Human hair: waxed and shaved away in some spots, groomed and cherished in others. While a naked scalp is uber-sexy today, men still go to great expense to keep the hair on their heads.
A few medications (including finasteride and minoxidil) are somewhat effective but there is always room for cheaper fixes with no side effects.
As an essential part of a healthy regimen, probiotics in the form of fermented foods or supplements may stave off inflammation and immune dysfunction, both of which are implicated in most chronic diseases and some acute events.
As is well documented, probiotics impact cardiovascular risk factors including high blood pressure and dyslipidemia. Due to this involvement, researchers are asking whether probiotics may improve peripheral vascular blood flow to the brain which is implicated in hair growth.
What if probiotics could help? Such a link to hair resuscitation may well justify the 300+ yogurt varieties at my local supermarket. But before we go down that aisle, let’s take a look at the science and see if it holds up.
Humans are born with about 5 million hair follicles; no new ones will be added.
The follicle cycle has 3 phases
- Anagen: growth
- Telogen: resting
- Catagen: programmed cell death and hair sheds
This is where you need your math skills. Fifty to 100 hairs in your brush are normal. Anything more moves into alopecia territory. There are many causes of excessive loss including hormones (ask a post-partum woman), nutrient deficiencies, chemotherapy, stress, and depression.
Genetics of course cause much of male hair loss. Male androgenetic alopecia (MAA) is the most common form of hair loss in men, affecting 30-50% of men by age 50. Heredity accounts for approximately 80% of predisposition.
The key pathophysiological features of MAA are alteration in hair cycle development, follicular miniaturization and inflammation.
One study of the few
A new study from South Korea addressed whether traditional fermented foods kimchi and cheonggukjang (soybean) may impact loss of locks. In an attempt to standardize numbers, the researchers used the live probiotics from these two foods in a yogurt beverage in the experiment. Forty-six patients received a kimchi and cheonggukjang probiotic product over the course of 4 months. Hair thickness and count were measured at 1 and 4 months.
A kimchi and cheonggukjang probiotic product could promote hair growth and reverse hair loss. However, a placebo was not used and the pilot was short with few participants.
“We suggest that the observed improvements in hair count and thickness resulted from initiation of the anagen phase in hair follicles secondary to the improved blood flow and modulation of androgenetic effects by probiotics.”
All you need to know about hair loss
Perhaps a better resource may be an excellent review in Endotext, a free online Clinical Endocrinology source. In Male Androgenetic Alopecia, the authors describe the aberrations at each stage in the cycle leading to empty follicular pores as well as numerous remedies and success rates.
“Topical antiandrogens, prostaglandin analogues, topical antifungals, growth factors, and laser treatment are all emerging medical treatments for MAA, yet lack the necessary research to ensure efficacy and safety. Hair transplantation involves removal of hair from the occipital scalp and re-implantation into the bald vertex and frontal scalp. With modern techniques, graft survival in excess of 90% can be reliably achieved.”
The authors also delve into the connection with cardiovascular disease. While probiotics are not mentioned, the inflammation which probiotics may potentially address is considered.
All in all, the search for a probiotic solution to hair loss didn’t yield too much in the literature. Still, it is early in microbial research and the market for such a connection would be massive.
Of course, a healthy diet of plants and whole grains supplemented with fermented foods and probiotic supplements will impact heart health and stress. It can’t hurt.
And one final thought
Instead of trying to change the top of our heads maybe we should aim to improve what’s in them.
Who needs hair anyway?