CyberHealth weekly #6

CyberHealth weekly #6

November 25, 1997

CyberHealth Index



  1. Premature graying of hair: a biomarker for osteoporosis risk?
  2. Dr. Vangor on social clues, hormones, maturation
  3. Modified citrus pectin — what’s sex got to do with it?
  4. More on the stunning healing properties of onion
  5. Care of the soul: Rilke on not fearing anything

Premature graying of hair: biomarker for osteoporosis risk?

Is premature graying of hair (say in one’s twenties or thirties) associated with other features of accelerated aging—faster bone loss, for example?

A study just published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism has confirmed that early hair graying and greater bone loss tend to occur together.

The subjects in this study were 293 postmenopausal women, 45-88 years of age. None of them used HRT for more than six months. They were interviewed about hair graying, and given a DEXA test for bone density.

The authors found that when they adjusted bone mineral density for age and weight (remember that obese women have greater bone density), there was a clear connection between the age of onset of hair graying and bone density:

“Age- and weight-adjusted BMD was significantly lower in those with the majority hair graying occurring during their thirties compared with those in whom it occurred in their forties (. . .) The majority of hair graying before the age of 40 was associated with a lower BMD at most skeletal sites.”

In other words, women whose hair turned gray, or largely gray, before the age of forty, did indeed have lower bone density than women whose hair started turning gray later in life. Forty turned out to be a particularly significant dividing point, though the authors found consistent bone-density differences also between women whose hair started turning gray in their forties as compared with those who hair started graying only in their fifties. Likewise, women who started graying extremely early in life, already in their twenties, had lower bone density than those who started graying in their thirties. Forty, however, provided the clearest demarcation between the prematurely gray women and what might be called “normal graying.”

The lower bone density was especially apparent in the hip region. The authors point out that premature hair graying is less frequent in ethnic groups with higher bone density, notably blacks (who also tend to have higher testosterone levels, in both sexes).

Graying results when melanocytes stop producing melanin, the same pigment that darkens our skin to protect us from UV radiation. We know that the sex steroids such as estrogens and progesterone stimulate the function of melanocytes (see CH 3). Bone density also depends on sufficient levels of these hormones (including DHEA and testosterone).

Stress and/or malnutrition could also be involved, but let us not forget that stress and malnutrition have a profound impact on hormone levels. A specific nutritional deficiency, due perhaps to malabsorption of a trace mineral, is a possibility.

This looks like a fruitful area for future study.

Source: Brandon J et al. Premature hair graying and bone mineral density. J Clin Endo Metab 1997; 82: 3580-83

Gail comments:

I’m thinking of a woman I know who went gray very early, in her twenties. She never married and as far as I know was never in a sexual relationship (wouldn’t that suggest low hormone levels, whether cause or effect I don’t know). I have heard that she is now having some significant health problems.

Ivy replies:

This made me remember a prematurely gray-haired man I know, a low-low-fat strict vegetarian who admitted to having lost libido and potency in his early forties and to having been diagnosed with osteoporosis at 55. His skin is also very dry and wrinkled, and there is obvious muscle atrophy. I met him again recently in a health-food store, poking among the calcium supplements. “It’s no use buying bricks if the brick layer isn’t there,” I said. He just can’t get it that it’s the hormones that are the brick layers, i.e. bone builders.

On the other hand, hormone levels need not be the only factor involved in hair graying. There may be a hereditary pattern of early hair graying that is not connected with degenerative changes. Also, the picture may be different in men than in women. We simply need more research. But a woman who did go gray early in life may want to think about getting a bone density scan, especially if there are other biomarkers of hormone deficiency or osteoporosis risk (such as family history, or the use of cortisone-like drugs).

Lynne comments:

What about PABA deficiency? Didn’t Steve Martin start taking PABA and when it returned his natural hair color, people accused him of dyeing his hair so he stopped?

Doctors have blown me off totally when I complained about hair loss in the past. (It was thyroid and progesterone).

Several years ago I told a very famous alt doc that when I took thyroid my hair stopped falling out within 2-3 days. I knew this for sure because the pillow no longer was covered in the morning. He said, “That’s impossible. Thyroid doesn’t work that fast.” I told him the same thing had happened to my husband several years previously. He remained adamant. I had too point out that that was the THEORY. Some of these guys are so wedded to theory, they discount observation totally. So I dumped him. I thought if he is that unwilling to accept a patient’s report, where else will he screw up?

