Pigment Pots

Posted to Subscribers on 4 June 2010


Dear Subscribers,

Some of you may be more expert than I am, but even as a child, I was always fascinated by everything international, including ethnic customs, colors, and genetics. It's not clear yet how future textbooks will read, but according to what I have been studying, the old theories of dominant and recessive genes might not hold up under the new information pouring out of the genome project and its corollaries, such as DNA studies. My mother used to tell me that all differences in skin, eyes, and hair color were adaptations to environment as were single versus double-fold eyelids and even straight versus wavy or kinky hair. In fact, her ideas may have been closer to the mark. In Ayurvedic texts, hair is described as black so all protocols to restore hair color always read "black, wavy, lustrous, and shiny" as if no other hair colors exist. It came as a huge surprise to me that one of the main herbs used in Ayurvedic hair treatments, Bhringaraj, happens also to be a black dye. You can imagine where my mind went!

My Ayurvedic studies began over 40 years ago and I always thought we had to rewrite those sentences in a more culture-free manner so that they read "restore natural color" but no Ayurvedic doctor or scholar saw any point in changing a word despite the obvious fact that my blonde hair is considered absolutely normal in the part of the world from which I got my genes. I called Banyan Botanicals and asked if anyone there ever heard of anyone taking Bhringaraj whose hair came in black rather than the "natural" color. No one had ever heard of this and Banyan has been around several decades already.

Here's where my studies have taken me at this time. In actual fact, all hair is white. It is pigmented by melanin which has two subtypes: eumelanin which supplies both brown and black color and pheomelanin that is reddish. Sources differ tremendously. Some say blondes are deficient in eumelanin and some say pheomelanin contains both red and yellow pigments. This actually suggests that we know very little about something as obvious as hair! Hang in there, the situation gets worse. While Westerners tend to worry mainly about hair loss as opposed to color, Ayurveda is much more obsessive about color.

East and west tend to agree that graying is a sign of aging, but why? Evidently, it is because the little inkjets that squirt eumelanin and pheomelanin go empty and need their cartridges recharged. However, prized as black hair is, it turns out that this is not because restoring color makes us look younger but because the loss of color is related to a deficiency condition that is associated with the functioning of the pineal gland. In short, the part of our anatomy most intimately associated with our ability to register divine impulse is the very same piece of anatomy that regulates melanin which is why we do not want to lose color.

Now, let's take a really deep breath and think of people who have gone through some terrible shock and turned white overnight, something that has nearly always been considered irreversible. I happened to realize this is not true because I have gone white a number of times, but the loss of pigment wasn't permanent. I never knew why until recently. What removes color is natural hydrogen peroxide, the very same substance used to remove color or lighten hair. According to new research by Professor Heinz Decker, from the Institute of Biophysics at Mainz University in Germany, "With advancing age, hydrogen peroxide builds up in larger amounts in the hair follicle and ultimately inhibits the synthesis of the color pigment melanin."

Hydrogen peroxide occurs throughout the body. It arises more or less spontaneously but it is also a significant cause of free radical toxicity unless broken down properly. The conversion of hydrogen peroxide to an innocuous substance depends on enzymes, and what I am discovering is that at both ends of the spectrum, i.e. vitiligo and melanoma, there is something interfering with the breakdown process. In short, rather than becoming harmless, something else happens that triggers a different series of chemical recombinations, the results of which are typically associated with aging.

What Prof. Decker suggests in The FASEB Journal (Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology) is that the levels of hydrogen peroxide increase with age, but really the level is caused by inadequate catalase enzymatic action and this could, as we realize, occur at any age. Moreover, since those enzymes are needed for other functions as well, the absence of pigment is a symptom of a larger problem, not just an aesthetic issue. In fact, the professional conclusion of researchers is that "Reactive oxygen species have been implicated in hair follicle melanocyte apoptosis and DNA damage." In short, the ancient Ayurvedic texts may be correct and cutting edge DNA research may soon prove that everyone with my coloring and all the variations in the spectrum between blonde and black are suffering from DNA damage sustained by a common ancestor who lived who knows how many thousands of years ago. This is evidently what researchers expect to prove at some point. However, since this still isn't mainstream, we don't have to go there yet. We can stop a few feet short of there and look at the causal factors behind loss of color and perhaps accept that the loss is not really a normal consequence of aging but rather a complication due to factors that contribute to aging. Thus, if we can arrest the production of hydrogen peroxide or break it down properly, we will not only prevent the bleaching of the color from hair but slow down other much more important parts of the aging process.

