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The Truth about Graying Hair Prevention Supplements

October 29th, 2013

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?

 

References

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Chelikani P, Fita I, Loewen PC. Diversity of structures and properties among catalases. Cell Mol Life Sci. 2004;61(2):192-208.
  5. 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.
  6. Goodsell D. Catalase. RCSB Protein Data Bank. 2004. Available at: http://www.rcsb.org/pdb/101/motm.do?momID=57. Accessed October 17, 2013.
  7. 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.
  8. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Dietary Supplements. August 28, 2013. Available athttp://www.fda.gov/food/dietarysupplements/. Accessed October 29, 2013

5 Responses to “The Truth about Graying Hair Prevention Supplements”

  1. Cara Toms Says:

    That was an interesting article. It was intriguing to read something that combined some of our different classes. I agree that until side effects are studied, I would be hesitant to recommend this product. Especially since gray hair is easy to fix with hair dye that could cause less side effects, potentially. As I think about the proposed mechanism of increased hydrogen peroxide levels, I would think there would have to be a dramatic amount of hydrogen peroxide to allow for a change in color. It seems having a dramatic increase of hydrogen peroxide would allow for many more severe consequences rather than just gray hair. It would be interesting to look further into this topic.

  2. Aaron Le Poire Says:

    After reading through the article and blog post, I would also come to the conclusion that more evidence is needed on the safety and efficacy of the new product before I would use it or recommend it. The fact that it is a supplement and is not as strictly regulated as other over the counter medications could be a significant risk factor for those using the product. Another reason I would be very cautious about recommending a product for gray hair would be that it does not seem like the mechanism leading to gray hair is fulling understood. I feel there needs to be more research done on the causes of aging and graying hair before a product is put on the market purporting to mitigate the process. I would like to see more studies and research done on those processes as well as studies looking at the safety and efficacy of the new product. I would also like to see supplements like this and others be under tighter regulation through the FDA than what is currently practiced. With the readily available products already on the market for gray hair, I am of the opinion that people should avoid these catalase enhancing supplements until further research is conducted to prove their value and safety.

  3. Gina Mattes Says:

    I agree with Caleb. This product although seems like and interesting idea may have other effects that we aren’t totally sure about. It also seems like we don’t really know enough about the process of graying hair or hydrogen peroxide break down is taking place. Before I would recommend this product I would like to see studies showing that it does work and what side effects there are. Another thing too mention is that since there have not been studies with this product we also do not know how it could interact with other medications. I would want more information before I would feel safe in recommending this product.

  4. Chelsae Ward Says:

    As soon as I read your topic, my interest peaked. Sadly, I have many greying hairs upon my head. It is a concerning thought and I was hoping that you had found the answer. I am glad to see that research is being conducted though in this and that maybe one day there will be hope! haha!
    I agree though, I would not recommend the catalase products without further evidence to support their effectiveness and safety. There are many products in our surrounding world that would seem to work a certain way theoretically and we have been proven wrong repeatedly. So as much as I would like to hope that it may work, until at least its safety is proven it is not something I would suggest or try for myself, therefore, I do not think appearance should be placed above safety.
    Caleb, you bring up a very good point in that supplements have less regulation than other medications. I feel that it is hard to come up with a solid answer to this question because I really feel that each side of the argument has valid points. What are your thoughts on this?

  5. Heather E. Says:

    Before I start recommending this product, I believe that additional evidence is needed on its safety. These supplements are already in a buyer beware market which increases risks as well. There are many safe options, such as hair dye, that a patient should consider before consuming the catalase enchancing supplements. I would be interested in reading more studies about the process of graying hair.

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