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Dr. Luan Pho: Gray Hair Isn’t A Sign Of Old Age But A High-Carb, Low-Protein Diet

I recently interviewed an Allen, TX-based board-certified primary care physician named Dr. Luan Pho, MD for an appearance on “The Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb Show” podcast coming up on Wednesday, April 4, 2012. When the half-hour interview was finished, Dr. Pho said, “Oh I wish you could have asked me about how gray hair isn’t a normal part of the aging process.” Since I just turned 40 in December and the seeming inevitability of gray hair coming for me in the next few years, my ears perked up. I invited Dr. Pho to write a special guest blog post about this topic so that you my readers can benefit from his knowledge and understanding of this issue you probably haven’t heard much about. Who wouldn’t want to know how to keep gray hairs at bay and even reverse them? Check out what Dr. Pho says you need to do to make that happen in this special guest blog post!

Feeling a little tired and stressed? Who doesn’t have days like this? We all deal with this as the years pass by.

Then one day you wake up and look in the mirror and guess what happens? Your first gray hair appears. You start to “see” that you look much older than you really are. Then you begin to wonder, “Can this really be happening?” Only “old” people get gray hairs and you are too young to have any already.

Getting your first gray hair is traumatic for many and very difficult to ignore. Sadly, it is also a sign that many more gray hairs are probably soon to follow. Everyone thinks it just seems to be a normal process of aging–one in which you can’t stop no matter what you do. But I challenge you to consider these gray hairs as merely a personal wake-up call for you to improve your health and more specifically your diet.

What if I told you that there is a way to stop or slow down this process of your hair turning gray? Would you believe me if I told you that you can do things to prevent or even reverse gray hairs from forming? Graying does not have to be the inevitable process of aging if you understand what it takes to keep it from happening to your hair.

The reality is our current belief that graying is due to aging and that it is not reversible may not be true at all. So what is the answer? The answer lies in what you have been told before but may not have realized. It’s as simple as “You are what you eat.”

In my nutritional health book Health and Vitality Truths – To Know and Tell, the fallacies and preconceived ideas about what defines “healthy” eating is turned upside down. The sad fact is that the current standard American diet (SAD) is based on the archaic Food Pyramid, Dietary Guidelines, MyPlate or whatever they’re calling it these days. This diet pattern glorifies foods that are high in carbohydrates and drastically underestimates the required and necessary protein that is needed for optimal health.

A high carbohydrate/low-fat eating pattern should not be a guide for anyone who wants to get and stay healthy. We need to look at nutrition in a way in which it would enable us to use it to our advantage. Genuine health and vitality is about giving your body the specific nutrients that it needs on a daily basis.

“You are what you eat” is a truism that you can harness to your advantage if you understand what nutrients are required for better health. Food nutrition should not be based on their physical appearance or form. It should be based on the macronutrients and micronutrients found within them. Let me explain to you what these are.

Macronutrients are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals. The overabundance of carbohydrates consumed by most people in modern society is the major reason for the increasing rates of obesity and chronic health conditions that have befallen us. In fact, a reduction or possibly even an elimination of carbohydrates is needed in order for your health, vitality, and aging to be improved. The consumption of fat, especially saturated fat, has been discouraged since it is the reason given for the cause of cardiovascular disease. And yet there is no evidence that supports this erroneous belief.

Regarding gray hairs, this happens when your body is unable to synthesize an adequate amount of melanin. Melanin is the pigmentation that gives your hair its natural color. In order to make melanin, your body needs a specific non-essential but yet conditional amino acid called tyrosine. Your body also needs tyrosine in order to make dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine, coenzyme Q10, and thyroid hormones. The availability of the needed amount of tyrosine may become deficient due to an incomplete diet low in protein.

As you probably already know, amino acids are the basic building blocks of proteins. There are nine essential and eleven non-essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are synthesized into non-essential amino acids. This fact highlights the delicate balance as to how dietary protein intake acts on the supply of both the essential and non-essential amino acids. Therefore, consuming an adequate amount of protein and supplementation with tyrosine may be the answer to keeping your natural hair color longer.

For more details on the importance of an adequate protein diet and tyrosine, read my book Health and Vitality Truths – To Know and Tell. Learn more about the work of Dr. Luan Pho, MD at LuanPhoMD.com.

  • http://weightmaven.org Beth@WeightMaven

    Interesting. I’ve been told that low thyroid can lead to gray hair. If that’s true, then having sufficient protein and carbs may be important.

    • Anonymous

      It’s a fascinating theory.

  • Anonymous

    Probably both!

  • Anonymous

    Nice anecdote!

  • Anonymous

    Another benefit that could attract people to low-carb!

  • Howard

    Hmmm…. I’ve been low-carbbing since 1999. My beard started turning gray in 2004. Doesn’t fit that theory.

    • Anonymous

      Did you take the supplement mentioned with your low-carb diet, Howard?

      • Howard

        Went to visit Dr. Pho. Showed him my VAP results. One thing he mentioned was that my iron was slightly less than optimal, so I asked if I needed to take an iron supplement. He said “Nah, just eat a little more red meat.” I *like* this guy, and I’m going to make the arrangements for him to be my PCP.

