Gut health can affect just about every function in your body—research shows that a healthy gut translate into a healthy environment for different microorganisms to carry out their systems and processes, which have an impact on everything, from your hair health to your mood.
The connection between the gut and the skin (known as the gut-skin axis) is now well-known. “The gut and skin are important connections between the internal and external environment. The gut isn’t just the simple alimentary canal that we used to draw in science class. It is a complex ecosystem and is known as the second brain as it ties nutrition, hormones and immunity together,” says Dr Madhulika Mhatre, consultant dermatologist, Wockhardt Hospital. But research shows that there might be a connection between gut health and hair loss too. We spoke to Dr Mhatre, and Vinita Contractor, holistic nutrition and lifestyle coach for their take.
How does an unhealthy gut cause hair loss?
“Out of the thousands of species of gut microbes that live in our gut, we have the beneficial bacteria which help us with digestion, control our immune system and brain health and we have the pathogenic or disease-causing bacteria which are not beneficial,” says Contractor. The latter feeds on simple and refined sugars, highly processed foods, artificial sweeteners, red meat, and alcohol, and tend to crowd out the good bacteria.
The good bacteria boast microbial enzymes, which, on the other hand, break down food and produce micronutrients that our body can use. “This releases Vitamin K, B12, B3, folic acid and biotin which are essential for hair cycling and growth. Apart from assimilating nutrients, the gut also synthesises key vitamins and regulates the immune system, both of which are essential for hair growth and sustenance,” says Dr Mhatre. And if they are crowded out by the bad bacteria, vital nutrients from the food are not broken down thus resulting in poor hair health from the inside-out. “Gut dysbiosis disturbs the metabolic functions of the microorganisms in the gut and leads to metabolic dysfunction and intestinal malabsorption. If the gut flora is not as diverse as it should be, it further perpetuates the problem,” says Contractor.
How hormones can affect hair growth
The gut microbiome also produces hormones and signals to the glands in your body to let them know how much of each hormone should be created and released. The gut microbiota regulate or impact nearly every hormone in the body, including oestrogen, thyroid hormones and melatonin. “The gut flora can regulate the hormones that control the transition between the three phases of hair growth: anagen (regeneration/growth), catagen (degeneration), and telogen (rest). Oestrogen increases the amount of time that hair spends in the anagen phase, so when oestrogen declines, hair loses the protective benefits that it offers,” says Contractor.
How to bolster your gut health to improve hair growth
“Supplements or food items rich in essential Vitamins and micronutrients (including biotin) such as legumes, nuts, green leafy vegetables, fish, lean meats and egg are good for hair growth,” says Dr Mhatre. Contractor recommends that you follow a diverse, high-fibre, organic or naturally grown plant-based diet comprising whole foods which are unprocessed such as whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. “In addition, probiotic-rich fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi and kanji help to colonise the gut with the healthy bacteria. If you want to have good hair, making the necessary dietary and lifestyle changes will not just help your hair but your entire body,” she signs off.
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