Gut health is a hot topic these days, with a particular focus on the microbiome — a term which refers to the microscopic bacteria and amino acids that populate the human body and help keep us in balance. Research suggests that maintaining a healthy gut is the first step to healing many common health problems, including, surprisingly, hair thinning and hair loss, due to the way our bacteria helps us process biotin. In fact, maintaining a healthy gut microbiome may actually improve hair regrowth!
To help you on your journey towards healthy hair, let's dive in to this topic by learning about the microbiome, and take a closer look at how your gut microbiome may be one of the factors in maintaining healthy hair and encouraging the absorption of biotin to maintain a healthy hair follicle growth cycle. We'll also go over some easy steps you can take to improve the balance of your gut bacteria to support your hair health.
What Is the Microbiome?
Simply put, your microbiome is the internal community of microorganisms within the human digestive system. These little creatures might be tiny, but the impact they have on every aspect of our health, is significant, impacting everything from depression and other mood disorders to our body's ability to regulate our immune system.
Your gut isn't the only part of your body to be impacted by bacteria — your skin microbiome, for example, plays an important role in skin health, and may also have an impact on your immune system. There are bacteria present in every corner of your body!
However, your gut might be the the largest microbial hangout spot, which explains why gut bacteria in particular is so important to maintaining a balance of good bacteria throughout your body. According to estimates made by the NIH, microbial organisms could make up as much as 57% of all human cells — up to five pounds of which is gut bacteria located in the gut microbiome. Gut microbiota is responsible for the bacteria that works to limit the factors that lead to hair loss and encourage the hair growth cycle.
How Does Your Gut Bacteria Impact Hair Loss?
Aside from the overall impact your gut microbiota has on your general health and wellness, there's research that suggests that an imbalance in your gut bacteria population can actually result in hair loss, including exacerbating the symptoms of alopecia.
"Our microbiome is truly amazing," says nutritionist and probiotic researcher Alicia Harper. "Scientists have confirmed it is extremely important for our overall physical health and can even send signals directly to our brain. A microbiome that is overloaded with bad bacteria and lacking good bacteria can cause inflammation throughout the whole body. Inflammation on the scalp has been shown to kill off hair follicles. The microbiome also has a direct impact on the hormones in our body. Some of these hormones are needed for the anagen, catagen, and telogen hair growth phases. " This means that an imbalanced microbiome can throw hair follicles our of wack, causing hair loss. "If your hair loss is caused by inflammation then definitely try to work on getting probiotic-rich foods into your diet," Alicia says
Finally, a third way our microbiome could have an impact on your hair growth is through good old stress. A microbiome rich in diverse microorganisms can help with anxiety and depression. Stress is probably one of the leading causes of hair loss.
The gut health hair loss connection results from a variety of factors, but to put it simply, when your gut bacteria is in balance it helps decrease the amount of bad bacteria present in the system which may lead to hair loss and thinning.
Your gut bacteria uses enzymes to break down the foods you eat — which is why your diet has such a major impact on the bacteria present in your gut. The process of breaking down the enzymes present in these foods produces and allows your body to access certain critical micro-nutrients, including:
While all these micronutrients are important, it's biotin (which is otherwise known as vitamin B7) that's the most directly linked to hair loss. Biotin is a micronutrient most commonly found in mushrooms and soybeans, and studies show that biotin supports the healthy functioning of hair growth via the hair follicles, which rely on biotin to support the growth of new hair.
Studies show that if we don't get enough biotin it can cause hair loss, including exacerbated symptoms of alopecia. Our microbiome can address hair thinning and other alopecia symptoms including hair loss, because some of our gut bacteria produces biotin, whereas others help break down and consume accessible biotin. Taking a biotin supplement (like our GRO Biotin Gummies for Hair) is beneficial if your gut bacteria is able to process it — which is why it's so important to maintain your gut biome. Only a healthy bacteria balance will help your body break down and absorb the biotin it needs to encourage hair growth.
Can a Healthy Gut Microbiome Support Hair Growth?
While most of the studies exploring the connection between hair loss and gut health have been done on those suffering from alopecia, there is a growing body of research suggesting that a healthy gut microbiome can support the health of the hair follicles for everyone, not just people suffering from alopecia related hair loss.
Your gut is an essential part of supporting the health of hair follicles for a variety of complex and interrelated reasons. "Proper nutrition is important for overall health and can affect the rate at which one hair grows," says Cosmetic Dermatologist Dr. Michele Green.
The gut microbiome is responsible for breaking down the probiotics and foods that you consume as part of your diet, supporting the production of many of the nutrients needed for growing hair.