Now, let's get a little bit technical. Melanin production begins before birth. After my little introduction, this cannot surprise anyone because we have all heard of babies born with hair that already had a color. Melanin is in the shaft of the hair follicle. Now, depending on the balance of eumelanin and pheomelanin, the color varies from all the possibilities we know well. Albinos obviously have no pigment or very little whereas some people have abundant quantities of one pigment but not the other. However, even the blackest hair does have some red just as the blondest hair has some black. Working as I do with patients who have sometimes lost all their hair as a result of chemotherapy, I have also been aware that when the hair comes back, it is sometimes a different color and texture than it had been before treatment. Then, according to the latest science — which, of course, can change again — the treatment affected the DNA and the synthesis of melanin. . . which, in turn, comes from melanocytes which are positioned on the skin where the hair emerges.

Pundits recognize three phases of hair growth. They say that roughly 80-85% of hair is in the first phase, called anagen, in which hair is growing. They estimate that hair grows for 2-7 years and then stops growing. Hair has a very fast rate of cellular division but, as noted, there is a cycle. The catagen stage lasts 10-20 days. The third phase is the one most people dislike. It is called telogen and it is when hair falls out. This phase lasts 100 days and then the anagen cycle starts again. Under normal circumstances, not more than 10-15% of hair is in this telogen phase at any given time. Obviously, there are exceptions when a very high percentage of hair is in this stage, even 100%. Many years ago, I had six patients in row who had no body hair at all and they had been without hair for many years, usually starting in childhood. I always assumed there was an immense nutritional deficiency, one that started with poor assimilation. More simply stated, even if one is eating nutritious food, there is no benefit unless the food is also assimilated. This is where spices and enzymes can be very helpful. It probably also explains why if someone is constantly nauseated by a treatment, assimilation of nutrients will plummet. Since my main studies were in Ayurveda, I found that Chyawanprash prevented both loss of hair color and rapacious telogen stages. Some literature also maintains that quite high doses of black cumin seed oil have similar protective actions. This is the point to underscore. A chemoprotective agent that is also a superb antioxidant can prevent the worst case scenario from occurring, evidently without inhibiting the desired actions of the drugs. All the research I have been reading seems to confirm this.

I don't want to go so fast here that we leave out the dhatus. Remember that all nutrients first act on the plasma, rasa dhatu. It provides the nutrition for rakta dhatu, the blood cells. These, in turn, refine and transport the nutrients to muscles, fat, and so on and so forth. There are seven stages and the hair, not being critical, is not a priority so it does not benefit until the more vital tissues have first been nourished and given the chance to regenerate. Now, what happens is that melanin is injected into keratin, a protein that is used to build hair, skin, and nails. In Ayurveda, weakness of these tissues is usually regarded as a vata problem, the same dosha associated with aging. When there is too much vata, the body becomes dry and brittle, but this is actually a combination of a deficiency condition and a special kind of vata derangement which loosely translated equates more or less to free radical poisoning. In short, excess vata is a kind of toxicity, but it is more systemic than pitta toxicity.

Yet another university professor, Dr. Desmond Tobin of the U.K., proposes the existence of some sort of biological clock that turns off melanocytes. Reasonable as the theory might seem, as we are coming to appreciate, there are other causes completely unrelated to chronological age. However, I am willing to speculate that our clocks do go on the fritz when we are deprived normal sources of light. Most studies I am seeing are not suggesting that the pineal gland can be tricked by artificial light, but it is entirely possible that it can recover from the trauma of premature ossification by the specific herbs found in the Chyawanprash formula as well perhaps as the lengthy hibernation in a completely darkened room that was undertaken by certain siddhars and yogis in times past.

Connecting the Dots

It's very hard for some readers to figure out where I am coming from unless I put forth some explanations. Since Chyawanprash is the world's best selling antioxidant — and it has maintained its superlative status for thousands of years — I started by researching its history and ingredients. I am referring to this as "cracking the code" and it's very labor intensive work requiring a strange array of background studies that just happens to be a fit for me. I have long been concerned by the fact that the two most spiritually important endocrine glands ossify in childhood. These are the thymus and pineal. The pituitary body is in a different situation, one that also requires rescue, but it is not hard as a rock. Moreover, much as humans share traits with other creatures, it is not obvious that animals suffer the same degradation of endocrine function as humans. There is no historical literature from India or other warehouses of wisdom to which I am privy that discusses loss of function of these two (three) endocrine glands. This gives rise to speculation that something is happening that is not in the divine order, and after much reflection, I am inclined to point at least one finger at fluoride.

Calcium fluoride is a salt that occurs naturally and is not harmful in tiny doses, but sodium fluoride is highly toxic industrial waste produced by the fertilizer, aluminum, and nuclear power industries. It is this chemical that is added to many municipal water supplies. It is believed to make populations more passive and thus is used, among other things, as a control mechanism, but it also facilitates the movement of aluminum across the blood-brain barrier, disrupts the normal functioning of the endocrine system, and probably promotes the calcification of the pineal gland. To combat the effects of fluoride, it is important to avoid food grown with fertilizers and pesticides because these are laced with sodium fluoride. If in a community with fluoridated water, the water needs to be filtered or distilled.

