It has been suggested that probiotics could be helpful in the treatment of alopecia areata. This theory was explored a couple of years ago by the Channel 4 TV programme ‘The Food Hospital’, in which a young woman with alopecia was given a probiotic supplement for her IBS, which showed amazing results, not only for her gut health, but also for hair regrowth!

What is alopecia?

Alopecia is an auto-immune condition that causes the immune system to produce antibodies that attack the body's healthy hair follicles, resulting in either patchy or total hair loss. This hair loss may be acute or chronic, and it may recur or have relapses, either way it is a very distressing condition, and much research has been done into possible treatments. The cause of the condition is not really understood, but it is thought that there could be a combination of genetic and environmental factors, such as stress and other existing auto-immune conditions eg Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) or Hashimotos thyroiditis.

Alopecia areata is an auto-immune condition that attacks the hair follicles

Allopathic treatment:

Allopathic (mainstream medical) treatment of the condition generally consists of either steroid injections or topical application of steroids, however the success rate is not high, and sufferers are routinely told that there is sadly no ‘cure’ at the present time. In some cases, the hair grows back on its own after about a year, however this is not always the case. Sufferers often are left to battle feelings of distress and anxiety, which can in turn exacerbate their symptoms.

A complimentary health perspective:

It is generally accepted within the field of complementary health, that auto-immune conditions stem from the gut, and interestingly enough Rhianna, the young lady featured in the Food Hospital programme, also presented with IBS in addition to her alopecia. The programme's dietician opted to treat the IBS as the primary condition, rather than the alopecia, as it was postulated that it was the digestive disorder that was altering her body chemistry and therefore contributing to her hair loss. The alopecia was thought to be a consequence of faulty digestion, rather than the primary condition. It appears that many sufferers of alopecia do have some form of digestive condition, or have been through a prolonged period of stress or anxiety which hinders digestion and alters gut flora.

Stress is well known to have a negative impact on digestion by reducing blood and nutrient flow to the digestive tract. Extreme stress can also reduce the levels of ‘friendly’ bacteria in the gut, which in turn can lead to an over-growth of pathogenic strains of bacteria. These pathogenic microbes release a myriad of different toxins and inflammatory factors which can damage the intestinal wall, and lead to a ‘leaky gut’ situation. Once the epithelial lining of the GI tract has become ‘leaky’ (or permeable) in this way then toxins and partially digested food particles can leak through in to the blood stream causing many different health complications.

One of the biggest impacts of having a leaky gut is the burden this places on the immune system. Undigested food particles, that should not be present in the blood stream, cause the immune system to mount an immune response against them. If this is happening on a constant basis then the immune system can become hyper-sensitive and start attacking its own tissues, which in the case of alopecia would mean the destruction of hair follicles, resulting in hair loss.

To read more about inflammation and ‘leaky gut’ you may be interested to read Joanna’s earlier blog post on the subject.

What does this mean?

If you look at alopecia and hair loss within the context of an auto-immune condition that is most likely triggered by faulty digestion, then anything that can support healthy digestion and reduce the burden on the immune system could be beneficial. I would usually recommend that clients of mine, with an auto-immune condition, remove the most common allergens from their diet, which includes all grains and all dairy products. Additionally, they should try to manage their stress levels wherever possible.

Once the diet has been ‘cleaned up’ and offending, allergenic foods are eliminated, I would then move on to improving the gut flora in order to crowd out any pathogenic strains of bacteria/yeast and give the gut lining a chance to heal. Reducing inflammation in the gut would also play a part in the healing protocol. A few years ago the Daily Mail wrote a piece about the anti-inflammatory effects of the probiotic yeast Saccharomyces boulardii. This news article was summarised here.

The strain that ‘The Food Hospital’ programme looked at was a strain of Bifidobacterium infantis that has been trialled specifically on IBS. This strain has been found to reduce certain pro-inflammatory markers such as Interleukin 12 and C-reactive protein, whilst modulating the immune system. Whilst the programme focused on this one specific strain, it's important to mention that there are other probiotic strains on the market that have been clinically trialled and proven to be effective for IBS. To read more about them, you may wish to read our FAQ: which probiotics are for IBS?

