Alopecia Areata (AA) is an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss. The body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the hair follicles or the hair “roots”. The conditions can be subdivided into multipe categories, such as
Alopecia Areata: Limited patchy hair in one or more places on hair bearing areas of the body
Alopecia Totalis: Complete or near complete loss of scalp hair
Alopecia Universalis: Extensive widespread patchy hair loss on most part of the body, often involving facial hair, arms, private parts and the scalp.
How common is alopecia areata?
Alopecia areata is a relatively common condition, affecting about 2% of people worldwide. It can occur at any age, but it is most common in children and young adults.
What are the symptoms of alopecia areata?
The most common symptom is patchy hair loss. The patches can be small or large, and they can be anywhere on the body, including the scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes, beard, and pubic area.
Causes of Alopecia Areata
AA is an autoimmune disease which means that the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own tissues, which, in AA, is the hair follicles or the hair “root” causing hair loss.
Traditionally, conventional medicine considers all autoimmune diseases to be idiopathic: With no known cause or without any cause.
However, Functional Medicine has come much farther than this. There are multiple studies that show, immune system dysfunction can be caused be a whole range of factors. Each of these may play a smaller or bigger role in the initiation and continuation of the immune dysfunction. Some factors that may trigger an autoimmune disease include:
- Environmental factors such as toxins, viruses, or bacteria, can trigger autoimmune diseases.
- Processed foods, sugar, and unhealthy fats can stress and overwhelm the immune system and induce dysfunction.
- Prolonged or severe acute stress can weaken the immune system.
- A leaky gut can allow larger undigested food particles, viruses, bacteria, other microorganisms, toxins, heavy metals and other harmful substances to reach the blood stream. Substances that were not supposed to be there in the first place leading to over-activation of the immune system. A leaky gut very often plays a role in the case of an autoimmune disease, including alopecia areata.
- Nutritional deficiencies can increase the risk of developing autoimmune diseases. Studies show that people with AA and other autoimmune diseases are more likely to be deficient in various nutrients such as vitamin D, folate, B12, zinc, magnesium and omega 3.
- Hormonal imbalances, such as those that occur during menopause, pregnancy, adrenal stress and other conditions may increase the risk of developing autoimmune diseases.
- Genetics: Some people are more genetically predisposed to developing autoimmune diseases than others.
Treatment for alopecia areata?
There is no cure for alopecia areata, but there are treatments that can help to regrow hair. The best treatment for each person will depend on the severity of their hair loss and their individual preferences.
Conventionally, the focus from a medical perspective has been on either trying to strengthen the hair follicle with minoxidil, oppress the immune system or to simply replace the lost hair. Treatments may include:
- Minoxidil (Rogaine) may regrow hair in some people with alopecia areata.
- Steroids may suppress the immune system enough to regrow some or all the hair. Steroids can be taken orally, applied to the affected area or injected into the areas. Be aware of the potential side effects of long time or high dose usage of steroids.
- Other immune suppressing medicines can help regrow hair in AA. However, it’s important to remember that some of these medicines can have quite severe side effects and pros/cons should be evaluated carefully.
- Local treatments such as Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) and microneedling can also help regrow hair in patients suffering from AA.
- Hair transplantation: This procedure involves transplanting hair follicles from one part of the body to another and may be used for treatment of Alopecia Areata. However, this should usually not be attempted as a first or as an early option. It’s more relevant in later stages.
However, as mentioned earlier, Functional Medicine has much more to offer. With functional medicine, the doctor will dig much deeper to try to understand which challenges your immune system is facing and how to address the root cause(s) of your hair loss. Often, people suffering from Alopecia Areata may also suffer from other autoimmune diseases, which may even not yet haven been un-covered.
Coping with alopecia areata
Alopecia areata can be quite devastating, both emotionally and physically. It may affect the person’s self-esteem and confidence, cause social isolation, depression and anxiety and lead to social isolation. However, there are different strategies can can be used to deal with alopecia areata:
- Talk to a hair transplant surgeon that offers medical treatments as well.
- Speak to a Functional Medicine Doctor to identify the underlying root cause(s) of your hair loss. Revivor Hair recommends speaking to Dr Mazhar Hussain at www.drmazharhussain.com. He has clinics in Pakistan and Europe and offers online consultations as well.
- Join a support group for people with alopecia areata.
- Find ways to style your hair that camouflage the hair loss.
- Focus on the things you can control, such as your attitude and outlook.
You are not alone. Alopecia areata is a relatively common condition and many people understand what you are going through. With the right support, you can learn to cope with alopecia areata. Sharing with others may also help you seek out treatment options that you were not aware off.
Write us at email@example.com if you want to take the first step towards addressing your Alopecia Areata