The health of the gut and its microbiome, or bacterial intestinal environment, can definitely affect the scalp and hair. The scalp, the skin, the mouth and the nose all have their microbiota with a delicate balance of microorganisms. Any alteration of this balance can result in certain symptoms and even diseases. The scalp and intestinal microbiota are entertwined and responsive to one another. The same is true of the gut microbiome and the brain. For example, the gut bacteria produce about 90 percent of the brain’s serotonin, a brain chemical associated with feelings of happiness and normal mood. In fact, medications that treat depression often do so by increasing the serotonin levels in the brain.
When the gut’s microbiome is disturbed by frequent use of antibiotics or the consumption of unhealthy foods, a syndrome called leaky gut can result. Leaky gut is a condition in which toxins from the intestines leak through its membranes and into the body’s systems, resulting in possible inflammatory diseases. Many people are not aware that nearly three-quarters of the body’s immune system originates from the gut.
The gut actually manufactures nutrients necessary for a healthy scalp. If the scalp isn’t healthy, the hair won’t be either. The gut also regulates hormones responsible for the phases of hair growth:
In the anagen stage, hair begins to grow. It then rests in the telogen stage. In the catagen phase, the hair follicle regresses. The other stages are exogen, when the hair falls from the follicle, and ketogen is the time when the hair follicle is empty, waiting for the anagen stage to begin again.
The Microbiome of the Scalp
The gut functions as a type of second brain, promoting a delicate interplay between nutrition, immunity and hormones. Its microbiome is heavily involved in the health and condition of the skin, including the scalp. This is why a healthy diet is so important. A poor diet allows the overgrowth of bad bacteria that can crowd out the beneficial bacteria needed to break down foods, manufacture vitamins and produce energy. Bad bacterial growth is encouraged by the following:
- Refined sugars
- Red Meat
- Artificial sweeteners
The plant-derived sweetener stevia, although not artificial, has also been linked to gut health damage by disrupting normal communication between beneficial bacterial species. This can lead to a bacterial imbalance within the microbiome. It may be best to limit consumption of stevia products.
The scalp is directly affected by any kind of gut microbiome imbalance because the friendly bacteria are the ones responsible for the production of micronutrients required for a healthy scalp. If the pathogenic bacteria outnumber the good bacteria, there will be an imbalance that may be reflected by poor skin and scalp health.
Rethink your Germ Theory
The typical American obsession with germs may actually also damage the skin’s microbiome. The use of hand sanitizers and household and personal antibacterial soaps and other products may damage the skin’s microbiome by killing not only pathogenic bacteria but the beneficial ones as well. Antibacterial products can also produce superbugs, bacteria resistant to antibiotics, by killing only the weaker pathogens and leaving the stronger ones to reproduce and pass their resistant genes on. The unnecessary use of antibiotics can do the same thing in the gut by killing the good bacteria along with the bad. Washing with soap and warm water is all that is normally necessary to clean your skin.
When your doctor tells you an antibiotic isn’t necessary, don’t argue. It’s best to avoid these drugs whenever possible.
How to Help Your Gut Help your Scalp
The gut’s microbiome is associated with the production of the nutrients biotin and riboflavin, both necessary for healthy hair. The gut also regulates hormones like estrogen. Remember the anogen phase? That’s when the hair is growing. Estrogen increases the length of this phase, promoting hair growth. That’s one reason why postmenopausal women often notice a thinning of the hair and a reduction in hair gloss and vitality.
A healthy gut microbiome is a diverse one. The microbiome should be home to a great variety of beneficial bacteria, all working together to contribute to the health of the whole person. Each has a job to do. You can promote a healthier microbiome by consuming fermented foods high in probiotics or friendly bacteria:
- Yogurt, buttermilk, sour cream and kefir
- Sauerkraut and kimchi
- Aged cheeses
- Miso and tempeh
The diet should also include plenty of whole foods, such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables providing plenty of fiber. Onions, garlic, chicory root, bananas and asparagus add vital prebiotics or food for the probiotics, to your diet.
If you’d like to know more about improving your gut and scalp health, call us at 205-352-9141. Our specially trained integrative physicians are experts in proven methods to better health through nutritional support and other methods. We welcome all new patients, and we look forward to speaking with you.