Alopecia: The Slow Boat to China
I’ve had alopecia, off and on, for nearly 35 years.
During these three-plus decades, there have been significant swaths of time where I’ve had no spots. Then they reappear, seemingly out of nowhere (no additional stress, no digestive distress, no increase in Hashimoto’s antibodies, no other symptoms).
Alopecia is known for being unpredictable.
And my spots always regrow.
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I’ve seen more spots in the recent couple of years – but these years have been pretty riddled with stress. I lost both of my parents and my brother – all at the same time that I was a first-time mother. I’m not looking for sympathy – just stating the facts. :)
And it’s a fact that stress can cause hair loss – and increase autoimmune antibodies. (But there were some eggs involved too.)
Still, when another shiny circle appears in my scalp, I tend to get hard on myself. What am I doing wrong? What’s the imbalance that I don’t know about? How could I have prevented this?
The other part of me really doesn’t care – because it could be a hell of a lot worse. I’m not in pain or experiencing the symptoms of other autoimmunity, like Hashimoto’s, with its weight gain, lethargy, constipation, brain fog, etc.
Plus, I’m fortunate to have the kind of hair that makes my spots easy to cover. It’s otherwise thick and healthy, so I can’t complain too much.
Yet from a professional standpoint, it has made me wonder if I’m fit to coach others around their autoimmune conditions. Like, if I can’t get a handle on my alopecia, who am I to help others with their autoimmunity?
But things don’t work that way. You don’t have to be perfect to help others.
Alopecia is autoimmune hair loss, where autoantibodies attack the hair follicle. There are several types, which you can read more about here.
Since I published these posts (1, 2) about helping a young girl with total autoimmune hair loss begin a regrowth process (she had NO hair), my coaching practice has flourished in a new and somewhat unexpected way – I now work with quite a few people with alopecia. [April 2014 update: check out her head of curls!]
When these people come to me, I make it very clear from the onset, in the Jumpstart session, before we’ve decided whether we’re a good fit for one another and want to move forward with a full fledged program, that they may not see any reduction in hair loss or see any regrowth during our time together.
In fact, I tell them that it’s likely that they won’t see any improvement in the near-term.
This is because we don’t need hair (and fingernails) for survival. As the body heals, it prioritizes other life-critical systems. In other words, hair follicles are often the low men on the totem pole. For some, it can take a few months to see the two-stage improvement of: 1. reduction in loss and; 2. regrowth in the empty follicles.
Additionally, the hair follicle has been considered “low hanging-fruit” when autoimmunity – any type of autoimmune condition – is present. So whether someone has an official alopecia diagnosis or not, they may experience undue hair loss simply by virtue of their a hypervigilant, overactive immune system. Hair follicles are often a target.
And yes, this is a double whammy for those with autoimmune hypothyroidism (Hashimoto’s), as hair loss is a hallmark symptom of low thyroid function.
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To be clear, several of my clients have seen less hair loss and even regrowth in a few short weeks. For my clients who don’t see improvement in their hair in our time together, they’re under strict orders to keep me posted!
But do they see other improvements in their health? Yes! And those improvements are what eventually facilitate hair regrowth.
The onset of improvement depends on what else is going on, as in:
- How much gut healing do they need?
- What other autoimmune conditions have been diagnosed?
- Do they also have Hashimoto’s (again, notorious for hair loss)?
- How dysregulated is their blood sugar?
- What is their adrenal status?
- Are they anemic or have low ferritin?
- What’s their toxic body burden, including their heavy metals exposure?
Conventional “treatments” for alopecia are awful. Just frickin’ awful. I’ll leave it at that.
And like I mentioned in my It’s All ONE Disease post, treating symptoms without getting to the root of the problem allows the autoimmune antibodies to smolder on, making people sitting ducks for other autoimmune tissue attacks.
From what I hear from my clients, there aren’t any other “alopecia experts” outside of those hawking magical regrowth products, supplements, creams, and gadgets.
I don’t know about being an “alopecia expert” – I consider myself an autoimmunity expert. And when you consider that autoimmunity is all one disease, then immune modulation can help you regrow hair – without those magical regrowth products, supplements, creams, and gadgets, which don’t work anyway.
Just know that alopecia can be late to the party when it comes to healing the immune system.
One of my clients is working with Dr. Amy Myers in Austin, TX. Dr. Myers is an autoimmunity expert and told my client that alopecia is one of the most difficult autoimmune conditions to get a handle on.
When I heard this, I exhaled deeply. Maybe I’m not doing anything “wrong.”