The gut – like the skin – is the home to billions of microorganisms. This is called the microbiome, a commune of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoa. They occur in several parts of the body, primarily the gut, the skin, even the scalp as well.
Gut Health and Skin Health
The gut may be located far away from the skin and scalp – but they are connected in more ways than one. Both serve immune and endocrine functions.
The said organs are governed by the gut-skin axis, a theory proposed by Drs. Donald Pillsbury and John Stokes in the 1930s. According to the dermatologists, when the gut microbiome is disturbed – as in dysbiosis – skin (even hair) problems may arise.
While the microbiota – whether in the gut or skin – live with each other in relative peace, there are instances where they might be disturbed. This can happen when you are stressed, or if you consume a poor diet or take antibiotics haphazardly. These mindless activities can result in microbial imbalance – otherwise known as dysbiosis.
The effects of dysbiosis are dire, as it has been linked with several diseases, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Heart Disease, Diabetes, even Cancer.
Due to the gut-skin axis, dysbiosis has been deemed the culprit behind many skin diseases. According to research, a disruption in the gut microbiome can lead to acne, eczema, psoriasis, and many other inflammatory skin conditions.
Apart from affecting the gut and the skin, dysbiosis may affect hair health as well. After all, the different hairs in the body – from the top to the bottom – are appended to the skin. In fact, both the hair and the skin are parts of the integumentary system.
Like the gut and the skin, a PLOS One Journal study has shown that hair has its own microbiome as well. In fact, it houses as much as 25% of the microorganisms in the body.
The results of the study show that the microbiome of the middle part of scalp hair is less diverse. Diagnostic imaging has shown that this middle area is usually populated by the Burkholderia species. The lower portion, on the other hand, has a more diverse community of microbes.
Hair Problems Brought about by Dysbiosis
Like the gut and skin, an imbalance of the hair microbiome can lead to several conditions. The same PLOS One study has shown that men with androgenetic alopecia had a proliferation of Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes). This strain, which is also responsible for pimple development, makes the follicles ‘smaller,’ which explains why the thinning and hair loss is associated with androgenetic alopecia.
Tinea Capitis, an infection of the scalp, is attributed to fungal overgrowth. Symptoms include pain, redness, and scaling. If left untreated, it may lead to irreversible hair loss.
Yeasts, on the other hand, have been associated with dandruff formation. A study of 300 samples has linked the Malassezia species with hair shedding and eventual hair loss.
Gut Health, Immunity, and Hair Loss
More than just improving digestion, a stable gut microbiome can promote immunity as well. Expectedly, dysbiosis can make a person more susceptible to infections. It also places the person at a higher risk of developing cancers and autoimmune diseases, such as Psoriasis and Eczema.
With that being said, poor gut health may lower one's immunity, which can then lead to autoimmune hair conditions. One such example is alopecia areata, where patches of balding occur.
In this case, the hair follicles are attacked by the immune cells in the body, thereby resulting in hair loss. While concerning, hair regrowth occurs after 6 to 12 months.
Nutrition and Hair Health
One of the major factors that influence hair health is nutrition. Studies have shown that deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals may lead to hair loss.
One important hair vitamin is Biotin, which is richly present in eggs, wheat, mushrooms, and spinach. According to a study by Saxena et al, Biotin levels are higher in people with healthy hair, compared to those with dandruff and other scalp issues.
Good Gut Health = Exceptional Hair Health
Gut health is truly vital for good hair health. As has been mentioned, dysbiosis can lead to an overgrowth of bad microbes – and that may result in a variety of gut, skin, and hair diseases. Additionally, dysbiosis can lower one's immunity, which makes a person prone to autoimmune responses that attack the hair follicles.
With that being said, the best way to maintain good hair health is to promote gut health. You can do so by consuming foods or supplements rich in probiotics and prebiotics.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that help make the gut healthy. They can improve digestion and fight disease-causing germs. They can even produce vitamins such as Biotin, which is essential for hair growth.
As for the hair, probiotics can also increase the number of hair in the anagen or growth phase (Urman et al).
Good sources of probiotics include fermented food products such as yogurt, kimchi, miso, tempeh, Kombucha, kefir, and sauerkraut, to name a few.
Prebiotics, on the other hand, are fibrous sources that serve as food to probiotics. They can help promote the growth of these good bacteria – so the balance (and health) of the gut microbiome is maintained.
Prebiotic sources, on the other hand, are mostly vegetables and fruits. Examples include garlic, onions, leeks, dandelion greens, chicory root, asparagus, and banana.
Apart from increasing the intake of some foods, some sources should be removed from the daily diet. Sugar, even artificial sweeteners, can disrupt gut health. This may lead to hair problems in the long run.
Smoking should also be avoided. It can promote the growth of bad gut bacteria - and gradually decrease the population of good microbes.
Getting enough sleep and exercise is beneficial for the gut flora as well. These can minimize stress, which might affect the hair growth rate in some individuals.
Lastly, take antibiotics cautiously. Follow your doctor’s orders, or else, you might end up killing the good bacteria in your gut as well.
Hair loss is a concerning problem that may be brought about by genes, stress, and an upset gut. With that being said, if you want strong, healthy hair, you need to follow the above-mentioned tips on how to keep your gut bacteria healthy.