Additionally, there are other strains of probiotic bacteria that appear to reduce stress and anxiety levels. For people with alopecia, breaking the stress cycle could be a useful therapeutic approach. Specific probiotics for anxiety was covered in the following blog post: Psychobiotics: just a fad or here to stay?

I don't think that we are anywhere near the stage when we can categorically say that probiotics help with alopecia, however I do think that given the link between auto-immune conditions and poor digestion, it could certainly be a sensible option to consider. At the end of the day, normalising gut flora certainly wouldn't do any harm, and as in the case of Rhianna, it could do the world of good. Anyone that watched the programme will know that Rhianna's results were spectacular with considerable hair re-growth, alongside a reduction in IBS symptoms.

To read more about the impact of our gut flora on auto-immune conditions, you may like to read the following blog:

Gut bacteria linked to rheumatoid arthritis and other auto-immune conditions.

Comments

  • Very true... 20 years of combatting hairloss., scalp inflammation was the main culprit in my hairloss. Nothing seem to treat the inflammation until I started my 25billion good bacteria probiotic plan for 30 days. Amazingly , scalp inflammation stopped.. Hopefully I can concentrate on hair growth now.

  • Response from OptiBac Probiotics

    Hi Raj,

    Thank you for sharing your experience with us.
    Let's hope the improvement continues for you!

    Best wishes,

    Kerry

  • Thank you

  • How weird and wonderful! I'm not convinced, but I am intrigued. The body works in mysterious ways after all...

  • Response from OptiBac Probiotics

    Hi Glen,

    Thanks for your comments.
    Evidence is certainly suggesting a role for the gut flora in more and more health conditions - it certainly is fascinating stuff!

    Keep an eye on our News and Blog page for the latest news from the world of probiotic research.

    Best wishes,

    Kerry
    Customer Care and Nutritional Advisor

  • Great article, but complementary not complimentary! Latter means it is free, you mean "in complement to".

  • Response from OptiBac Probiotics

    Hello Michelle,

    Thank you for pointing this out!

    We have a crack team of content writers and editors, and our track record for editoral accuracy is extremely high; however, we're only human and inevitably the odd typo or minor inaccuracy will slip through the net...

    Thank you again for bringing this to our attention.

    With kind regards,

    Kerry

  • This article reinforces what Ayurveda says. (Indian main stream of medication in ancient times)

  • Response from OptiBac Probiotics

    Hi Archana,

    Thank you for your comments.

    How interesting!
    Many ancient therapies are now finding some support from emerging scientific evidence, and the gut flora is certainly being linked to a wide variety of health conditions that would never previously have been associated with digestive health.


    Best wishes

    Kerry,

    Customer Care and Nutritional Advisor

  • My doctor said she thinks probiotics might help, so I'm taking them.

  • Response from OptiBac Probiotics

    Hi Katherine,

    That's great - do come back and let us know how you get on.

    With warm wishes,

    Kerry

  • Very true, I have had gut issues for a number of years. After I underwent a 10 day fasting diet my hair started to grow at a crazy rate.

  • Response from OptiBac Probiotics

    Hi Jerome

    Thank you for sharing your comment. It's great to hear that the fasting diet has worked so well for you!

    Wishing you the best of health,

    Naomi

  • Hi
    I'm on infliximab. Is it ok to take probiotics while on it?
    thanks

  • Response from OptiBac Probiotics

    Hi there Kerry,

    In general, there aren't many contraindications between probiotics and medications, although you do need to think about how and when you take some of our probiotics if you're taking antibiotics or anti-fungals - see our FAQs: When should I NOT take probiotics? and Can I take probiotics with antibiotics?
    https://www.optibacprobiotics.co.uk/faq/when-should-i-not-take-probiotics
    https://www.optibacprobiotics.co.uk/faq/can-i-take-probiotics-with-antibiotics

    But we do also recommend that you speak to your doctor before taking probiotics if you're seriously ill or taking medication which significantly affects immune function.
    See our FAQ: I'm severely immune-suppressed: why can't I take probiotics?
    https://www.optibacprobiotics.co.uk/faq/i-am-severely-immunosuppressed-why-cant-i-take-probiotics

    I hope that this answers your question.

    Best wishes,

    Kerry
    Nutritional Therapist





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