Wellness begins from within. So, when your stomach — or any part of your body, including your hair or scalp — speaks, it’s time to stop and listen. Any internal imbalance, especially within the gut, may lead to other health issues that could use a natural healing agent, such as probiotics.

Probiotics are powerful microorganisms with many health benefits. Found in an array of fermented foods, drinks and probiotic supplements, some sources of probiotics are animal-derived. Vegans can still partake in the power of probiotics — you just need to know exactly where to look. Read on to learn more about vegan foods rich in probiotics — plus, the vegan probiotic supplement that can help your gut and help you get fuller, thicker hair.

Power Up With Probiotics

Trust your gut: It's likely an indicator of overall wellness. Overindulgence, travel or other life events can wreak havoc on the digestive tract, leaving the body off-kilter and throwing off the ratio of good and beneficial gut bacteria. In turn, imbalances within the gut microbiome may also impact your skin, nails and hair, along with more serious medical issues and mental health.

“Probiotics are living microorganisms, specifically live bacteria. That may sound a little odd but these good bacteria work in tandem with our bodies and help with proper digestion and the breakdown of nutrients in our gut,” said Chef Aaron Clayton, personal chef for plant-based NBA professional athlete Chris Paul. “Additionally, the presence of good bacteria helps mitigate the growth of bad bacteria in the body. Our overall health is directly linked to gut health; the gut is the engine that drives our bodies."

How Probiotics Help Hair Health

The gut is sometimes referred to as the “second brain” of the body because of its influence on your overall health, including that of your hair. And while a healthy gut translates to harmony within the body, the exact opposite can be true if you have a gut microbiome that's unhealthy. An unhealthy gut can lead to hair, skin and digestive issues — or even more serious diseases such as colorectal cancer, insulin resistance syndrome, blood pressure, endocrine and autoimmune disorders. 

There are many different strains of probiotic bacteria that live in the digestive tract. Some of these probiotic strains are more beneficial bacteria or live microorganisms that may also contain yeast in addition to probiotic bacteria.

Beneficial bacteria such as L. acidophilus or lactobacillus bacteria, help create balance by stimulating the natural detoxification process of eliminating waste via gastrointestinal transit and promoting improved digestion. Many of the body’s functional processes begin within the digestive tract. Aside from digestion, mood and immune function are influenced by the gut microbiota.

"If our gut isn’t working properly our digestive system cannot efficiently break down and absorb the nutrients we eat," said Clayton. "It doesn’t matter how many nutrients we consume if we can’t efficiently break them down in the gut and use them in the body. Because of this, probiotics don’t only impact gut health, their benefits can be seen across the body. Research has shown probiotics can improve not only gut health but have been found to improve your nail, skin and hair health as well."

Related: 8 Signs You Have Low Stomach Acid (Including Thinning Hair)

Probiotic-Rich Vegan Foods

You are what you eat. And, like most things in life, cultivating balance is key for a healthy gut. Eating a vegan diet including fermented foods combined with taking a probiotic supplement on a regular basis can help with establishing healthy bacteria levels within the digestive tract. Plus, replenishing the system with probiotic food and probiotic supplements can promote enhanced health even when you’re not sick.

Probiotic-rich foods are typically enhanced by the lacto fermentation process, in which lactic acid bacteria is used to preserve and/or pickle foods. As active enzymes, live cultures and acid levels rise, the process lowers the food or drink's pH. This process is what gives pickled foods their signature pucker. Lower pH also inhibits undesirable microbes, among other probiotic benefits such as reducing spoilage.

"Lactobacillus is the most commonly found probiotic, it can be found in fermented plant-based foods," explained Clayton. Fermented vegetables, pickled vegetables, sourdough bread and sour pickles are some examples of plant-based probiotics.

Taking probiotics that are certified vegan can be a challenge — but it's not impossible! Elevate your plant-based diet with bacteria-boosted foods and drinks. Here are some of the best vegan probiotics to integrate into your regular routine.

