Friday, July 20, 2012
The color of your hair could give a glimpse into your future health
Spanish scientists who studied wild boars found that having grey hair and a rather grizzled look could actually be a sign that you have a long and healthy life ahead of you. However, the news is not so good for redheads - at least in the wild boar population. Wild boars with reddish coats have more cell damage than more mundanely colored wild pigs, Spanish researchers found. The reason is that the production of red pigment uses up an antioxidant that could otherwise be chasing down the free radicals that damage cells. In humans, studies have found that red hair and red pigments, or melanins, in skin are linked to higher rates of cancer. Given that all higher vertebrates, including humans, share the same types of melanins in skin, hair and plumage, these results increase our scant current knowledge on the physiological consequences of pigmentation. The researchers looked at two types of melanin, the pigment that gives our hair and skin its color. Eumelanins are brown or black, while pheomelanins produce bright red or rich chestnut hues. Unlike eumelanin, pheomelanin requires a chemical called glutathione, or GSH, to produce the color. GSH is an antioxidant, meaning it can halt the chemical reaction of oxidation. Oxidation reactions cause free radicals, which in turn cause cellular damage. Researchers wanted to know whether producing red hair would eat up GSH, leaving the body's cells more vulnerable to free radicals. They tested wild boars from southwestern Spain for oxidative stress, a measure of free radical damage. They found that the more pheomelanin a boar had in its fur, the more likely it was to have less GSH in the muscle cells and more oxidative stress. Pheomelanin responsible for chestnut colorations may make animals more susceptible to oxidative damage. Meanwhile, gray hair, which results from an absence of melanin, seemed to be a mark of good health in wild boars. The scientists found that boars showing hair graying were actually those in prime condition and with the lowest levels of oxidative damage. Far from being a sign of age-related decline, hair graying seems to indicate good condition in wild boars.