Ivy replies:

About graying and PABA: Pearson and Shaw report that PABA can reverse graying in maybe 10% of the cases. PABA is an antioxidant, and antioxidants in general would be helpful here, helping prevent free-radical damage to the melanocytes. But, as is the case with balding, an autoimmune reaction may also be involved.

I noticed an improvement in hair thickness and hair growth when I switched to the low-glycemic diet (which also nearly doubled my fat intake). I eliminated cereal and frequently had eggs in the morning—and suddenly, lo and behold, I no longer had “fine, limp hair.” By comparison with the past, my hair was practically bushy, thick and vigorous, and I was more in danger of looking like one of those shaggy dogs, my overgrown bangs getting into my eyes within two weeks of a haircut.

“You must be eating really healthy—I can tell by your hair,” my hairdresser said. “Eggs, butter, olive oil, sardines,” I replied. “You are SO funny,” she said. It’s not easy to reverse decades of brainwashing by misguided diet gurus.

But the really interesting thing happened after I got my NHRT regimen really together. My hair started growing out darker. Even my eyelashes thickened and looked again as in my younger years! I agree that this is not a scientific proof, but as Lynne points out, discounting observation doesn’t make sense either. I hope the scientists among our readers will pardon me for waxing anecdotal.

Low thyroid is well-known to be a factor in hair loss. When we are under a lot of stress, we develop a certain degree of hypothyroidism (there is less conversion of T4 to the more active T3, for one thing). Stress also depletes progesterone and DHEA, which support thyroid function, and may have a direct effect on hair growth also.


Miriam writes:

“I love how you combine spiritual thought with medical research. Your comparison of cells, which receive signals that they are needed, with social organisms, which also need signals: touching, loving connection—is just wonderful.”

Thank you, Miriam, for noticing that I try to include emotional and spiritual health issues in CyberHealth. This is what “holistic” means to me. I think of this under the acronym of SHEway: Spiritual, Hormonal, Emotional.

Odd as it may sound, one can’t separate the soul from hormones. That’s been one of the great lessons of menopause for me. As to the importance of positive social interaction for health, even for our very survival, I remember Mother Teresa’s comment to the effect that it is the Western countries that are the poorest because that’s where people die not for lack of food, but for lack of love.

And what is lack of love if not the lack of signals that we are needed and valued, and aren’t just taking up space? Until all humankind accepts that, as Christopher Reed beautifully put it, we are all family and we all have value, we’ll be forever messing up each other’s biochemistry and trying to repair ourselves with Prozac.

When the signal that we are not valued, are not worth anything, and don’t mean anything comes often enough, as in an abusive relationship, every cell in our body receives the “die” message. Anyone who sends such messages is a slow-motion murderer.

The question of how our environment and social interaction affect hormone levels is now beginning to be asked almost as often as the question of how hormones affect behavior and “personality.” I think Dr. Candace Pert is on the right track with her theory of neuropeptides and the body as one diffuse nervous system, a network of information.

We either seriously move toward body-mind medicine and mind-body psychotherapy, or else, in the light of our growing knowledge of how mind and body are inseparable, both fields will become a joke.

Dr. Vangor and I exchanged some correspondence in which we discussed a study that showed intellectual retardation in boys (but interestingly not girls) deprived of sufficient early maternal affection, and her clinical observations of retarded sexual development in children who do not receive normal social stimulation. I think you’ll find her article fascinating.


Dr. Vangor writes:

Re: the hormone level change in little boys: it’s frightening to think how plastic the brain might be in the way it develops and remodels itself in response to certain stimuli. Sort of fits in with primate research—I heard a story years ago in grad school about orangutans. I don’t know if it was published material. It seems that there is only one fully mature adult male in the orange troop, but sub-adult males who lack the very pronounced secondary sex characteristics of the head male can be approximately the same age. If the head male disappears, one of the sub-adults quickly completes his sexual maturation to replace him. It’s as though the sub-adult male suppresses his own maturation process under certain conditions.

I work on severe behavior disorders of children, and it has long been observed that autistic children tend to reach puberty later than normals, and also run smaller than their sibs. There are many explanations, but one is that their brains are not being stimulated by social information to trigger the developmental processes.

An old and wrong theory of autism was the psychogenic theory promoted by Bettelheim. Also known as the refrigerator mom hypothesis—you know, the cold rejecting mother can make her kid autistic. Utter rubbish it proved to be—but fifty years later, we are finding out that Rumanian dictators can manage this feat. Lots of man-made autists out of Eastern European orphanages these days. If the Chinese weren’t so good at murdering their unwanted and warehoused baby girls, we would find the same with them. The repair possibilities of such damaged brains are unknown, but I personally have a lot of hope based on my own tiny sample.

