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  • David Howell

Grey Hair; Dyeing for Answers?

Updated: Jun 10, 2020

George Clooney, grey hair answers


Grey hair, the sign of maturity and wisdom? Sometimes, but if you’re distressed by prematurely grey hair, there may be a logical reason and a possible way to limit this condition.

How common is grey hair?

An old “50/50/50 Rule of Thumb” says that, “at 50 years of age, 50% of the population will have at least 50% grey hair. Not so, says a 2012 study by the British Journal of Dermatology, which found that the global rate is more like 6-23% of the population having at least 50% grey hair at 50 years of age. Their study also showed that the rates differ between gender, men usually having significantly more grey hair than women, and that the rate is also affected by race and country.

What happens when hair goes grey hair?

Noticed that your greys are wilder and more unmanageable than your coloured hair? That’s because hair with pigment loss may also have less moisture uptake and structural changes that make it less controllable.

What causes pigment loss & grey hair?

a) The copper connection

The production of melanin for hair pigmentation happens when an amino acid called Tyrosine is oxidised (the process of oxidation is like when a peeled apple turns brown). The oxidising chemical is called Tyrosinase (an enzyme), and it requires copper for this reaction. In 2011, researchers compared a group of 66 people aged less than 20 who had premature greying hair against 66 people without grey hair, and found that those with grey hair had significantly lower levels of copper in their blood compared to the others. It makes sense then, that low copper levels reduce the action of tyrosinase, leading to lower melanin for hair pigmentation. This theory is backed up by another study in 2009 that found that blocking tyrosinase by kojic acid leads to greater levels of hair depigmentation (grey hair).

b) The Forskolin connection

There’s an interesting plant called coleus (Coleus forskolii) that I prescribe to help clients’ body hormones interact more effectively with hormone receptors (usually to help with metabolism & weight control). The active ingredient, forskolin, has been shown to stimulate increased tyrosinase levels, leading to better hair pigmentation. So, if you’re suffering from hormone based weight gain and have greying hair, Coleus may just provide the help you’re looking for.

c) The smoking connection

Smoking tobacco has a strong likelihood of greying your hair prematurely. A simple Indian study in 2013 examined 207 people, and found that smoking significantly increases premature greying before the age of 30 years.

What to do about grey hair?

If you’re concerned about prematurely greying hair, you could ask your healthcare practitioner to test your copper levels by Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTMA) (see the “investigations” tab on this website). If your copper is low, you could then be prescribed a multivitamin or other copper-containing supplement that most closely matches your HTMA results and cell needs. You could also talk to your practitioner about Coleus, and see if it’s a relevant herbal supplement for you. If you smoke tobacco, reducing or quitting the habit may not only help your hair colour, but reduce the risk of baldness.

So while there’s no specific clinical trial that gives the total answer to grey hair, these recommendations have reasonable evidence for potential success, and may be worth trying for 6 months for certain people. If you do begin treating your grey hair, I recommend you take a photo about every 2 weeks so that you can compare results and monitor your progress and, if you manage to reverse your greys and have photographic proof, please let me know!

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