McKenzie, C. A. ; Wakamatsu, K. ; Hanchard, N. A. ; Forrester, T. ; Ito, S.
Author Affiliation, Ana.
Childhood malnutrition is associated with a reduction in the total melanin content of scalp hair
Br J Nutr
Date of Publication
Childhood malnutrition is known to be associated with visible lightening of hair colour (hypochromotrichia). Nevertheless, no systematic investigations have been carried out to determine the biochemical basis of this change. We used an HPLC method to measure melanins in the scalp hair of thirteen Jamaican children, diagnosed as having primary malnutrition, during various stages of their treatment and after recovery. During treatment for malnutrition, a progressive decrease in total melanin content along the hair shaft from tip to root (root:tip ratio: 0.62 (sd 0.31)) was observed. This ratio was significantly different (P = 0.003) from the ratio observed among children sampled several months after discharge from hospital (0.93 (sd 0.23)) and among normal control children (0.97 (sd 0.12)). Thus, it appears that a decrease in melanin content is associated with periods of malnutrition. The low root:tip ratio during malnutrition presumably arises because the tips reflect prior hair growth during 'normal' nutrition and the roots reflect hair growth during malnutrition; a return of the root:tip ratio to that seen among controls reflects 'recovery' from malnutrition. It is possible that reduced intake or availability of tyrosine, a key substrate in melanin synthesis, may play a role in the reduction of hair melanin content during periods of malnutrition. The precise mechanisms by which melanin content is reduced, and the role of aromatic amino acid availability in hair colour change and other features of childhood malnutrition remain to be explored.....