Can your hair colour really determine your health?

It’s great news for the likes of silver foxes Philip Schofield and George Clooney, but could be rather worrying for Prince Harry or Nicole Kidman.

According to new research, the colour of your hair could give you a glimpse into your future health.

Spanish scientists have found that having grey hair and a bit of a grizzled look could actually be a sign that you have a long and healthy life in front of you.

The researchers were studying wild boars but say, because humans share the same types of melanins in their skin and hair, the results could be applicable to us too.

Wild boars with red coats were found to have more cell damage than those with duller coats. Scientists say the production of red pigment uses up antioxidants that could otherwise be used fighting off cell damage. It follows earlier research which found red hair and red pigments in skin are linked to higher cancer rates.

Lead researcher Ismael Galván, said: “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 colour.

Eumelanins are brown or black, while their counterparts pheomelanins produce bright red or rich chestnut hues. 

Unlike eumelanin, pheomelanin requires a chemical called glutathione, or GSH, to produce the colour.

GSH is an antioxidant, meaning it can halt the chemical reaction of oxidation. Oxidation reactions cause free radicals, which in turn cause cellular damage. So the research theory goes that because GSH is being used to create a vibrant hair colour, it can’t be used to fight cell damage.

To try to test their theory about whether producing red hair would eat up GSH, leaving the body’s cells more vulnerable to free radicals, the researchers tested wild boars in southwestern Spain for oxidative stress, a measure of damage.

Their findings were that the more pheomelanin a boar had in its fur, the more likely it was to have less GSH in its muscle cells and, therefore, more oxidative stress.

“This suggests that certain colorations may have important consequences for wild boars,” Galván said. “Pheomelanin responsible for chestnut colorations may make animals more susceptible to oxidative damage.”

Meanwhile, grey hair, which results from an absence of melanin, seemed to be a mark of good health in wild boars.

As with human hair, the research showed that wild boars hair greys across their body fur. But rather than being a sign of frailty or ill health, the study found that boars showing hair greying were actually those in the best physical condition and with the lowest levels of cell damage.

So, next time we reach for the hair dye, perhaps we ought to remember grey hair could actually be a sign we’re in prime health.

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