Ivy comments:

I think this area of research—how social interaction affects hormone production and physiological function in general—is bound to become tremendously important in the near future.

It’s so totally obvious that there is an enormous impact. In fact, some believe that one of the main reasons for the massive infant and child mortality in the past was the brutal, authoritarian philosophy of child rearing—”spare the rod and spoil the child.”

Among the sex hormones, testosterone is perhaps the most “psycho-reactive.” Feeling like a winner makes T levels go up; feeling defeated makes them go down. And of course when a nice sex object enters the field of vision, a neuroendocrine reaction gets underway. Scientists stationed in Antarctica in all-male teams noticed that they didn’t have to shave very often.

Now considering that the mighty T has many functions such as increasing the production of red blood cells, which in turn means better oxygenation, which then leads to a cascade of health benefits, you can see why the alpha male, the “winner” boss, for all the supposed executive stress, typically enjoys better health and longer life expectancy than his underlings.

Was it GBS who said that the difference between a duchess and a chambermaid is not in what they are, but in how they are treated? And remember the comment in one of the early issues of CH by a woman who said that when she falls in love she loses weight effortlessly? What I’m leading to is the idea that perhaps our current obsession with this or that diet, with whether or not we should take DHEA or megadoses of vitamins, is at least in part a cover-up for what we intuitively know: there is no physical health without emotional and spiritual health. We are not single, independent units; we are inextricably part of a larger social whole. We can harm or we can heal others, with words, with tone of voice, with our whole demeanor. Some signals make us thrive and blossom. May all of us always give and receive plenty of such signals.

Gail comments:

And “touch” would fit right in there.


Absolutely. Our skin is a neuroendocrine organ. Health-giving hormones and growth factors are released in response to touch. And we know that if a baby doesn’t get enough touching, s/he will die. We also know that pet owners live longer. More touch, more affection.

I hope that in future issues Dr. Vangor will share with us more about how she tries to repair children’s damaged brains. I’m willing to bet that loving touch is part of the therapy.


Modified citrus pectin is a pH-modified pectin (a complex gelatinous substance) extracted from citrus pulp. It is reputed to be excellent at lowering cholesterol. It also supposedly enhances immunity and may prevent cancer metastasis, as shown by the Wayne State University study which demonstrated its effectiveness in cases of prostate cancer.

A convenient form of this super-pectin is now available from Flora (800-498-3610) under the name of BioPectin. 60 500mg tablets cost around $21 (prices may vary depending on mark-up). The powder form can be ordered from Life Extension Foundation, 800-544-4440. If in doubt if you can endure the taste of the powder, go for the tablets. (CyberHealth has no commercial connection to any specific products I may mention. I happen to know that this is the most economical source, and simply pass it on as a tip.)

Ordinary apple pectin is much cheaper, but the benefits are not as dramatic. Considering the taste, you might want to settle for eating apples. In fact, given all the other nutrients in apples, “an apple a day” remains timeless wisdom. (By the way, I’ve read somewhere in a popular source that a study showed that those with the highest consumption of apples had the fewest colds.)

I’d like men especially to pay attention to their cholesterol. High cholesterol levels have been found to be associated with impotence, and no wonder: sexual performance depends on good blood flow. It seems that Freud was wrong after all; the emerging consensus is that the #1 CAUSE OF IMPOTENCE IS ATHEROSCLEROSIS (sorry, Sigmund). Once the penile artery clogs up, well, I don’t need to spell out the rest.

I’d also venture a guess that men with the highest HDLs make the best lovers. In the usual circular manner of things, having sex helps lower cholesterol and raises HDLs.

Arginine and ginkgo biloba are also supposed to be a man’s best friend. I don’t mean to say that it’s ALL about circulation, but compounds that can dilate arteries do have an obvious application.

The Great Earth carries the kind of arginine that doesn’t need to be consumed on an empty stomach.

Arginine also increases sperm count.


Maggie writes,

“Funny thing about the onions … my grandmother used to make all these homemade remedies for different things—could kick myself that I never asked her for the recipes—anyway, onions were used in poultices and in something she used to make with turnips and brown sugar. Also I crave onions just before a cold hits me. My family doctor told my mum when I was in my teens to leave me be and let me eat them ‘cause my body knew what it was doing. To this day, I will still find myself eating onions more frequently.”

