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Are there certain things to avoid when you have alopecia areata? Here’s what to consider.
Imagine this — you step out of the shower and dry your hair only to notice a glaring bald patch on your scalp. For the 6.8 million people in the U.S. who deal with alopecia areata, a common type of hair loss, what might be a nightmare to some is their reality.
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease where the body attacks the hair follicles. This results in patchy hair loss — typically small, round patches of hair loss — from the scalp or other parts of the body.
While there are treatment options for alopecia areata, avoiding some common triggers and risks might help keep your condition under control. Ahead, four things to avoid when you have alopecia areata.
Dealing with a condition like alopecia areata can be frustrating, to say the least. But before getting into things to avoid when you have alopecia areata, it helps to know a little more about this type of alopecia (the medical term for baldness).
Alopecia areata is a result of the immune system attacking hair follicles and stopping hair growth. Potential triggers include stress, a family history of the disorder or other autoimmune conditions, such as psoriasis or thyroid diseases.
Alopecia areata usually results in patchy baldness rather than receding hairlines, thinning hair or excessive shedding from other types of male pattern baldness.
Of course, symptoms can vary depending on the type of alopecia areata you have:
Patchy alopecia areata. This is a common type of alopecia areata
with the usual round patches of hair loss.
Alopecia totalis. Alopecia totalis is hair loss on all or nearly the entire scalp.
Alopecia universalis. In this rare type of alopecia areata, there is a complete or nearly complete loss of hair on the scalp, face and the rest of the body.
Your immune system attacks your hair follicles but doesn’t destroy them — meaning new hair growth is possible through various methods of treatment.
But finding a successful treatment could take some trial and error. So in the meantime, here are four things to avoid when you have alopecia areata.
While there’s no cure for alopecia areata, there are ways you might be able to manage your condition. Still, it should be noted that alopecia areata is unpredictable and the exact cause can vary by person.
Here are some things to avoid when you have alopecia areata.
Alopecia areata is an immune response, meaning how your body defends itself against viruses, bacteria and other foreign substances, and usually results in an inflammatory response.
Certain foods encourage an inflammatory reaction, promoting and exacerbating autoimmune symptoms.
Try to avoid or limit these foods:
Sugary food and beverages
Red meat and processed meat
Margarine, shortening and lard
By avoiding these foods, you may be able to lessen some of the symptoms of alopecia areata.
You might also consider eating more anti-inflammatory foods, as there’s some anecdotal evidence that dietary changes may have a positive effect on alopecia areata. Foods found to be beneficial for hair loss were fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and lean meats like wild-caught salmon.
Stress is a natural, normal part of the human experience, and your body knows how to handle it.
When you’re under stress, your body releases stress hormones that activate your fight-or-flight response to help you survive.
But long-term stress can cause or worsen several health problems — including inflammation.
While there isn’t a direct connection between stress and alopecia areata, managing stress certainly can’t hurt.
If you’re dealing with psychological distress, it’s important to talk to a mental health professional. You can connect with a mental health provider from your home using our online mental health services, allowing you to easily access support and ongoing care.
We know that getting too much sun isn’t good for your skin. So if you have bald patches, be sure to use sunscreen or wear a hat to protect areas of your skin with noticeable hair loss from UV-related damage.
A review of studies found that people with certain autoimmune diseases may have a vitamin D deficiency.
Multiple studies have also found a link between levels of vitamin D and hair growth. But since alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease, the issue of hair loss isn’t actually related to nutritional deficiencies.
More research is needed before we know whether low levels of vitamin D could be a factor in alopecia-related hair loss.
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While there’s not much evidence supporting things to avoid when you have alopecia areata, there are ways to treat your condition.
One recommended treatment for alopecia areata is corticosteroids, which can be injected directly into the bald spot, or topical applications. You can also use minoxidil (brand name Rogaine®), a topical cream used to encourage hair regrowth in locations where hair loss has occurred.
The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) also recently approved a new treatment for severe alopecia areata called Olumiant, a Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor that works by blocking the activity of specific enzymes, thereby reducing inflammation.
Your healthcare provider or a dermatologist can determine the best course of treatment based on how severe your alopecia areata is, where you’re losing hair, your age, your health and other factors.
For more, read our blog on how to stop alopecia areata from spreading.
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Alopecia areata can be distressing, with patchy hair loss a top sign of this type of hair loss. The condition is caused by inflammation, as an immune response, that attacks your hair follicles — meaning it’s unpredictable.
However, there are things to consider when you have alopecia areata:
Foods that cause inflammation might aggravate your hair loss. Instead, eat an anti-inflammatory diet full of fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and lean meats.
Stress and inflammation are connected, so working to avoid chronic stress could help alleviate symptoms of alopecia areata. If you’re struggling with high levels of stress or emotional distress as a result of your condition, talk to a mental health professional.
Try adding foods rich in vitamin D or a vitamin D supplement. Although more evidence is needed, there’s some early research indicating low levels of this nutrient in those with alopecia areata.
Dealing with this hair loss can be frustrating. Talk to your healthcare provider to learn more about what you should avoid as well as treatment for alopecia areata.
Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references. See a mistake? Let us know at [email protected]!
Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.