Some of us can’t wait to get a cool grey streak, or a shake of salt and pepper, or pure white, or chic silver. Meanwhile, others are clinging to color. We dye, highlight, bleach, henna, and try all kinds of potions to prevent a common part of aging from occurring. Can we really biohack greying hair?
First, we need to understand it. Naturopathic doctor, Dr. Nigma Talib, tells us that “grey hair is not a disease state or a result of illness.” Good, now we’ve gotten that out of the way. It doesn’t mean we are unhealthy, that we are aging more rapidly, or closer to death than our richly colored counterparts. In fact, the timing of grey hair usually ties into genetics. Some will start seeing greys as early as their 20s, while others may not glimpse a silver strand until their 60s and beyond.
Dr. Talib does mention, however, that there have been some correlations with premature grey hair and some vitamin and mineral deficiencies, like B12 and copper. “Copper, for example, is a component of melanin, which gives our skin and hair its color. I recommend taking a supplement that contains copper and other vitamins and minerals to prevent premature grey hair, which can, in addition, support your hair skin and nail health.”
This goes hand in hand with a well-rounded diet that includes copper-containing foods, and foods that help with melanin production. Melanin is a light-absorbing compound responsible for the color of our hair and skin. The darker our hair or skin, the more melanin we have, and the lighter, the less. That doesn’t necessarily guarantee that paler people will go grey sooner—it all comes down to genes and diet.
Every single hair follicle contains pigment cells tied to melanin, called melanocytes. These make a compound called eumelanin, which is black or brown, or they make a compound called pheomelanin, which is red or yellow. These melanocytes communicate the melanin to the cells that produce keratin, the protein that hair is made of.
The keratin-producing cells are called keratinocytes. When they die off, they hold onto the color from the melanin. When we begin to see grey hair, it doesn’t mean we lose the melanocytes completely, it just means they are less active. Nutrients can help them stay active for longer.
Foods rich in color are typically richer in nutrients, like vitamins and minerals, which can help with our own melanin production. We’ve made a list of a few of our favorite superfoods rich in components that can help hold grey hair at bay for longer, aka prevent premature greying, but the scientific jury is still out on whether we can actually reverse grey hair back to full, rich color simply with natural, healthy foods. While it’s uncommon, unproven, and extremely unusual, we believe that it’s not impossible. Get your dense nutrients, kids.
While we shouldn’t always assume that the richer color a plant food is, the more nutritionally dense it is, it’s a pretty good stage to stand on. Typically, more color equals more antioxidant power and more vitamins and minerals. This is definitely true for black sesame seeds. They are loaded with B vitamins, tons of emollient fats, protein, and minerals, including copper, which can keep your locks soft, healthy, and thick and hold off premature greys.
An amazing superfood for beauty and hormone regulation, these sweet and versatile tubers are packed with vitamins, like A, B6, C, D, and E, and also have iron, zinc, copper, potassium, magnesium, niacin, and calcium. If that sounds like the full spectrum of goodies for beauty and health, that’s because it kind of is. Most of the nutrients are found in the skins, so don’t discard them! The skins are super tasty anyway, and crisp up nicely. While there aren’t many studies confirming their role in helping with greys, they do aid in growth. It’s all about nutrition for prevention.
Turmeric contains curcumin, a very special compound that affects gene expression and has high antioxidant-like effects against oxidative stress that leads to premature aging. Like going grey. Because high levels of stress cause premature aging, grey hair is no exception. That’s why we always joke about stressful jobs, people, or situations giving us grey hair—it’s more true than not.
Algae, like spirulina and chlorella
These slightly swampy-smelling algae can be conveniently purchased in powder form and tossed into smoothies to be virtually nondetectable, making algae consumption surprisingly enjoyable. We can also find them in capsules! They are both super nutrient-dense in iron, protein, B vitamins, and minerals, making them a must in your super-beauty-food arsenal.
Avocados are great to apply topically directly to the hair for a super moisturizing mask to protect, add shine, and support healthy scalps and growth, but it’s also a great idea to eat it. It’s rich in omegas and copper to support the function of melanocytes before they go dormant too early.
This is the vital gist, but the list of foods for healthy, rich, youthful hair is, luckily, quite long. Oysters, lentils, almonds, chocolate, and more are all rich in iron and copper, crucial minerals for our melanocytes and glowing skin. Vitamins D and E, which can be found in fatty fish like salmon, in walnuts, or even in brown rice hulls (think tocopherols and fermented rice water hair treatments), can nourish, protect, and prevent premature aging as well. Making sure to eat whole, nutritious foods and skipping the processed, empty calories will prolong the health and vibrancy of your hair, as long as your genetics will allow.
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