Supporting the Scalp Microbiome

By Malisa M. Carullo, BSc, MSc, ND

You may be familiar with the gut microbiome and maybe even the skin microbiome, but did you know that the scalp has its own unique microbiome too?

Similar to that of the skin, the scalp has an important role in barrier function, protection, and detoxification.1-2 In fact, the scalp is one location where many toxins are expelled.1-2

A disruption of the scalp microbiome can lead to an itchy, uncomfortable scalp.1-3 Let’s take a look at four things that can impact the balance of the scalp microbiome and hair health overall.1-3

1. Gut-scalp connection

Given that both the digestive tract and scalp are formed embryonically from the same germ layer, ectoderm tissue, it is no surprise that many of the same factors that affect the gut microbiome also shape that of the scalp: lifestyle, environment, hygiene, and diet.1

The link between emotional disturbances (i.e. stress) and external triggers (i.e. lifestyle) with changes in the composition of the gut has been well-established in the literature.1-2 Imbalances in gut flora (dysbiosis) and barrier hyperpermeability are the most common changes documented.1-2

The presence of harmful bacteria in the gut can lead to an accumulation of toxins with access to systemic circulation.1-2 Toxins have the ability to affect the scalp and skin in the same manner as the gut, changes in barrier integrity, and local cell structure.3

2. Lifestyle

Dysbiosis and gut hyperpermeability can activate the immune system.2-3 Recall that the immune system uses inflammatory cytokines to fight anything foreign that has entered the body.2-3 These chemical messengers have the ability to disrupt communication anywhere in the body, ultimately obstructing or altering normal physiology.2-3 These changes can trigger a number of dermatological conditions on the scalp.2-3 Many lifestyle habits, such as smoking and/or the standard American diet, can result in these conditions.1-3

3. Stress

Stress increases cortisol, which is a hormone that is typically used only when the body perceives a danger. When cortisol is released, it alters the body’s physiology to prepare for survival. Cortisol causes blood pressure and blood sugar increases to feed the muscles.1-2

If the nutrients are not replenished adequately yet the stress continues, the body may decide to send the nutrients to areas of the body in much more need than the scalp.1-2

4. Personal care products

When it comes to your personal hair care routine, there are several factors that can lead to a disrupted scalp microbiome, such as stripping the scalp from over washing hair, accumulating product that is not washed away, and using harsh chemical-containing products.4

Some of the chemical ingredients found in hair products can be structurally similar to human hormones and have been shown to disrupt receptor sites, causing havoc on the endocrine system.4-5

Tips and tricks

Here are a few tips to keep you healthy inside and out.1-5

Diet: Consume foods that support healthy digestion and feed the friendly bacteria. Try to obtain a variety of fresh fruits and colorful vegetables, whole grains, and foods high in good fats. Avoiding sugar and common food sensitivities such as dairy and wheat may help keep unwanted bacteria at bay.5

Exercise: Regular low-intensity exercise is beneficial since it improves circulation throughout the body and lowers the stress hormone, cortisol.6

Probiotics: Since so many dermatological conditions stem from the gut, any steps you take towards improving gut health will contribute to overall improvement. Supplementing with a high-quality probiotic may be a simple yet effective place to start.3

Essential fatty acids: Omega-3 fats will assist those scalps that are dry and itchy as they contribute to sebum production in the body.7

B vitamins: Biotin and B3 have been shown to play a beneficial role in maintaining healthy hair and scalp while both B6 and B12 are essential for supporting hair structure.4

Stress: Being able to manage stress is important as it contributes to gut microbiome imbalances. Find a technique that works best for you such as meditation, walking, or yoga.8

Talk to your healthcare practitioner today to determine if you may benefit from supporting your scalp microbiome and which natural remedies address your specific needs.

For other general wellness topics, please visit the Metagenics blog.

References:
1. Kuo-Feng Huang et al. Experimental Dermatology. 2017, Letters to the Editor pp. 835-837.
2. Polak-Witka K et al. Experimental Dermatology. 2019;1-9.
3. Rodrigues H. Vet Dermatol. 2017;28(1):60–e15.
4. Saxena R et al. Sci Rep. 2021;11(1):7220.
5. Saxena R et al. Front Cell Infect Microbiol. 2018;8:346.
6. Basso JC et al. Brain Plasticity. 2017;2(2):127-152.
7. Le Floc’h et al. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2015;14(1):76-82.
8. Marchand WR. J Psychiatr Pract. 2012;18(4):233-252.

Malisa M. Carullo, BSc, MSc, ND
Malisa M. Carullo, BSc, MSc, ND completed her Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine at National University of Health Sciences in Chicago, Illinois. She completed her MSc. in biology at the University of Ottawa with an emphasis on genetics and molecular evolution. Malisa puts much focus on biological medicine and its treatment of chronic diseases, as well as healthy age management. Her practice interests include endocrinology, chronic infections, and blending naturopathic medicine with sports medicine. She is currently working as a Clinical Affairs Liaison at Metagenics.

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