"Poor nutrition can cause malabsorption as well as inflammation in the body which can disrupt the growth cycle of the hair," says Dr. Green. "Inflammation does not allow the cells to repair completely which results in a weakening of the cells. When this reparative process does not occur, it causes cell damage which results in hair loss. A nutrient dense diet can give you the benefits of longer, stronger and healthy hair, because it aids in proper absorption, which in turn facilitates cellular turnover and hormonal balance."
Because gut health is so closely tied to the health of your immune system and the balance of hormones within your body, a diet that supports the healthy function of hormones will encourage hair growth. Gut bacteria may also regulate hormone levels throughout the body, including hormones responsible for controlling the transitions between various phases of hair growth cycle, and physical factors that influence the blood flow to your skin and scalp. Balancing these hormones through a diet of gut healthy foods and a bacterially rich environment may help maintain conditions in your body to support hair growth.
5 Steps for Improving Your Gut Health
First, it's important to note that there are some aspects of your gut ecosystem that you're simply born with. Research shows that human genetics shape the balance of bacteria within your gut microbiome, meaning that you may already have a genetic predisposition to hosting certain gut flora. Environment may also play a role in determining what bacteria your gut flora is the most likely to support.
But even though some aspects of the microbiome are inherited, there are many simple steps you can take to improve gut health and encourage good bacteria to thrive.
Here are steps you can take to improve your gut health:
1. Eat Fermented Foods & Take Probiotics
Some research shows that fermented foods and supplements containing probiotics can help support good gut bacteria. Probiotics is a blanket term describing live bacteria and yeasts. Increasing your consumption of them can help introduce healthy bacteria into your gut, and help balance out your internal microbiome to make sure your body is functioning the way it should. While scientists still don't know exactly how probiotics work to improve your bacterial balance, the evidence is clear that a bacteria rich diet is essential for the health of your entire body, including your hair and scalp.
For an easy probiotics boost, incorporate these common fermented foods into your diet:
- Fermented pickles and other vegetables
2. Eat More Veggies
Vegetables are a critical source of prebiotic fiber, which may help stabilize gut bacteria populations. This may be why some research suggests that vegetarians tend to have healthier guts — they simply consume higher levels of prebiotic fiber.
To enhance your gut health, try reducing the amount of meat and simple carbohydrates in your diet, while increasing your consumption of foods high in prebiotic fiber. These include:
- Alums, including garlic, onions, and leeks
- Whole grains, especially barley and oats
- Dandelion greens
- Jerusalem artichokes
3. Minimize Sugar and Sweeteners
We all love a little sugar, but there's a growing body of evidence that it might cause long-term damage to our gut health. Studies suggest that consuming high levels of sugar or artificial sweeteners may lead to an imbalance of gut microbes called gut dysbiosis.
Diets high in sugar and fat may negatively impact your gut microbiome, and one study in particular highlights aspartame (found in many diet sodas and desserts) as potentially increasing bacterial strains linked with metabolic disfunction, which increases the risk of diabetes and heart disease. In fact, overusing artificial sweeteners can negatively impact levels of glucose in the blood due to the impact they have on gut flora. So check the packaging of your "sugar-free" treat — odds are it contains artificial sweeteners that may harm your gut bacteria in high amounts.
4. Avoid Unnecessary Overconsumption of Antibiotics
A surprisingly common source of damaged gut health is the over-prescription of antibiotics. Antibiotics work because they wipe out the bad bacteria that causes illness, but in the process they can also damage the populations of good bacteria essential to supporting your microbiome.
Make sure you only take antibiotics with the direct advice of a doctor, and only when strictly necessary, to avoid unnecessarily altering the composition of your microbiome. Make an effort to consumer probiotic-rich foods or take a probiotic supplement after finishing your dose of antibiotics to help your good bacteria flourish. Additionally, cutting down on the use of antimicrobial cleaning products in your home helps avoid the disruption of gut bacteria.
5. Reduce Chronic Stress
Stress has a huge impact on your overall health — especially when it comes to your hair! Studies suggest that short lived stress can disrupt intestinal microorganisms, and the effects are exacerbated with long-term stress. To combat the effects of chronic stress, consider adapting a stress management routine to help reduce your mental load.
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a regular sleep routine
- Eat a balanced diet
- Practice deep breathing
Trust Your Gut
Because the steps you take to improve gut health are building blocks to supporting long-term wellness, it may take some time to see the results of improving the health of your digestive tract. But stick with it! A healthy gut is the key to a lifetime of wellness — supporting healthy hair growth and beyond. Turns out that, when it comes to hair wellness, you really are what you eat!
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