair while those from colder, less sunny regions have fair skin, blue eyes and blonde hair. In fact, the type and amount of melanin an individual has is largely hereditary (2).
The melanin in hair is controlled by cells called melanocytes, interacting with keratinocytes, which themselves control hair growth. As long as melanocytes are healthy, hair growth will be blonde, red, brown, chestnut, etc.
However, as with any cell, melanocytes have a limited lifespan and we only have a finite amount of stem cells that enable them to be reproduced. Greying of the hair is a normal and unavoidable part of the hair ageing process (3).
Thus it is generally accepted that among Caucasian-type populations, 50% of the hair of those aged 50 will be 50% grey: with their melanocytes no longer totally functioning, part of their hair is coming through grey (4).
While greying of the hair is normal, it can be accelerated by oxidative stress(5). Melanocytes, like other cells in the body, are sensitive to free radical attack, which causes their premature demise.
It has thus been widely demonstrated that several factors encourage the hair to turn grey (6-8):
To stem the development of grey hair, it is therefore important to protect yourself against oxidative stress. For advice on how to do this, read our article 10 tips for combatting oxidative stress.
Essential for health, the trace element copper is normally obtained from food. This metal plays various roles in the body and is involved in numerous chemical processes.
First and foremost, copper helps protect cells against oxidative stress (9). It is thus involved in fighting the free radicals that attack melanocytes.
Copper also has a direct role in an enzymatic reaction essential for the production of melanin by melanocytes. Copper catalyses tyrosinase (10), in other words, it converts the amino acid tyrosine into melanin, the hair pigment. It thus supportsnormal pigmentation of the hair (11).
As mentioned, copper is normally provided by the diet (from foods such as calves’ liver, lobster, squid, dark chocolate, kidney beans …), and in theory, the same goes for all the natural antioxidants the body needs to combat free radicals.
So to prevent grey hair, it’s important to eat a varied, balanced diet, with very few processed products or ready meals.
It’s also a good idea to include wholegrains, brewer’s yeast, almonds, hard-boiled eggs, chicken livers, nuts and brie : all these foods are actually high in vitamin B8, or biotin. Biotin (which is available in our supplement Biotin), helps maintain healthy hair (12).
Try to boost your diet by incorporating oysters, rye bread, cocoa powder, cashew or pine nuts and parmesan, all of which are rich in zinc, a trace-element which also helps to maintain healthy hair (13). To boost your zinc intake, you could opt for a zinc supplement (such as Advanced Zinc Lozenges).
There are also specific synergistic formulations that combine various natural, beneficial compounds. They include Grey Hair Formula, rich in biotin and zinc, as well as copper for pigmentation, saw palmetto extract and proanthocyanidins, or Hair & Nails Formula, which combines biotin, copper, zinc, solubilised keratin, etc. For healthy hair in general, we’d also recommend Keranat, rich in zinc, vitamins and plant extracts.
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