Despite the founder of modern medicine, Hippocrates, advising that “death lurks in the intestines” and decrying bad digestion as “the root of all evil”, only recently has the medical community looked seriously at the effects of gut health on the rest of the body.
The gut is now considered the body’s ‘second brain’, with professionals from top medical research institutions, including John Hopkins and Harvard universities publishing studies confirming the links.
New research has shown how the gut communicates with our brain to produce emotional, neurological responses. Some of these reactions – such as stress and anxiety – were previously thought to be caused by the gut reacting to signals from the brain, but now it appears the opposite is true in many circumstances.
As interest around the subject peaks, some online communities have seized upon the information uncovered to link gut health to hair loss – in particular when it is autoimmune-related. Now scientists in Japan have, through clinical study, discovered that gut microbiota could indeed play a role in causing hairloss.
Alopecia, inflammation and gut health
“Before chronic disease, there is inflammation; but before inflammation comes gut dysfunction”. So writes Dr. Alejandro Junger, an American cardiologist who, after studying eastern medicine in addition to his western training, devoted himself to understanding gut health and developing ‘clean’ eating programmes, in his best-selling book Clean Gut.
Inflammation has long been established as a factor in autoimmune disorders, hence how the link to Alopecia Areata hair loss came about. Whilst reports suggesting a connection between autoimmune alopecia and gut health have been largely anecdotal up to now, new research from the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Department of Internal Medicine, Keio University School of Medicine, Tokyo and the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development, seems to not only back, but expand upon these theories.
Using a variety of methods, from animal testing to faecal and skin microbiome DNA extraction, the team of 15 discovered that antibiotic-induced dysbiosis (imbalance) in the gut microbiota can impair the gut’s metabolic function, leading to hair loss.
In particular an overgrowth of the probiotic flora Lactobacillus murinus (L. murinus), as a result of vancomycin treatment, was noted. This then went on to consume biotin in the gut, in turn, reducing biotin capacity causing hair loss in mice used in the trials. L. murinus has previously been identified by researchers in Taiwan as a ‘good bacteria’ that could prove beneficial to people with food allergies when taken as an oral supplement, whilst a 2017 study by the USA’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology discovered it can help to prevent an inflammatory response in people with a high-salt diet.
As the report states: ‘While deprivation of dietary biotin per se did not affect skin physiology, its simultaneous treatment with vancomycin resulted in hair loss in specific pathogen-free (SPF) mice. Vancomycin treatment induced the accumulation of L. murinus in the gut, which consumes residual biotin and depletes available biotin in the gut. Consistently, L. murinus induced alopecia when monocolonized in germ-free mice fed a biotin-deficient diet. Supplementation of biotin can reverse established alopecia symptoms in the SPF condition, indicating that L. murinus plays a central role in the induction of hair loss via a biotin-dependent manner.’
Which type of hair loss?
It must be noted that whilst the Japanese research findings, published in the Cell journal, refer to ‘Alopecia’ there is no clarification as to which specific hair loss condition this means. As ‘alopecia’ is simply the Ancient Greek general term for any kind of hair loss, further information is needed to determine the extent of their application.
From looking at the pattern of shedding experienced by the mice test subjects – as seen here – the randomised bald patches do seem to indicate Alopecia Areata. Androgenetic Alopecia (Male Pattern Baldness) and Androgenic Alopecia (Female Pattern Hair Loss) tend to present as gradually thinning hair which, in humans, only affects the top of the scalp from hairline to crown, whereas Alopecia Areata can appear anywhere on the head – and in more extreme phenotypes, the whole body.
The mice pictured were fed a normal diet until they were 4 weeks old, then they were fed either a normal diet or a diet excluding biotin for 8 weeks. GF mice were either untreated or orally inoculated with L. murinus (1 × 108 cells/200 μL), this results in the three categories shown in the diagram – normal, reduced biotin, and reduced biotin with L. murinus.
Furthermore, the trial data mentions previous studies finding ‘an association between dysbiosis in the gut and skin diseases, such as psoriasis and atopic dermatitis’; both of these are autoimmune disorders, the latter only being classed as such since 2015.
“In cases of both hereditary and autoimmune hair loss the hair would fall out from the root, including the bulb,” she explains.
“This study notes that microscopic examination showed broken hair shafts where the hair had become fragile in the mice with reduced biotin levels, and particularly in those with reduced biotin and treated with lactobacillus murinus. Anagen Effluvium is the type of hairloss which generally occurs as a result of cancer treatment – radiation therapy or chemotherapy – or infections, where the hair sheds during what should be the active growing – Anagen – phase of the hair growth cycle.”
Once the cause of Anagen Efflyuvium has been removed or dealt with, normal hair regrowth should occur naturally.
Biotin and hair growth
The water-soluble vitamin biotin is crucial for healthy hair; it helps it to maintain normal growth, strength, hydration and elasticity.
Biotin deficiency tends to be rare given our intestinal bacteria tends to be able to produce enough naturally, plus it is readily available through many everyday foods, including eggs, nuts, seeds, spinach and mushrooms.
However, any severe nutritional imbalance – or other strains on the body, including stress and illness – has the possibility of causing hair loss from a temporary condition known as Telogen Effluvium. This presents as diffusely thinning hair all over the scalp, with up to 50 per cent of the hairs prematurely entering the resting phase of the hair growth cycle, resulting in hair fall around three months after being triggered. This can be treated, though it will often clear up naturally within six months. For those with existing hereditary hairloss or an underlying genetic predisposition towards Male or Female Pattern Baldness, it is possible for Telogen Effluvium to either intensify their shedding, or bring about the conditions’ premature onset.
Various vitamin and mineral deficiencies have previously been linked to Alopecia Areata too. These have most commonly been zinc and, the ‘sunshine vitamin’, vitamin D. A previous study into potential autoimmune alopecia treatment for children tried using biotin supplements alongside zinc tablets and synthetic steroid hormone cream, however the efficacy of biotin alone does not appear to have yet been researched.
Biotin is one of a number of key vitamins, minerals, amino acids and botanical extracts – including selenium and zinc – which Belgravia specialists identified as being vital for healthy hair growth. From their research, the highly-targeted Hair Vitalics for Men and Hair Vitalics for Women food supplements were developed. This premium nutritional support product is often included as an added booster in tailored hair loss treatment courses for clients to use alongside their medicinal components.
The Belgravia Centre is the leader in hair loss treatment in the UK, with two clinics based in Central London. If you are worried about hair loss you can arrange a free consultation with a hair loss expert or complete our Online Consultation Form from anywhere in the UK or the rest of the world. View our Hair Loss Success Stories, which are the largest collection of such success stories in the world and demonstrate the levels of success that so many of Belgravia’s patients achieve. You can also phone 020 7730 6666 any time for our hair loss helpline or to arrange a free consultation.