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Video: Unlock your hair’s health secrets

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    >> york and mr. matt. thank you.

    >>> how sweet willard is. thank you, willard. this morning on "today's health ," what to watch for if you're a blonde, brunette or redhead. women spend thousands of dollars on their hair but your natural hair color could actually tell you a lot about your health . dr. carrie peterson is a contributor to " women 's health " magazine. good morning, dr. peterson. so your hair color can really determine something about your health ?

    >> it absolutely can. there are genetic influences, it can determine how much pigment you have. those can all help determine your health .

    >> start off with the blondes. they always say blondes have a little more fun, but apparently when it comes to the sun, we all know that's not necessarily the case. why?

    >> that's correct. well, first off, we need to talk about what they can be prone to. they can be prone to macular degeneration which is an eye condition that causes blindness. the reason for this is that the pigment in lighter eyes is lacking. that protects your eyes from ultraviolet rays . when it's lacking, you're more susceptible.

    >> also their skin, of course. that's more susceptible as well to --

    >> skin cancer . fair-haired women tend to have fair skin which lacks melanin and again is more susceptible to ultraviolet light . because of that, they're more susceptible to skin cancers like melanoma. it is very important if you're fair-skinned, that you use a full spectrum sunscreen with both uva and uvb protection. don't forget your scalp. wear a hat as well.

    >> what about protecting the eyes? obviously sunglasses, but when you talk about the can of demacular degeneration, what else do they think about?

    >> have a diet that's rich no antioxidants, green leafy vegetables like spinach or kale. make sure your sunglasses have uv protection. it shouldn't just be plain sunglasses. make sure they have that uv protection.

    >> on the topic of hair, the biggest concern for a lot of women is hair loss . but who tends to be more prone to having that problem with hair loss ? i know brunettes, right?

    >> yes. more than half of the 30 million women in this country that lose their hair more visibly are brunettes. the reason is that women like me, our strands are thicker and coarser so when the follicles die, the patch this they leave behind creates a more noticeable area. it is not necessarily that we have less hair, it's that it is more visible.

    >> so there -- is there something that we can do to protect against hair loss or prevent hair loss ?

    >> the most important thing women can do is get enough iron in their diet. when you're iron deficient, you're more prone to hair loss . get 18 milligrams a day. can you get that from a cup of oatmeal.

    >> we also have more melanin in our skin so that makes us also a little bit more susceptible to other health risks as well.

    >> this is really interesting. if you have dark hair and have more pigment in your skin, you are more likely to become dependent on cigarettes. it is actually more difficult to quit as well.

    >> that's interesting.

    >> the reason for this is that the melanin that's in the skin binds the nicotine very tightly so it stays in your system a little bit longer making you more likely to become dependent and harder for you to quit.

    >> okay. interesting. now redheads, quickly, what are some health hazards they have to watch out for?

    >> two very interesting things. first, redheads are more resistant to anesthesia. they need up to 20% more. a lot of women may avoid things like the dentist because they think it may have been more painful from an experience in the past. be aware of that. the other thing that they are more susceptible to is the development of parkinson 's disease. redheads are 90% more likely to have parkinson 's than brunettes.

    >> is that because of the gene that's carried?

    >> possibly. one theory is that the genetic influence that creates red hair also influences the gene that causes parkinsparkinson's. and another comes back to the melanin. the area of the brain that's impacted by parkinson 's may actually be protected by melanin. it may scavenge up toxins and its absence can leave the brain more susceptible.

    >> one thing you can do to guard against, or at least to help prolong the onset of parkinson 's is take a multi-vitamin?

    >> that's right. folic acid deficiency can lead to more of a progression of parkinson 's. you want to take 400 micrograms a day. you can get that from a multi-vitamin.

    >> who knew our hair says so much about our health . thank you.

