Hair growth supplements — including gummies, vitamins, pills and powders — offer the promise of shinier, stronger, more lustrous and thicker hair. However, if you’re concerned about thinning or shedding hair and considering a supplement, it’s important to evaluate whether the supplement can impact your gut health, which in turn can affect your metabolic and other organ system functions. After all, we know that what we eat changes the composition of our gut microbiome, so anything you ingest — including supplements — should be carefully assessed.
While some hair supplements contain certain essential nutrients that could actually be gut-beneficial, we cannot say whether those quantities or formulations of nutrients result in measurable clinical efficacy — because the products are not tested or put through a regulatory review process. And could the ingredients in hair growth supplements actually prove detrimental to your gut bacteria? Unfortunately, once again it’s anyone’s guess. In this report we will discuss the most common ingredients in hair growth supplements, how they might impact your gut, and what that could mean for your health.
Are hair growth supplements safe?
Like all supplements, hair growth supplements are not regulated for quality, efficacy or truthfulness before they enter the market. Learn more: How to buy supplements: Our 3-step guide.
Your safest course is to speak to your healthcare professional before purchasing or starting any supplement. If you’re worried about unhealthy hair, it’s important to get at the root (pun absolutely intended) of the problem.
Do the ingredients in hair growth supplements impact my gut?
There isn’t a single best food or nutrient for healthier hair. In fact, most hair supplements contain a plethora of ingredients, and this report will not be making any determinations as to their actual ability to improve the quality or quantity of your hair. Instead, we herein review the most common ingredients and summarize the research available regarding how they might impact gut health:
Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is a compound that is found naturally in humans, some plants, and animals; it can also be synthesized in a lab. MSM has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and it supports healthy cell structures and plays a role in repairing connective tissue. MSM is most commonly used to treat osteoarthritis and similar diseases, although some also use it to treat gastrointestinal (GI) disorders such as constipation, diverticulosis, and hemorrhoids.
There is no significant clinical research on MSM and gut health, and there’s no recommended daily dosage. Side effects have included gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms such as diarrhea, bloating and nausea. However, the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits MSM provides suggests that it may support a healthy immune system, which could positively impact your gut — a claim that cannot be made, however, given the dearth of quality research. Read more: Does gut impact immunity?
Collagen, the most abundant protein in your body, is the foundation of skin, bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, connective tissues, organs, blood vessels, and the intestinal lining. Collagen in hair supplements is intended to support the healthy structure of the hair follicle, potentially producing thicker hair. There are five types of collagen, each with a purpose for a specific part of the body. It’s not often possible to tell what type is in a hair supplement. Collagen can be beneficial for supporting a healthy gut lining, but only if it’s a certain type.
B vitamins, of which there are eight (B1 thiamin, B2 riboflavin, B3 niacin, B5 pantothenic acid, B6 pyridoxine, B7 biotin, B9 folate [folic acid], B12 cobalamin), are some of the most common ingredients in hair supplements. One or more B vitamins is involved in every energy-producing reaction in the body, and your gut bacteria is responsible for producing B vitamins in small amounts. If your gut is in a state of “dysbiosis,” or imbalance, it can impact your B vitamin modulation or vice-versa. (A note on biotin: there isn’t a definitive answer on whether or not biotin helps hair growth. No clinical trials have demonstrated biotin’s efficacy as a supplement if the patient was not already deficient in it — and most people aren’t.)
Antioxidants: selenium and vitamins A, C, and E. Oxidative stress has been strongly linked to hair loss, so antioxidants have been formulated into supplements to support hair regrowth or reduce hair loss. How do they affect your gut? Antioxidants remove free radicals, harmful cells in your body that can cause inflammation and other responses to stress; and they’ve also been shown to support the intestinal lining and mucosal barrier. When the gut microbiome is in dysbiosis, the mucosal barrier can be impaired, leading to an increased interaction between the immune system and potentially pathogenic bacteria — stressing the immune system, causing inflammation, oxidative stress, and insulin resistance. Certain antioxidant-rich vitamins have also been shown to beneficially modulate the gut microbiome. However, there is no strong evidence indicating that consuming a higher dosage than the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of such vitamins offers a greater benefit than simply getting the right amount from your daily food selections.
