by Caleb Lyman, Cedarville University PharmD student
It has always been an accepted fact of life that as you age so does your body. One of the most noticeable signs of this aging is the development of gray hair. While some may be indifferent or even look forward to this process, many often wish they could keep their colored hair for their whole lives. Recently a news article was published which discussed possible over-the-counter products that claim to allow users to keep their hair just how they like it. While the desired outcome is simple, the molecular processes that make this possible are rather complex.
The USA Today article entitled Can Enzyme Supplements Really Keep Hair from Going Gray? contains very interesting information about over-the-counter treatments for the prevention of graying of hair. According to the article, the beauty product company L’Oreal is in the process of researching and developing a new product that is designed to stop the progression of gray hair development before it even begins.1 While it will still be a year or so before L’Oreal has a final product, the article additionally brought to light products that are already available for use. Such products are based off the assumption that as one ages, a certain enzyme, catalase, becomes less prevalent in one’s body.2 Catalase is responsible for removing hydrogen peroxide from the body and when hydrogen peroxide is not removed, a number of results take place, including the bleaching of hair.3 The article also reported the opinions of two respected doctors who stated they were wary of suggesting such a product that is not founded in scientific evidence.1 However, these experts sounded very interested to see if these products did indeed function properly.1
The principles behind these products are fairly well backed up by science. Catalases are enzymes that have been greatly studied and much is known about their structure and function in the body.4 As stated in the article, a main purpose of catalase is to catalyze the reaction that converts potentially harmful hydrogen peroxide into harmless water and oxygen.5 If the hydrogen peroxide is not converted to water and oxygen it can damage the body as it is or it can be converted to an even more dangerous molecule known as the hydroxyl radical. Hydrogen peroxide is often used as a bleaching agent outside of the body and is effective at bleaching both hair and skin.3 While catalase does its job efficiently and effectively6 it is not the only molecule that is relied upon to handle hydrogen peroxide. Glutathione peroxidase was discovered in 1957 and was shown to work in a similar fashion as catalase.7 That being said, a lack of catalase may not entirely account for gray hair and consequently these supplements may not be adequately correcting the issue they are attempting to resolve.
Despite the seemingly large amount of science behind this topic, there are a number of factors that this article and the makers of these products failed to take into account. First of all no actual controlled experiments have been conducted on these products. Since they are supplements and not directly accountable to the FDA1 this is understandable but it would be much more convincing if there was evidence to say these products do what they so they do. An additional limitation is that there is no science reporting that catalase enzymes decrease in significant amounts across the span of one’s lifetime, potentially meaning these products are not solving the problem they intend to solve.
Pharmacists have a responsibility to watch out for the good of their patients and if they feel uncomfortable with a particular drug they should let their patients know that. Additionally pharmacists should inform patients that supplements are subject to different regulations than other drugs and there is potentially more room for supplement manufacturers to provide misinformation about their products.8 Particularly with OTC drugs and supplements, pharmacists need to be involved in the decision process so that unqualified patients are not on their own when it comes to choosing a safe and effective option to solve their health issue. When everything is considered, I agree with the doctors quoted in the article. I would be very hesitant to recommend this product since its adverse effects have not been studied. However, I am interested in knowing what comes of these products since they seem to be based on good science, if only theoretically.
Would you recommend these catalase enhancing products to your patients? Do you think that preserving one’s physical appearance is worth possible side effects? Do you think such products should be subjected to less scrutiny since they are supplements and not actual drugs?
- Healy M. Can enzyme supplements really keep hair from going gray? USA Today. 2013. Available at: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/10/06/gray-hair-pills/2388619/. Accessed October 17, 2013.
- Semsei I, Rao G, Richardson A. Changes in the expression of superoxide dismutase and catalase as a function of age and dietary restriction. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 1989;164(2):620-5.
- Tredwin CJ, Naik S, Lewis NJ, Scully C. Hydrogen peroxide tooth-whitening (bleaching) products: review of adverse effects and safety issues. Br Dent J. 2006;200(7):371-6.
- Chelikani P, Fita I, Loewen PC. Diversity of structures and properties among catalases. Cell Mol Life Sci. 2004;61(2):192-208.
- Grant CM, Perrone G, Dawes IW. Glutathione and catalase provide overlapping defenses for protection against hydrogen peroxide in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 1998;253(3):893-8.
- Goodsell D. Catalase. RCSB Protein Data Bank. 2004. Available at: http://www.rcsb.org/pdb/101/motm.do?momID=57. Accessed October 17, 2013.
- Gaetani GF, Ferraris AM, Rolfo M, Mangerini R, Arena S, Kirkman HN. Predominant role of catalase in the disposal of hydrogen peroxide within human erythrocytes. Blood. 1996;87(4):1595-9.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Dietary Supplements. August 28, 2013. Available athttp://www.fda.gov/food/dietarysupplements/. Accessed October 29, 2013