Irritable bowel syndrome or IBS is a group of symptoms that affect your digestive system. It is a type of functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorder. These types of conditions are categorized as disorders of the gut-brain connection. IBS can change how our gut muscles relax and contract, resulting in pain, diarrhea and/or constipation.
These are the most common types of IBS recognized in the medical community
IBS with constipation - hard & lumpy stool
IBS with diarrhea - loose & watery stool
IBS with mixed bowel habits - hard and loose bowel movements on the same day
Diagnosis & Treatment
There is not one set of diagnostic tests or treatment for IBS. The first step is a diagnosis by a medical doctor. This typically happens with a set of questions to learn more about the patient’s symptoms & history. There may also be a set of tests run to rule out other GI conditions.
Once a diagnosis is confirmed, the patient should work with their gastroenterologist and dietitian to create a personalized treatment plan.
Where IBS & Hair Loss Connect
It is well recognized in hair science, that the hair requires fundamental nutrients to grow. Any impediment in this process, like improper digestion, could be a causative factor in hair loss. Getting the proper nutrients out of the food we eat requires a well functioning GI tract and healthy microbiome. Therefore in cases of IBS or other disorders of the GI tract, there may be increased risks for nutrient deficiencies related to malabsorption and/or inadequate intake related to food fear.
This means, even if you are eating a super nutritious diet or taking hair boosting supplements, if the GI tract is unable to properly break down and absorb the nutrients - the nutrients you are eating might not be actually getting to the hair bulb.
There is little data to support the direct correlation with IBS and hair loss. However, more research has been done that shows the prevalence between IBD (a different group of gut disorder) and hair loss. In one study, 33% IBD patients reported a history of hair loss. In this small sample size, there was also a proportionate amount of subjects who also had nutrient deficiencies, specifically iron, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.
The most common type of hair loss seen in patients with IBS and other gut disorders is telogen effluvium (TE). TE is a non-scarring hair loss condition, typically caused by a disruption in the hair growth cycle. Subsequently, this results in hair loss about 6-16 weeks after the insult.
TE has been associated with IBD, being caused by severe acute illness, nutritional deficiencies, or as a side effect of medications used to treat IBD. Telogen Effluvium is also the most common type of diffuse alopecia and can be acute (<6 months) or chronic (lasting >6 months.) Typically once the underlying cause is ascertained and corrected the hair loss resolves.
Anecdotally, hair loss is a common problem in those with IBS and other gut disorders, however little is still known about the cause of disease. From the literature, it appears that disease activity, nutritional deficiencies and/or drug side effects may play a role. Both IBS & hair loss have multifactorial etiologies. Therefore taking a holistic approach, along with a multidisciplinary treatment team, may be the best approach.
Additionally, here are some suggestions you may consider for IBS relief & hair loss support:
Aim for regular, balanced meals throughout the day: tune into your hunger cues and pay attention to when your body is prompting you to eat. It's difficult to optimize your nutrition if you are not eating enough to begin with. Try to build balanced meals with the foods you know you are able to tolerate. A Registered Dietitian can help you with this if you feel like you’ve tried everything or don’t know where to start.
Try deep belly breathing before and after meals. Given that IBS is a disorder of the gut-brain axis, deep belly breathing may help stimulate the vagus nerve before beginning the digestive process.
Chew your food to applesauce consistency before swallowing. The mouth is the only place mastication (mechanical breakdown) of food actually occurs. Swallowing partially digested foods makes things even more difficult for the lower GI tract.
Work with a dermatologist for medical assessment and treatment. The best place to start is with a diagnosis. This will help streamline your treatment plan, for better, quicker relief!