Polyphenols and other phytonutrients have been shown to reduce oxidative stress, support the liver to promote efficient biotransformation and detoxification, and modulate gut microecology — processes which help to boost overall immune system function. Quite a number of them have been linked to reductions in the risk of major chronic diseases. (However, the effects of interplay between polyphenols and specific gut microbiota functions remain largely uncharacterized.) Polyphenols are widely available by consuming a diet rich in a large variety of fruits and vegetables, so obtaining them from a hair supplement seems superfluous.
Omega-3 essential fatty acids. Intended to add oils to a dry scalp, omega-3s (part of the polyunsaturated fatty acids, or PUFAs, family) play an important anti-inflammatory, immune-regulatory function, ensuring that excessive or prolonged immune responses do not occur. There are three acids in omega-3s: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and α-linolenic acid (ALA). DHA appears to be the more powerful on markers of inflammation in the body, yet EPA helps maintain a balance between pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory proteins and a quantity of DHA can be synthesized from the ALA. How much and what kinds of omega-3 fatty acids are actually contained in hair supplements is difficult, if not impossible, to determine; meanwhile, a diet that includes enough fish provides you with the amount of omega-3s you need to benefit from the anti-inflammatory and heart health benefits.
Probiotic bacteria are increasingly popular ingredients in hair supplements, although the supporting efficacy evidence is mainly from animal studies concluding that certain probiotic bacteria can improve the lustrous look of fur, thicker skin, and more hair follicles. In humans, probiotics can contribute to the healthy composition of gut microbiota while providing relief from various gastrointestinal (GI) ailments and other disorders, but such probiotics can be readily obtained from adding fermented foods (such as yogurt, kefir, miso, tempeh, kimchi) to your diet, or by taking a probiotic supplement.
Care for your gut with targeted foods and ingredients
If you decide to take a hair growth supplement, or any type of supplement, it may contain just a few of the nutrients in the above list, which may or more likely may not impact your gut health; the nutrient levels might be of benefit if you’re deficient in a particular nutrient, but might also upset homeostasis (balance) if you end up getting too much of a single nutrient. So, to proactively care for and protect your gut, we recommend focusing on the best foods for a healthy gut — and not on hair growth supplements.
3-in-1 Synbiotic Superblend
If your diet could benefit from a supplement (ask your medical provider), Eden’s 3:1 Synbiotic is a precise balance of all-natural prebiotics, probiotics, and polyphenols that are combined to optimize the functioning of the human gut microbiome. Eden’s has demonstrated associations with better glycemic regulation, lipid control, stronger immunity, and increased digestive comfort and feelings of satiety.
Eden’s contains 14 carefully selected, scientifically tested ingredients that optimize your gut health, including:
- Resistant potato starch promotes the growth and activity of SCFA-producing gut microbes.
- Locust bean gum is anti-inflammatory, increases TJs, and promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
- Guar gum promotes SCFA production by gut microbes.
- Oat bran promotes the growth of probiotic species in the gut.
- Barley beta glucan also promotes the growth of probiotic species in the gut.
- Bacillus coagulans and Lactobacillus paracasei are two probiotic species that have been shown to reduce the symptoms of IBS.
- Green tea and lychee: While each have beneficial properties alone, their combination is particularly powerful. Studies have shown that a supplement combining green tea and lychee restored insulin sensitivity and reversed fatty acid accumulation in liver cells. The same supplement decreased abdominal circumference and belly fat in obese males.
- Turmeric also possesses antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and has been shown to reduce inflammatory signatures in several animal models and cell lines.
If you’re considering a supplement of any kind, it’s best to speak to your medical professional first. Regarding hair loss or hair quality issues, your provider can determine whether you have any preexisting conditions; make you aware of possible medication interactions; and, if needed, can order additional tests in hopes of identifying a root cause and determining treatment options. If you do decide to take a hair growth supplement, review the ingredients carefully: while most contain vitamins and minerals that are good for you in adequate amounts, excessive hair supplement ingestion could lead to a dysbiotic gut. Know, too, that the gut-healthy ingredients that may be included in hair supplements are best obtained from your diet. When your day-to-day food choices don’t seem to be optimizing your gut health, it’s the right time to consider a metabolic supplement such as Eden’s 3-in-1 Synbiotic, formulated specifically for the health of your gut microbiome in order to enhance your digestive, metabolic, cardiovascular, and immune system functioning.