Alopecia Areata has been a great mystery for many years. That is changing quickly. A disease that struck my sister nearly two decades ago, struck me just six years back. The difference in knowledge about this so-called incurable disease between those times is huge. The knowledge we’ve gained in just the last few years is, I believe, allowing me to cure myself.
When I set out on my quest for a cure, it was for my sister. Not me. I was blessed with a glorious head of hair. I love a good challenge, but the entire body of knowledge on the subject seemed to be summed up with “caused by stress.” Stress? That makes no sense. Stress is a great catch-call answer for a variety of medical symptoms. I just don’t buy it.
There were then, as there are now, plenty of quack remedies, specialist treatments, and scams aimed at sufferers of alopecia areata. They may not have been effective in curing the disease, but they did a great job of taking money from one pocket and moving it to another.
Move forward a few years to the onset of my own symptoms and things are much the same. Soon information began to appear that changed everything we know about this disease. Some fantastic work has been taking place in the field of medical science in multiple areas.
The first information that gave me hope for a cure was the inclusion of Alopecia Areata on a list of 11 linked autoimmune diseases. This list included rheumatoid arthritis, celiac, vitiligo, and psoriasis right along with alopecia areata. Rheumatoid arthritis caught my immediate notice, as I was diagnosed with this disease in 9th grade. Celiac kept nagging at me from the list as I researched the meaning of autoimmune disorders.
An autoimmune disorder is, basically, when your body’s immune system begins attacking the body itself. Think of it as an allergy to yourself. Alopecia areata is like having a hair allergy, in a way, or at least that was what I thought. Celiac kept nagging at me from that list, though.
So, what causes autoimmune diseases? Mostly, nobody knew. The thoughts tended to fall into three categories. These were, environmental factors, dietary factors, and other. Celiac nags at me from the list.
By this time, my own hair loss had progressed from being unable to grow meaningful facial hair to actual major loss on my scalp. Large swaths of hair were falling out. Eventually it all fell out, though sporadic regrowth in spots meant I never achieved a fully bald look. No. That would have been something positive. At no point in the process did I have a head of hair that looked “good.”
I called it my service to balding men, to know that someone has a worse hairline than them.
Since celiac kept nagging at me, I researched it a bit. I researched other diseases on the list. Celiac stood out, though, from the rest. Out of 11 autoimmune diseases that have been linked to each other through human genetics, celiac was the one that actually had a known cause. Gluten causes celiac. Celiac is linked to alopecia aerata. Nobody knows what causes alopecia areata. Autoimmune diseases are thought to be caused by environmental or dietary factors (or “other”).
I decided to go gluten-free as a first step in curing my alopecia areata.
“You’re not going to grow your hair back by going gluten-free.”
My wife was skeptical, but supportive. She knows how much research I’d put into this subject. She saw a major dietary change that could be a challenge. Most everyone else I’ve explained my decision has been much more skeptical. They’ll politely nod and smile at the idiot. I think my Mother doubted that I could stick to a diet change even more than she doubted my hypothesis. My doctor said, in no uncertain terms, “You’re not going to grow your hair back by going gluten-free.”
Information about alopecia areata is flowing in more freely now, because I’d expanded its definition to include autoimmune diseases. My research had begun to pay off more due to this link, and in medical science the same was proving true.
It is at this point I would like to point out the wonderful work of Dr. Angela Christiano and others at Columbia University. Dr. Christiano is a research scientist who specializes in alopecia areata because she has alopecia areata. Much of the science I refer to here is hers in great part. She is far from the only doctor working on the subject, but she is pushing what we know further.
Dr. Christiano and her team recently released a study explaining what is happening when alopecia areata occurs. In our blood, we have cells called cytotoxic T lymphocytes. These are the immune system cells that attack invading bodies, infections, and even cancers. In alopecia areata, they attack the hair follicle.
What happens when they attack the hair follicle I know more from my own close examination of my hair loss and regrowth. The follicle isn’t lost, necessarily, though I am sure it may be in extreme cases. The follicle is leached of much of its “goodness,” leaving behind a thin, transparently white, weak shell of a hair shaft. Without the strength necessary to hold itself up, most of these thin hairs simply break off at the surface. The few that remain are the strongest of the bunch, but they’re still thin, transparent-white shells of what they should be.
You can see this on regrowth, more than when they are falling out. On regrowth, the white hairs will thicken and grow. They will slowly transform in color over the course of a month or two. That’s one-quarter to one half of an inch, by the way. Once the transformation to normality is complete, the hair will grow normally once again.
Regrowth is a wonderful thing. I’ve been able to enjoy it more in the last few weeks than I have before. Why? It’s very simple. My hair is growing back. The spots aren’t where it’s fallen out, but where it hasn’t yet filled in.
It’s not just about going gluten-free. In fact, I changed my diet further. I’ve also gone dairy-free. I believe doing so has greatly sped-up the process of curing my alopecia areata. Both gluten and dairy are on the list of foods that may cause autoimmune disorders. The list is longer, but I don’t believe I need to continue further down it in my dietary choices.
I am not a doctor. You shouldn’t be taking medical advice from me. You shouldn’t be looking at some of the stupid things I do in life as a guideline for your own. With that said, I truly believe that I have achieved a cure of my alopecia areata through dietary change. I also believe this can be repeated.
What should you do?
- Do some research for yourself.
- See your doctor. An autoimmune specialist would be a good idea.
- Understand the dietary changes you’re considering
I chose to go gluten and dairy free. I am now nearing full regrowth after losing every hair on my head, my facial hair, and my eyebrows. I chose gluten and dairy because of the odds. Approximately 1/3 of humanity is genetically intolerant of gluten to some extent. Cassein, a protein in some milk (most American milk) is chemically very similar to gluten, and known to cause issues in those intolerant. Because I’m seeing positive results which include hair regrowth, I don’t feel the need to add other foods to my restrictions list.
I’m writing this blog post to explain my process, my thoughts, and my success in fighting a winning battle against alopecia areata. It doesn’t leave me with a product to sell. It just leaves me with a story. As long as it leaves me with hair, I’m happy.
The picture you see above is my latest. You can’t tell, but the empty gaps are in the process of transforming into good hair. In a few weeks, or perhaps months, I plan on getting a fine haircut.
There’s nothing to sell. There’s no lotion to apply. There’s no pill to take. There is, however, hope.
I’m not selling hope, but if you would be willing to buy a book for the above information, perhaps you’d like to tip the author a bit to help pay for those gluten-free meals.