Gut Health Overview
Our digestive system is one of the most important and complex organs in our body, as well as one of the largest. It extends from the mouth through the stomach and multiple feet of intestines to the anus, and what happens at each stage of the digestion process determines how healthy a person will be. The gut is our first line of defense against outside toxins and microbes and informs our immune system. The gut also has a direct connection to our brains and nervous system and is important in regulating our mood via hormones and neurotransmitters. Layered on top of that is an ecosystem comprised of bacteria, or our microbiome, that helps secrete protective enzymes and substances that repair the gut walls, help to break down food, and release toxins from the body. It could be argued to be THE MOST important system in the body because of its important role in providing the building blocks to health and regulating every other system in the body!
Many of us have already heard of the gut being called the second “brain” because of its vast network of nerves and neurotransmitters that are assembled there and affect our brain and mood. In more recent years, scientists have been looking at the gut-skin connection as well and we now know that they are highly connected. In fact, the skin (or scalp) can often give us the first glimpse into the health of an individual’s overall body and gut health.
The same goes for our hair. What happens in the gut and the body, in general, are translated to the appearance, growth, and health of the hair. Because the hair is so readily visible to most people, it can also alert a person early on if there is a problem brewing within the body. Your hair can give powerful clues to the status of your immune system, vitamin and mineral status, and gut bacteria.
The Hair - Gut Connection
So let’s take a deeper dive into each component of the gut and how it can directly affect your hair’s overall health as well as hair loss.
We’ll start from the beginning of the gut with our mouth and stomach, where digestion begins and is often compromised. Many people suffer from a lack of digestive enzymes and it starts with the mouth. We live in a society where everything is fast-paced with little time for proper chewing, mindfulness, and digestion. Salivary and stomach enzymes are designed to break food into its smallest particles to be used for nutrition. When this doesn’t happen properly, large food particles are not chopped into the smallest amino acids and nutrients required to squeeze through the gut cell walls and enter the bloodstream.
This subsequently leads to creating an environment in the gut that is ripe for inflammation and breakdown of the actual gut wall. Direct inflammatory foods such as gluten and sugar also accelerate this process and when it occurs, large undigested particles breach the intestinal wall and get deposited into tissues such as the hair and other glands. This in turn creates food sensitivities which trigger the immune system to go on the attack of those particles deposited in the hair and glands such as the thyroid. These inflammatory foods are also consumed by the “bad” bacteria hanging around in the gut, which overtake the “good” bacteria and create an even more toxic gut environment.
On top of all of this, most people are constantly under STRESS, which shuts down the proper functioning of the gut and allows greater inflammation to build up. Let’s face it…if you are “running from the lion” i.e. your boss, kids, spouse, etc, then your body isn’t concerned about digesting any food, growing your hair, or healing your body. It’s only concerned with survival.
If your digestive system is unable to break down your food, create the right micronutrients necessary for hair growth, and is wracked by hormonal imbalances due to improper nutrition, then you can understand why hair loss inevitably happens.
This becomes a vicious cycle that continues to feed off of itself and explains why some people may initially get some benefit from adding a supplement such as biotin, but still don’t see great gains over time or things stall and get worse. If you are only plugging one gap, and not fixing the gut at the root, then the system backs up in another spot and fails, leading to overall lackluster hair growth and accelerated hair loss.