Contrary to the age-old belief that grey hair is a sign of wisdom, a team of European scientists have shown that going grey is caused by a massive build up of hydrogen peroxide due to wear and tear of our hair follicles.
Publishing their findings online in The FASEB Journal, the researchers said that the peroxide winds up blocking the normal synthesis of melanin, our hair''s natural pigment.
"Not only blondes change their hair colour with hydrogen peroxide. 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 grey and then white. This research, however, is an important first step to get at the root of the problem, so to speak," said Dr. Gerald Weissmann, Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal.
The researchers have revealed that they examined cell cultures of human hair follicles, and found that the build up of hydrogen peroxide was caused by a reduction of an enzyme that breaks up hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen (catalase).
They also found that hair follicles could not repair the damage caused by the hydrogen peroxide because of low levels of enzymes that normally serve this function—MSR A and B.
The researchers said that high levels of hydrogen peroxide and low levels of MSR A and B disrupt the formation of an enzyme called tyrosinase, which leads to the production of melanin in hair follicles.
Melanin is the pigment responsible for hair colour, skin colour, and eye colour.
The researchers speculate that a similar breakdown in the skin could be the root cause of vitiligo.
"As any blue-haired lady will attest, sometimes hair dyes don't quite work as anticipated. This study is a prime example of how basic research in biology can benefit us in ways never imagined," Weissmann added.