Your gut’s health plays an important role in your body’s overall well being. Without a proper balance of good and bad bacteria, you could face both short-term and long-term consequences.
One example of how gut health can impact hair growth is Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth, or SIBO. While the side effects are mostly gastrointestinal, the long-term effects of this condition on nutrient absorption can mean stunted hair growth.
This article will describe what SIBO is, including its causes, symptoms, and treatment. We’ll then discuss how SIBO can have a negative effect on hair growth, and what you can do to reverse its effects.
What is SIBO?
Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth, commonly shortened to SIBO, is a gastrointestinal condition that affects the small intestine (1). By definition, the condition occurs when bacteria from other areas of the gastrointestinal tract begin to grow in the small intestine.
The condition causes abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, loss of appetite, bloating, and an uncomfortable feeling of fullness.
What Causes SIBO?
As mentioned, the very definition of SIBO is bacterial growth within the small intestine.
But what causes this bacteria to infiltrate the small intestine?
The most common cause of SIBO is a slowing down of the passage of food through the small intestine. This may be triggered by illness or surgery.
When the passage of food is slowed, the small intestine becomes a breeding ground for bacteria (2).
You may be thinking, “isn’t bacteria a normal part of the digestive system?” And you’re right. But bacteria is more commonly found in the large intestine and not the small intestine.
The small intestine is where food mixes with digestive juices and nutrients are extracted and absorbed into the bloodstream. This is a relatively quick process that doesn’t require the presence of bacteria.
So what illnesses can cause SIBO?
The most common medical causes of SIBO include Chron’s disease, celiac, radiation enteritis, and diabetes. These conditions all have the potential to slow down motility and promote harmful bacterial growth.
SIBO can also be caused by surgery complications, or even structural issues like scar tissue or hernias.
How is SIBO Diagnosed?
If you suspect SIBO, you should make an appointment with your physician.
Your doctor will first take a medical history from you, as well as ask about symptoms and potential risk factors.
If your doctor suspects SIBO, they will perform a non-invasive procedure known as a breath test. The test will measure the concentration of hydrogen and methane that the person exhales. This will tell the doctor where the bacterial overgrowth is occurring within the digestive tract, as well as the severity.
How is SIBO Treated?
The first line of treatment for SIBO are broad-spectrum antibiotics. These will reduce the number of bacteria in the intestine and treat the underlying cause of the condition.
Your doctor may also recommend a dietary change, though this is more of a way to manage the condition while the antibiotics do their job to treat it.
Is SIBO Connected to Hair Loss?
As one symptom of SIBO is malnutrition, it’s entirely possible for SIBO to cause hair loss.
When your body is unable to absorb all of the nutrients it requires, your body will prioritize delivery of nutrients to life-sustaining systems. This means processes like hair growth can be interrupted.
Is It Possible to Reverse Hair Loss Caused by SIBO?
In theory, SIBO hair loss should be temporary.
This means that by treating the underlying condition, you can reverse the symptoms of SIBO including hair thinning and loss.
Whether that is the case for you will depend.
If you suffer from other forms of hair loss, such as male-pattern baldness, then you will likely be able to reverse the thinning and hair loss caused by SIBO. However, you may still have thinning and balding that’s related to the pattern hair loss condition.
If your SIBO has gone untreated for years, it may also be difficult to fully reverse the hair loss associated with it.
This is because the hair follicles may have taken permanent damage from the lack of nutrients.
There are certain ways to treat the hair follicles directly to perhaps reverse some of the damage, such as by increasing blood flow via scalp massage. But the success of these methods will depend on the severity and duration of the damage.
How to Treat SIBO Hair Loss
Are you at a loss for how to treat SIBO hair loss? Take a look at these steps below which you can begin implementing now.
Treat the Underlying Issue
When it comes to SIBO, you can treat the underlying issue with antibiotic therapy. The antibiotics will kill the bacteria within the gastrointestinal tract.
This is the first step when it comes to successful reversal of SIBO-related hair loss.
If you fail to treat the underlying condition, the cause of the hair loss will not be resolved. As such, the hair loss cannot be properly treated.
Add Probiotics to Your Diet
While antibiotics will kill the bad bacteria that is the cause of SIBO, it will also kill the good bacteria in your gut.
Good bacteria exist within the gastrointestinal tract, mostly the large intestine, to promote digestion and nutrient absorption. They are necessary for a healthy digestive system.
As antibiotics will significantly lower their numbers, it’s important that you do what you can to maintain and grow their colony. How? With probiotics!
Probiotics are food for good bacteria. They can ensure even in the midst of antibiotic therapy that your gut still supports the good bacteria that’s present (3).
There are two main ways to supplement with probiotics: with probiotic-rich foods, or with a probiotic supplement.
The best way to get probiotics is to eat them as part of a healthy diet.
Cultured and fermented foods, like yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut, are great sources of probiotics (4). Other foods that contain probiotics include tempeh, kimchi, pickled vegetables, kombucha, and miso.
If you feel that your diet isn’t high enough in probiotics, you can also add a probiotic supplement to your routine. Different probiotic strains have different functions, so it’s important that you choose the right one for your body (5).
Supplement with Nutrients
While the antibiotics are at work, and even after, you’ll want to supplement with nutrients and minerals until your levels are back to “normal.”
The best way to supplement with nutrients is to add them to your diet.
Just like with probiotics, nutrient-dense foods will deliver the greatest benefits to your digestive tract. By eating a colorful and varied diet, you can fill most of the major nutrient needs.
One thing to keep in mind, though, is that supplementing with nutrients without first treating SIBO with antibiotics will not result in long-term success.
A diet change may help you to manage your SIBO symptoms, but it won’t rid the small intestine of the issue: bacteria. This means that any benefits will be short lived as the bacteria are able to further colonize.
So you must treat the underlying cause of SIBO with antibiotics before you’ll see any benefits to increased nutrients.
If you’re having trouble eating a nutrient-rich diet, especially since one symptom of SIBO is loss of appetite, you can add supplements to your routine.
It’s best to speak with your doctor to decide what supplements you should prioritize. Your doctor may want to run a panel to see what nutrients your body is particularly lacking, or they may recommend a multivitamin.
Increase Blood Flow to the Scalp
It seems as if all of the other recommendations for reversing SIBO hair loss are based on gut and overall health. But let’s discuss one way you can work more directly on promoting hair growth.
As your hair follicles become increasingly malnourished due to lack of nutrients and minerals, they may begin to suffer from poor blood flow.
A malnourished hair follicle cannot support healthy functions on a long-term basis. This includes maintaining the connection between the blood vessels and the follicle.
If this happens, then reversing the hair loss may be more difficult, but it’s still likely possible.
How? With direct techniques that promote healthy blood flow to the scalp. One such technique is scalp massage.
Scalp massage is manipulation of the scalp using your fingertips or a specialty tool. The goal is to increase blood flow in the immediate area, which will result in oxygen and nutrients being delivered more effectively to the hair follicles.
As the hair’s matrix cells require oxygen and nutrients to multiply and, as a result, promote hair growth, this will support the hair growth process on a macular level.
The good news is that SIBO-related hair loss is often temporary. Once you treat the medical condition, your hair should begin to regrow.
There are steps you can take to speed up the regrowth process, though, including adding probiotics to your diet, supplementing with vital nutrients, and increasing blood flow to your scalp.
The most important step you can take, though, is to treat the underlying SIBO and get your gut health back on track.