Shop: Total Body Wellness Collection

1. Serve up Sauerkraut

While it is an acquired taste, sauerkraut is rich in probiotics. Eat roughly a tablespoon a day of the fermented cabbage dish to amp up gut health.

2. Dial-up the Heat With Kimchi

Or, opt for the Korean version of plant-based probiotics with kimchi. It's similar to sauerkraut in preparation yet turns up the heat with a spicy kick. Make sure to check the ingredients since not all kimchi is vegan.

Read: Here's How Gut Health and Hair Loss Are Connected

3. Make Miso Part of Your Meal

Have miso soup — with or without sushi — or use miso paste. It's fermented from soybeans and contains probiotics for enhanced gut health. It's also rich in essential minerals and vitamins.

4. Pick the Perfect Pickles

Snack on pickles, which are low in calories yet loaded with calcium, potassium and Vitamins A, C and K. Head to a health food store to stock up on fermented pickles (grocery store varieties are typically not fermented) and look for bubbles upon opening, which indicate the presence of live probiotic bacteria.

See: 6 Nutrition Habits for Healthy Hair

5. Swap Tofu for Tempeh

"Tempeh is an amazing and easy way to naturally work probiotics into your diet," said Clayton. "It is important to understand that you need to be deliberate when adding probiotics to your diet. Give your body a chance to get used to an influx of probiotics, go slow and gradually increase the volume of probiotics you consume over time. Remember balance is key!” As with miso or natto, tempeh is made from fermented soybeans.

6. Sip on Kombucha

This fermented tea drink is filled with probiotics and antioxidants. Studies have suggested that its fermentation process leads to increased antioxidant activity and anti-inflammatory potential.

7. Quench Thirst With Water Kefir Grains

Like kombucha, water kefir grains are probiotic-packed drinks that can be found at health food stores and other grocers. The fizzy beverage is also thought to improve immunity and overall health and potentially slow cancer cell growth.

8. Supercharge a Smoothie With Supplements

A good way to make sure you get your daily dose of probiotics is to boost your morning brew, smoothie or water with a vegan probiotic supplement. GRO WELL Hair Boost Supplement + Probiotic supports a healthy gut while enhancing the hair and whole-body health from the inside-out with an intrinsic approach. It's also vegan, gluten-free and contains no carbs or sugar. The proprietary blend is packed with good-for-you nutrients, including:

  • Saw Palmetto, which has been shown in clinical studies to help inhibit DHT production and support healthy hair.
  • Curcumin combined with piperine forms an antioxidant shown in clinical studies to reduce oxidative stress caused by free radicals, enhancing scalp health.
  • Ashwagandha is an adrenal adaptogen that has been shown to promote sleep and lower cortisol levels.  
  • Fo-ti activates the gene triggering protein synthesis in hair follicles.
  • Horsetail Root is an antioxidant containing cysteine and selenium, promoting the healthy blood circulation needed for healthy hair growth.
  • Bio-optimized Vitamins A, B, C, D, E, zinc, iron, copper L-lysine, minerals and amino acids.
  • 50 million CFU probiotics, which support healthy keratin and collagen production.

Pro tip: Maximize absorption by combining with a lipid such as plant-based milk, nut-based milk or nut butter. Or, go green with an avocado smoothie.

Happy Gut & Healthy Hair Healing Habits

Integrate lifestyle choices that improve gut health and support skin, scalp, hair and overall wellness.

  • Include biotin-rich foods in your diet and take a biotin supplement.
  • Avoiding overly processed foods.
  • Make movement and regular exercise a daily habit.
  • Reduce stress with yoga and meditation.
  • Give yourself a daily scalp massage.
  • Practice mindfulness.

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Photo credit: Ella Olsson/Unsplash

Disclaimer: Information in this article is intended for general informational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended to constitute medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek professional medical advice from your physician.