Some of my clients with IBS, also present with hair thinning and or hair loss. This is why I’m so excited about my new partnership with Trichology UK, where I’m working in a multi-disciplinary team to support people with gut issues and hair and scalp problems.
Please contact me for an appointment if you’d like to discuss your digestive health.
The gut / scalp connection
Our digestive tract is connected to all body systems, especially our immune health. These key factors affect scalp and hair health:
- We need a good level of stomach acid to absorb many of our nutrients
- If you have high levels of inflammation in the gut it could be driving inflammation in other parts of the body, such as hair follicles.
- Hair loss is common among patients with IBD, but loss may be reduced in those taking certain medication.
Reasons for hair loss
Telogen effluvium, the most common type of hair loss, leads to hair thinning which is normally temporary and does not lead to baldness. However, it can be very worrying, and stressful to feel you’re losing more hair than normal, and you may start to notice very thin patches.
Your hair is constantly growing, and the skin and scalp need ongoing nutrients and blood flow to maintain this growth. Possible reasons for losing your hair could be:
- If you’re not eating a balanced diet you may be low in certain nutrients like iron, B vitamins or zinc.
- If your stomach acid is low you may not be absorbing nutrients properly (no matter how good your diet is)
- A very fast transit time (as in IBS-D, where diarrhoea is frequent) may miss the opportunity for nutrient absorption
- Experiencing a trauma or physical stress may divert energy away from hair growth. You may notice this 2-3 months after a stressful time in your life. If there is nothing obvious, it could have been an ‘internal’ stress which caused your body energy to deal with, even if you didn’t have an external event (such as an accident, bereavement or divorce).
- Medication, some anti-depressants, blood pressure medication or hormones (such as the contraceptive) may cause hair loss.
- Low functioning thyroid or hypothyroidism
- Immune disorders, especially undiagnosed auto-immune conditions
Trichologists like the team at Trichology UK can use specialist knowledge, testing and to look at the type of hair loss, duration, confounding factors and build you a detailed plan to support regrowth.
Can IBS cause hair loss?
If you’ve got any kind of disruption in your digestive system, there is potential for impacts throughout the rest of the body. Inflammatory molecules called Lipopolysaccharides can travel around the body, increasing inflammation elsewhere.
Some growth hormones are made in the gut, and directly impact on hair growth, so we want to ensure the gut is functioning as effectively as possible.
Diet to improve hair and scalp health
Eat a balanced diet to maximise chances of getting the nutrients to the scalp.
- Protein – include varied sources of protein (eggs, meat, fish, nuts, seeds, tofu, beans & pulses)
- B12 – Found in animal products like meat, fish and dairy. Get your levels checked if you’re unsure, and definitely supplement if you’re vegan.
- Omega 3 – important for healthy skin, nails and hair, as well as managing inflammation. Oily fish is the best sources, but vegan algae based supplements are available. Flax seeds and hemp oil doesn’t provide sufficient omega 3 for most people.
- Iron – may be low if you’re very tired, have heavy menstrual blood loss, or other health conditions. Include red meat, eggs, green leafy vegetables. Changes to how you eat and your lifestyle can help you reduce risk of iron deficiency.
- Zinc – found in meat, nuts, brown rice, zinc is essential for the immune system as well as supporting healthy hair growth.
Gut health impacts on hair growth
Managing Stress – You’ve probably already noticed a link between your mood and digestive symptoms. Improving your stress levels, getting enough sleep and building time for fun into your life may support reduction in your symptoms, which may support better hair growth.
Supporting your gut bacteria – it’s important to feed the beneficial gut bacteria with fibre and a broad range of vegetables and fruits.
Probiotics – some studies in mice showed that certain probiotic strains improved their fur thickness and quality and whilst these don’t always translate to humans, sometimes probiotics may help gut dysbiosis.
Increasing your stomach acid – chewing your food properly and sitting down to eat can make a big difference. You can help increase stomach acid might try digestive bitters such as rocket, radicchio, or lemon juice, to stimulate your digestive juices. Reducing stress levels and getting 8 hours of sleep also may help.
Reduce gut inflammation – when we are reacting to everything we eat there may be internal inflammation which could be triggering issues around the body.
Hi I'm Anna Mapson, registered Nutritionist (mBANT, CNHC). I help people with IBS, gut health and digestive issues.
I can help you to:
- understand your digestion better, so you recognise your triggers
- eat a well balanced diet, with tasty meals that are simple to prepare
- develop healthy, sustainable habits for life
“Anna is amazing! I feel totally transformed"
To find more about 1:1 nutrition consultations or my group membership see my IBS Diet support page