You can tell a lot about the health of a person by looking at their skin, hair, and nails. If your hair is thick and shiny, then that’s a good sign. If it is thin and brittle, then there could be some underlying health issue. Thin hair can be a sign of malnutrition or an immune issue.
Hair loss is known as alopecia, and there are a few different kinds. Pattern baldness is known as alopecia areata and around 1.7 percent of the population suffers from it, but researchers do not know exactly its exact cause. Common theories include inflammation, immune issues, and vitamin deficiencies.1
How Your Gut Affects Your Hair
The body begins digesting food from the moment you put it in your mouths, as the act of chewing and the enzymes in your mouth start to break down the food. The next stage of digestion occurs as the acid in your stomachs further breaks down the food, and then finally, the food moves into the intestines where nutrients are absorbed.
There are some types of fiber that the stomach acid doesn’t break down very well, and to fully extract nutrients from that kind of food, humans rely on bacteria and other microbes that live in the gut. Yes, humans, are hosts to other organisms that help individuals stay healthy.2
If you have a good balance of gut flora, then you will be able to extract the maximum amount of essential nutrients from your food. If you are lacking vital gut flora, then you could be suffering from a mild version of malnutrition, even if you are eating a relatively decent diet. It is quite easy to be deficient in biotin, vitamin B12, vitamin K, niacin, or folic acid. Many of these nutrients are produced by bacteria that reside in the distal intestine and are important for healthy hair.3
Poor Gut Flora Can Lead to Thinning Hair
The link between digestive problems and hair loss is nutrition. If you are lacking in essential gut flora such as Bacteroides, Enterococcus, or Bifidobacterium then you could find that this shows in the health of your hair.
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One recent study looked at the coats of mice who were deprived of biotin and found that mice on a normal diet had healthy coats, while those without biotin experienced some thinning, and those who were deprived of biotin and lacked certain gut bacteria experienced even more hair loss.4 The good news is that this type of hair loss can be reversed with good nutrition.
The situation becomes more complicated if a person has inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and is not absorbing nutrients properly because of this. The combination of inflammation from the illness and the possibility of nutritional deficiencies, combined with the potential for adverse drug reactions, makes IBD a difficult issue to deal with. Hair loss is a common comorbidity with IBD.5 Finding ways to manage the condition and making dietary changes to improve the health of your gut could help restore some hair growth.
Lifestyle Changes for a Healthy Gut
Your gut health can have a significant impact on your overall health and the way that the gut bacteria work within the body is still being explored.6 It is clear, however, that supporting a healthy gut is essential for overall health, and that the foods you eat, as well as the way you cope with stress, can impact your digestive system and the rest of our body quite dramatically.
People who suffer from IBS could benefit from a diet that focuses more on complex carbohydrates, vegetables, lots of water, fermented foods, and probiotics to promote a better balance of gut bacteria. This could help reduce bloating and improve digestion, reducing inflammation in the gut and allowing for better nutrient absorption. The end result? Better hair, and better overall health, including reduced risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.7,8
Stress and Hair Loss
So far, this article has focused on the direct link between digestive issues and hair loss. One thing factor that hasn’t been considered is how stress can affect this. Stress can cause issues with the digestive system, both directly and indirectly because of the way that people tend to make worse diet choices when they are struggling with stress.
Regular exercise can help reduce stress, and there are many studies that show that aromatherapy can help reduce stress and anxiety as well. These studies include everything from alleviating longer term, work-related stresses through the use of aromatherapy oils such as bergamot, to using rose water-based aromatherapy treatments to alleviate more short-term anxiety in those who are unwell and going through stressful treatments.9,10
Stress management techniques are unlikely to cause an immediate regrowth of your hair if you are suffering from alopecia, but they can be beneficial in the longer term. The idea is to make a series of incremental changes. Take a yoga class and enjoy a relaxing bath with some aromatic essential oils after a hard week instead of eating a pizza and drinking beer.
Those beneficial choices might be the factors that give you the energy to get up a little earlier and meal prep for the coming work week, which will, in turn, support the growth of healthy gut flora, giving you more energy, balancing your mood, and improving your ability to absorb nutrients. It’s a long term strategy, and it takes time to work, but if you stick with it, you can conquer digestive issues, feel better, and look better.
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