        However, I’ve been taking L-tyrosine for about 3 weeks now, in doses ranging from 3 to 6 grams/day. I have noticed *no* effects of any kind from the L-tyrosine. Zip. Nada. Neither good nor bad. I’m suspecting that gray hair may have more than one cause.

        Also, he told me that I need to get about 2000 calories/day, and 1/2 of that (250g!) from protein. That comes out to a little over 2 lbs of meat/day (2 lbs of meat has ~220g protein), and I have yet to be able to eat that much meat in any particular day. Tried protein powders, but unless I add sweeteners (see my post on Dr Vernon’s “Your small intestine has taste buds!” for why I’ve decided A.S. to be not a great idea), I have trouble downing more than 50g of protein at a meal.

        I really do want to give Dr. Pho’s recommendations my best shot, though, so I’ll be experimenting with ways to at least come close.

        I’ll be asking Dr. Pho why I’m not seeing any difference at all with L-tyrosine, but I probably won’t be seeing him again until after the LC cruise, so if you can ask him for me, I would appreciate it.

        • Anonymous

          WOW, glad to hear you had a good visit. I will see what Dr. Pho says about your concerns, Howard.

          • Drpho

            Howard, thank you for trying.  Take a picture of yourself now and continue
            with the tyrosine regime.  You can then
            reassess with monthly pictures.  Duration
            varies but 3 weeks is not long enough to start seeing the difference.

  • http://twitter.com/CriticalMAS Michael Allen Smith

    We have to wait until April for this podcast? My hair will be gray by then. :)

    • Anonymous

      LOL! Welcome to MY world. I’m booked up into September right now. :D

  • Vesna Vuynovich Kovach

    Does taking melatonin help with melanin? Or is that completely different? I started taking melatonin to help with sleep about two months ago and haven’t been plucking out as many grays since then. Coincidence? Thanks in advance to anyone with info on this.

    • Anonymous

      I’ll ask Dr. Pho to see if he will respond.

      • Drpho

        Thanks for the question.Melatonin does not increase melanin production since it is not the precursor for melanin. Tyrosine is the precursor for melanin. How melatonin might be able to help decrease gray hairs is due to its ability to improve the quality of the sleep cycle.  Better sleep causes less of a stress response on your body than lack of sleep would.  Stress causes your body to produce the stress hormones epinephrine/norepinephrine.  Tyrosine is also the precursor for these hormones.  Therefore, when your body is producing less of the stress hormones, there may be an increase ability for the production of  melanin due to tyrosine not being tapped.  This may explain why stress causes graying.

  • Ddbigshoots

    How much tyrosine in a 3/4 pound of beef filet mignon (lunch today)

    Now it makes sense why my first gray hair came in at 17

    • Anonymous

      Another great question for Dr. Pho.

      • Drpho

        The amount of amino acids varies with different sources of proteins.  This site will give you your answer in detail:  http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/beef-products/3574/2

  • Mrfreddy

    I’m like Howard, this doesn’t seem to fit my experience. I’ve been low carbing since 2002, during that time I’ve gone from slighty gray to mostly gray (I’m 55 now). I’ll look into the tyrosine supplementation thing. (How much do I need? Or do I have to buy the book to find that out!?)

    If sure would be swell if I could actually reverse some of this graying haha!

    • Anonymous

      Try the tyrosine and see. Let us know how it goes!

  • Blondie

    I have been reading comments on low carb message boards for years from people saying their hair had less gray in it after being low carb for a while.  At first I thought they were nuts, lol, but there were too many to disregard.  I’ve been lowcarbing on and off (mostly on) for about seven years and my hair (I’m 55) is a lot less gray than that of my friends, even the younger ones.  Maybe if I’d been sticking to LC perfectly I wouldn’t have any gray! 

    • Anonymous

      Here’s hoping!

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/EKFFH6CLPXORRKWJ72BOZK4TZQ Marisyana

    My oldest sister was born with gray hair and my other sister and I had silver hairs in our teens, as did many on my mother’s side of the family.  It can be genetics too.

    • Anonymous

      True

  • Anonymous

     Really? Hmm, I’ll have to try that. My hair has been falling out in the last few years and thyroid issues have all been ruled out. What I do have doesn’t have a lot of gray… I’m intrigued!

  • Anonymous

    My mom didn’t really go gray until she was in her late 50′s. She’s diabetic and has been somewhat carb-restricted for over 30 years.  It’s an interesting possibility.

  • Anonymous

    But did they supplement with tyrosine?

  • http://newgrandmas.com/ Carol Covin

    I read somewhere that eating sourdough bread would cut down on gray hair. I’ve been doing it for about six months and it has made a difference.

    • Anonymous

      I think I’ll pass. If it comes down between spiking my blood sugar with a wheat-based product and the risk of gray hair, I’ll take the latter. :D

  • Keithb75071

    My wife and I are patients of Dr. Pho. We are 75. Both of us have much less grey since starting a protein rich diet. We also use L-Tyrosene specifically for its benefits, one of which is less grey for some people. We saw it happen.