By SUSAN CALLAHAN, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
Most people become a bit alarmed when they learn that their bodies contain hydrogen peroxide. "Hydrogen peroxide?", they ask. "Isn't that bleach?".
Hydrogen peroxide is bleach. It's the same chemical you use to disinfect cuts and scrapes or to bleach your teeth. And it's the same chemical "bottle blonds" use to use to bleach their hair.
How does your body produce hydrogen peroxide? Is it dangerous to have too much hydrogen peroxide in your body? How do you know that you're producing hydrogen peroxide?
Hydrogen Peroxide -- It's Why You're Turning Gray
Just as hydrogen peroxide can bleach out the color in your clothes if you accidentally spill it, so too can it bleach out your hair. The only difference is, the hydrogen peroxide bleaches your hair from the inside out.
For as long as we humans have existed, we have tried to solve the mystery of why we turn gray. And why do some people go prematurely gray, in their thirties or even their twenties.
In 2009, scientists figured out why. A team of scientists led by Dr. Karen Schallreuter of the University of Bradford in the UK observed the process of hair going gray at the molecular level.
Using a FT-Raman spectroscopy, the scientists were able to observe the hair follicles of subjects actually starting to accumulate molecules of hydrogen peroxide.
They noticed something else that was strange. In addition to seeing a growing accumulation of hydrogen peroxide, the scientists noticed two compounds which normally are present in t e hair follicle were conspicuously absent. The two missing compounds were "catalase" and "methionine sulfoxide reductase A and B protein".
Catalase is an enzyme that breaks down hydrogen peroxide into hydrogen and water. Without any catalase present, the hydrogen peroxide accumulates ion your hair shaft and bleaches it white.
Methionine sulfoxide reductase A and B protein work to repair the hair shaft from hydrogen peroxide. Without these compounds, hair bleached white by hydrogen peroxide stays white.
Thus, the mystery of why we turn gray has been solved. Too much hydrogen peroxide and not enough catalase and methionine sulfoxide reductase A and B protein.
As we get older, the amount of catalase and methionine sulfoxide reductase A and B naturally decline until, one fine day, as we're combing our hair, we notice that ---wait a minute where did that come from --- a gray hair has popped out.
How to Naturally Increase the Catalase in Your Body
Scientists have found that several types of food raise the amount of catalase in your body.
Red Wine Increases Catalase
In 2012, scientists led by Dr. Ana B. Cerezo of Universidad de Sevilla in Spain discovered that people who drink red wine for at least 7 days experience a significant increase in the levels of catalase.
The increase was seen in people who were put on a low anti-oxidant diet first. So, it is not clear whether drinking red wine will raise your catalase levels if you already follow a high anti-oxidant diet. But it's a delicious experiment to try.
The amount of red wine consumed in the study was 300 ml (10 ounces) per day. And again, the catalase levels did not rise until the seventh day.
Curcumin Can Boost Catalase Levels by 79%
Also in 2012 scientists from The Ohio State University found that healthy people between the ages of 40 and 60 who were given 80 mg of curcumin spice for 4 weeks dramatically from approximately 28 U/ml to 50 U/ml, an increase of 79%.
Thus, the addition of curcumin raised catalase activity levels from normal to far above normal, the scientists noted.
The kind of curcumin used in study was formulated to increase its absorption. Curcumin is notoriously difficult for your body to absorb.
You might try adding black pepper to any curcumin you use at home. Studies have found that the active ingredient in black pepper --- piperine --- raises absorption of curcumin by 2000%.
L-Carnitine Boosts Catalase Levels Temporarily
L-carnitine is an amino acid found naturally in meats and animal products. In 2011, scientists from Qingdong University in China confirmed that even a single dose of L-carnitine increases levels of several anti-oxidants, including catalase. The effects are temporary, however, with the catalase levels retuning to normal 24 hours after the L-carnitine was taken.
Do Walnuts Raise Catalase Levels?
Scientists from Universidad Complutense de Madrid in Spain fund that people fed meat that included a walnut paste saw their levels of catalase increase.
While the study did not isolate walnuts from the meat, walnuts are well-known as scavengers of free radicals that would otherwise cause oxidative stress.
The bottom line is, for those who want lower hydrogen peroxide in the body, there has been no study yet that directly ties eating any of these foods or spices directly with, say, having less gray hair.
But, in a simple way, it does make sense that raising catalase should help to counteract some of the hydrogen peroxide that would otherwise bleach out your hair and cause oxidative damage in your body generally.
A glass of red wine with a side of walnuts, anyone?