Obama Is Getting Gray Hair, Are You?


The tremendous stress of the presidency may be the reason Obama’s hair is turning gray, but what about you? What causes hair to turn gray and what can you do about it?

Why Hair Turns Gray
Research suggest that one cause of gray hair is related to stress, which can cause the pigment cells (melanocytes) in the hair follicles to stop production of melanin, which is the substance that gives your hair its color. Hair melanin is either eumelanin (black or dark brown) or pheomelanin (red or yellow), and these two melanins combine in different ways to create each person’s hair color. Gray hair has lost most of its melanin, while white hair has lost all of it.

If you are experiencing a lot of stress associated with financial issues, problems with work, relationship challenges, or the added pressures imposed by the holiday season, it may contribute to graying hair. Some experts suggest that stress hormones, such as cortisol, may have an impact on the function of melanocytes, while others propose that gray hair is the result of free radical damage. Most experts tend to agree that genetics plays a role in hair graying.

A collaborative effort by investigators from Germany and the United Kingdom recently proposed that hair turns gray because the wear and tear of the hair follicles results in an accumulation of hydrogen peroxide. All hair cells produce hydrogen peroxide, and with age the amount increases. The hydrogen peroxide build-up blocks the normal production of melanin, and thus hair turns gray.


How to Fight Gray Hair
While commercial hair dyes are always an option, there are other ways to fight gray hair. One way is not to fight at all—let it go! Keep it healthy by using a natural bristle brush to brush it every day, from your scalp down to the tips, with at least 100 strokes. Brushing promotes hair quality and growth and actually helps prevent hair loss. Use only natural hair products and avoid those that contain harsh chemicals. Participating in daily stress reduction exercises or meditation may also help keep your hair looking great.

One natural approach to fighting gray hair comes from the Chinese: black sesame seeds (hei zhi ma). Eating black sesame seeds reportedly helps “restart” the melanocytes so they will start producing melanin again. A suggested dose is 1 teaspoon of the seeds daily for three months. According to Naturopathy Digest, ingesting black sesame seeds with polygonum may help keep your hair rich and dark. Polygonum root, also known as shou wu or fo-ti, is a supplement available online and in Asian herbal stores.

If you are looking for natural hair colorings, you might try henna, which works well for people who have light brown or red hair. Brunettes may try coffee or black tea rinses, while lemon juice and cooled chamomile tea may color light hair.

Whether you have gray hair now or you are seeing signs of gray peeking out through, it need not be a stressful experience. You can choose to keep your gray hair or try to retain its original color. Either way, keep your hair clean, shiny, and healthy and wear it proudly.

Naturopathy Digest online
Wood JM et al. FASEB J 2009 Feb 23; DOI: 10.1096/fj.08-125435