Ivy comments:

Grandmother knows best! I don’t remember mine ever having a cold, and she never took a vitamin pill in her life. It was all beet soup, lots of vegetable soups in general, with leeks and barley, and home-made elderberry wine, sauerkraut, and onions. Thick rings of them, not the itsy-bitsy chopped-up stuff. Lots of antibiotic sulphur compounds in the humble onion. That’s why topical onion juice is supposed to be great for acne (or rub a clove of garlic over the affected area).

Because of these interesting sulphur compounds, onions are like DMSO (dimethylsulfoxide). They can be used to heal bruises more quickly. According to Lalitha Thomas (10 Essential Herbs; Hohm Press 1992), the best thing you can do for a nasty bruise is to tape a thick slice of onion over it (make sure that the side facing the bruise is the juicy side).

Lalitha Thomas (I love the name) also suggests using onion poultices for chest congestion, and breathing the onion’s sulphury “fumes” to relieve head congestion: just put a big chunk of cut onion next to your bed at night.

Like DMSO, onions are supposed to be anti-inflammatory and good for arthritis. Let me also remind you that onions contain QUERCETIN, an interesting bioflavonoid. It is a potent antioxidant, being a highly efficient hydroxyl radical scavenger. Its properties include the ability to inhibit the proliferation of breast cancer cells even when high levels of estradiol are present (genistein, on the other hand, just like licorice, can synergize with estradiol; the Life Extension Foundation has just issued a warning on that to breast cancer patients. In my view, even women with fibrocystic breasts should first normalize their breast tissue with progesterone before heavily indulging in soy foods. This may be overcautious, but I stress that we simply don’t know enough, and it’s better to err on the side of caution).

Back to the Magnificent Onion. Can we talk? I’m certainly all for five servings (or more) of fruits and vegetables, but let’s face it, a diet rich in garlic and onions has many times the artery-cleaning and anticarcinogenic power. I’m all in favor of government efforts to make people eat more veggies, but it’s over onions that we need the big sign saying EAT.

* * * CARE OF THE SOUL * * * *

Rainer Maria Rilke had an all-embracing, all-affirming vision of life that only some holy sages seem to have: that nothing in life is to be feared, only understood and experienced.

“We are not prisoners, no traps or snares are set about us, and there is nothing in life which should intimidate or worry us. We are set down in life as in the element to which we best correspond.

If life has its terrors, they are our terrors. If it has abysses, those abysses belong to us. If there are dangers at hand, we must try to love them.

And if only we arrange our life according to that principle which counsels us that we must always hold to the difficult, then that which now still seems to us the most alien will be that which we most trust and find the most faithful.

How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all people, the myths about dragons and princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once we are beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.”

—Rainer Maria Rilke

In a poem in which he imagines God speaking to a soul just before it is born as a human being, Rilke has God say to the soul:

May everything happen to you:
beauty and terror.

Rilke is perhaps best known for his other lines that speak of beauty in a way that no one else ever dared speak of it:

For beauty’s but the beginning of terror, 
and we adore it so 
because it serenely 
disdains to destroy us.

I also remember reading about a woman who understood that she’d die and couldn’t stop crying. Someone said, “She’s not crying because she’s dying. She’s crying because she’s never lived.”

And Rilke, like all great poets and writers, is always saying to us:

“Live.” He urges an infinite acceptance of life, even of its challenges and unsolvable-seeming problems. “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. Do not now seek the answers which cannot be given because you would not be able to live them and the point is to live everything. Live the questions.”

For Rilke, the essence of life is that it is magnificent:

Before you stands a bowl of roses
Filled to the brim with being and bending.
No matter what troubles befall us, before us stands a bowl of roses.

Gail comments:

This made me think of St. Paul telling us to praise God no matter what happens, bad or good.


Many saints and sages said the same: that at the highest level of spiritual development, we praise life/God even when life is a beast (not exactly the saints’ terminology). Was it St. Francis who said that the greatest sin is despair? Never despair. Before you stands a bowl of roses.

Notice and Disclaimer

This newsletter is presented as a free service for women and healthcare professionals interested in women’s health. Publication schedule: more or less bimonthly.

Editorial assistants: Gail Peterson, Monica Smith

The material contained herein is intended as information only, and not as medical advice.

Books by Joanna, a.k.a. Ivy Greenwell:

  • HORMONES WITHOUT FEAR (available from Bajamar, 800-255-8025)
  • HOW TO REVERSE OSTEOARTHRITIS (including an extensive info on hormones and arthritis)

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