Forty years ago when I first became interested in the interface between the endocrine system and chakras, I was astonished at how new the science of endocrinology is. There was very little literature and some of the statements in medical textbooks were so ridiculous that I wanted to frame them to promote daily laughter in my office. For instance, one otherwise serious textbook suggested that the thymus gland might be the Fountain of Youth sought by Ponce de Leon. Hope you are holding your ribs now. If it were not comical, it would be infuriating. Now, of course, we have new language and "endocrine disruptor" is seeping into consciousness. As I have for years gone to great pains to point out, anything that affects the functioning of the endocrine system in an abnormal way is reprehensible. This includes all hormone replacements except those needed in emergencies for the adrenals. It also includes a very long list of nasty chemicals. Topping the list at the moment is bisphenol-A but this is simply because it is finally undergoing long-deferred scrutiny. All xenoestrogens undermine the correct functioning of the endocrine system; and the problem is that the endocrine glands are supposed to be regulated by the chakras, not flooded with chemical substances that make appropriate response to the chakras impossible. Many clients over the years have told me that when they have feelings, they are sometimes not sure the feelings are their own. How sad is this?

Where the pineal is concerned, vast numbers of people have been left without personal access to their own soul guidance or even the ability to sleep soundly because the pineal is also the regulator of melatonin. In short, sodium fluoride is one of the most diabolically evil substances that is deliberately added to our water, food, and medicine. To make this very clear, add baby food as a separate line entry and we see the magnitude of the crime against human nature and why it is possible to promote an essentially materialistic culture wherever fluoride has been added to water.

Back on Track

I'm sure you have all noticed that one thing leads to another in my curious mind. One of the first observations I made about Chyawanprash 30 some years ago was that everyone taking it said less hair fell out. This was especially noticeable when washing the hair because the floor of the shower had less hair, and, of course, the drains worked better. According to the material I am seeing, we have 100,000 plus strands of hair on our head where the growth cycle is longer than for hair elsewhere on the body. The explanation for how Chyawanprash can act so swiftly to curb hair loss has to be that the quality of hair is improved. However, it takes much longer for new hair to appear and even longer for the pigment to be restored. I am tentatively convinced that the primary ingredient in Chyawanprash that affects pigment is Cyperus rotundus, called "musta" in most parts of India and nut grass in English. Like many other valuable plants, it is classified as a weed in at least 90 countries. Also, of course, it is considered to be invasive and undesirable. As you know, I have come to understand that weeds correct problems in Nature: in the soil, in water, and in the air. We need to study weeds much more reverently to understand their functions. For instance, nut grass is nearly impossible to destroy. I have learned to appreciate plants with this kind of resilience!

In Chinese medicine, Cyperus rotundus is considered to be a qi regulator. This puts it in a very high position since there is not much that is more important to life than qi. There are many pharmacological substances in nut grass, but this ought not surprise anyone. The tubers are bitter but nutritious, rich in minerals and trace elements that are important to rejuvenation. They are eaten by migrating birds as well as people in areas plagued by famine. They can be consumed raw or cooked, fresh or dried. When powdered, they can be added to hot cereals to enhance the nutritional value of the porridge. Just how generous is Nature!

So, you all know by now that thinking outside the box requires both some exercise connecting dots as well as a capacity to speculate in order to move beyond conventional knowledge. To make this clear, if I looked at this herb simply from an agricultural perspective, I would be lamenting how invasive and hard to eradicate it is. From a medicinal perspective, I want to know why it survives drought and pesticides and provides tonifying nutrients for people who are starving. In short, unless we stop and imbibe Nature, we will fail to appreciate how close the solution is to many of our problems. However, since this post is already a bit long, I will save some of my speculation for another day.

Yesterday, there was fur flying again after my hasty missive. I wrote it because when I go silent, there are a few of you who worry. Honestly, I'm fine, just fine, but I guess you need to see something in your inbox to be sure. After posting, I watched some of the live feed on the effort to address our oil leak. It bothers me tremendously that we are referring to this as possibly the worst ecological crisis in U.S. history. It is not an American "event" but a planetary disaster and it is completely unlike the Exxon Valdez because when a ship leaks, there is a finite amount of crude oil on board so eventually the accident is self-limiting. We have no idea at all what the limit might be with this incident and it is therefore way too soon to stop praying.

Many blessings,


Copyright by Ingrid Naiman 2010


Ayurvedic Herbs




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Copyright by Ingrid Naiman 2010

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