By Margarita Nahapetyan
The scientists from the University of Bradford in collaboration with German experts in Mainz and Luebeck, believe that they finally opened the veil of a mystery that has been perplexing millions of people all across the world - why our hair turns grey with age?
The researchers came up with their results by examining native hair and cells that are isolated from human hair follicles. They say that the secret turns out to be hiding in a simple, but powerful enzyme, called catalase, which is causing hair to turn grey. Catalase can be found in almost all living organisms which are exposed to oxygen. It is present in highest concentrations in the liver, and is also being used to remove hydrogen peroxide from milk to make cheese. Food wraps that are made from catalase keep our groceries fresh by preventing oxidation.
Catalase enzyme production lowers with age and stress, therefore allowing the naturally occurring hydrogen peroxide to do his favorite job - bleach hair to grey, and then to white, by blocking the normal production of melanin. Melanin is our hair's natural pigment that is responsible for the color of the hair, in addition it determines also the color of our eyes and skin color. The scientists found that the decrease in melanin production as individuals get older, is the result of a combination of various events that involve 4 different enzymes present in hair follicles.
Dr. Gerald Weissmann, Editor-in-Chief of FASEB journal says, "All of our hair cells make a tiny bit of hydrogen peroxide, but as we get older, this little bit becomes a lot. We bleach our hair pigment from within, and our hair turns gray and then white."
The experts also discovered that hair follicle cells are in need of other enzymes, called enzymes MSR A and MSR B (where MSR stands for Methionine Sulfoxide Reductase), in order to restore damage that was caused by the build up of hydrogen peroxide. In addition, to make things even more complicated, low levels of MSR A and MSR B also disrupt another enzyme, tyrosinase, which is needed for producing melanin, in turn, leading to grey hair.
The new study brings a hope for millions of people who have to color their hair, to finally obtain some shampoo or potion that will decrease levels of hydrogen peroxide and, and therefore will be able to restore grey or white hair to its natural color or even prevent it from turning into grey. The researchers are already conducting an experiment with such drug on few volunteers with grey hair, and expect to get the results in the nearest 2-3 months. If everything works out, millions of people will be given an option to choose between such a natural innovation and other previously used expensive dyes. However, even if the drug works, it will take at least several years before it will be brought to the market.
A lead researcher of the study, Karin Schallreuter, said that their findings are a great breakthrough in unraveling the mystery of grey hair appearance, and gives the scientists new opportunities to come up with new ideas in order to battle the process. She said that young women who use hair-colors that are based on hydrogen peroxide, should not worry, it is just older women in whom such dyes may lead to the faster graying of hair. The scientist added that due to the current results, the experts may also find answers concerning vitiligo, a condition that causes white patches to appear on the skin.
The discoveries appeared in the internationally-renowned FASEB Journal, published by the Federation of the American Societies for Experimental Biology.