    >>> making room for baby, from

updated 4/23/2010 1:26:01 PM ET 2010-04-23T17:26:01

Our hair is our most noticeable trait — and we obsess over it accordingly. But even though we spend lots of time enhancing and re-enhancing our tresses, we probably haven't considered something pretty cool: What's underneath all the glosses and highlights can be a health barometer of sorts.

If you're a blonde...

...protect your peepers
Women have a higher risk than men of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD), an eye condition that can cause blindness. And fair-haired females are especially prone to AMD, says Svetlana Kogan, M.D., founder of Doctors at Trump Place in New York City. A diet rich in the natural compounds lutein and zeaxanthin — found in kale, spinach, and snow peas — can help fend it off. Kogan suggests munching on one cup of the green veggies every day.

...cover up
Melanin gives skin its color and helps shield it from harmful UV rays, says dermatologist Joel Schlessinger, M.D., president emeritus of the American Society of Cosmetic Dermatology and Aesthetic Surgery. Thing is, blondes produce less of the stuff, which leaves their skin (and especially their scalps) at a higher risk for melanoma. Buy a full-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen that shields against harmful UVA and UVB rays. And don't neglect your head: "Blondes should always wear a hat when they're in direct sunlight," says Schlessinger.

If you're a brunette...

...hold on to your hair
More than half of the 30 million American women with visible hair loss are brunettes. That could be because they have less hair to begin with: "Brown tresses are generally coarser and thicker than blonde or red strands, and your body produces fewer of them," Schlessinger says. So when brown hair follicles die, they leave behind more noticeable thin patches. Stave off sparse coverage by eating right. Low iron can contribute to hair loss, so start swallowing 18 milligrams a day; one cup of fortified oatmeal will provide your daily fill.

...stub out that butt
Your chestnut mane is the result of lots of melanin, which could fast-track your dependency on nicotine. The reason: Melanin prevents your liver from quickly metabolizing the drug, and the longer it's in your system, the faster you become hooked. Animal studies suggest that vitamin C helps keep your liver in top shape. Swallow 75 milligrams a day in the form of half a cup of red peppers or a medium-size orange. Your best bet, though, is never to pick up a cancer stick. Period.

...snag a boyfriend
Do gentlemen really prefer blondes? Nope, according to Florida State University research. Not when it comes to long-term relationships. Plus, according to a 3,000-person survey, men prefer brunettes as serious mates because they see them as more reliable and steady. If you're not looking for a long-term thing, try a little spontaneity: Make the first move by slipping that cute guy your digits. Slideshow: Stars’ scary hair moments

If you're a redhead...

...watch your mouth!
The next time Lindsay Lohan goes in for a cavity filling, she might want to ask for extra Novocain. Fiery locks, it turns out, stem from an inherited DNA mutation that also makes redheads resistant to general and local anesthetics, says Daniel Sessler, M.D., an anesthesiologist at the Cleveland Clinic. In fact, carrot tops may need up to 20 percent more numbing juice than blondes or brunettes. But don't let a little hurt keep you from getting good oral care: Talk to your dentist about pain management prior to plopping down in her chair, or take 500 milligrams of ibuprofen one hour before the appointment.

...look out for Parkinson's
A recent Harvard study found that redheads have an almost 90 percent greater chance of developing the disease. Why? Possibly because of that same gene mutation: It influences another type of gene that, when also mutated, can be associated with Parkinson's. On the plus side, research shows that folic acid might delay the progression of the illness. Margaret Lewin, M.D., medical director of Cinergy Health, advises taking 400 micrograms a day (more if you're pregnant). A multivitamin has all the folic acid most women need.

...stock up on condoms
Redheads make red-hot lovers, or so the stereotype goes. One thing's for sure: They get a lot more action, according to one study. This might be due to a self-fulfilling prophecy, says Kogan. "Red is associated with fire, and fire is associated with passion," she says. "Often, you become what people expect of you." Something others are eager to try: Recent Clairol research shows nearly 40 percent of people said they'd go scarlet for a day if they could.

© 2012 Rodale Inc. All rights reserved.


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