Alopecia areata is form of hair loss (typically on the head) that results from the immune system mistakenly identifying hair follicles as a harmful invader. This leads to an inflammatory response that destroys them. As with other autoimmune disorders, the exact reason why the immune system behaves in this way remains unknown. Typical treatments for this condition include steroid medications directed into the scalp to quell inflammation and overactive immunity. No specific diet exists to treat this condition, but certain dietary choices might help. Consult with a knowledgeable health care provider before making drastic changes to your diet.
Diet and Inflammation
Diet plays an important role in triggering or reducing inflammation in the body. The foods you eat contain certain substances that can either promote the inflammatory response or reduce it. Additionally, certain foods can promote normal immune function. Physician and alternative medicine expert Dr. Andrew Weil recommends an anti-inflammatory diet (see "Resources") for alopecia areata as well as any other condition triggered by inflammation and abnormal immune function.
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Reducing Intake of Inflammatory Foods
Weil recommends reducing protein intake to 10 percent of total caloric intake, with a focus on non-animal proteins such as nuts, seeds, beans and whole grains. Animal foods, particularly meats, contain saturated fats, certain acids and other substances that promote the inflammatory response in the body.
He recommends cutting out all dairy products—the milk protein casein has been known to irritate the immune system. You can get calcium from other sources such as products fortified with extra calcium such as tofu and other soy foods, soy and nut milks and leafy greens. You can also take calcium supplements.
Last, you want to reduce your intake of polyunsaturated fats such as sunflower, safflower and corn oil, margarine, shortening and trans-fats found in most commercially baked goods and fried foods.
Healthy fats reduce the inflammatory response in the body. Cook with canola and olive oil. Increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish such as salmon, trout, tuna, mackerel, sardines and herring. Other sources include walnuts, flax seed and hemp seeds. All nuts and seeds contain beneficial fats.
Increasing Antioxidant Intake
Antioxidants combat inflammation in the body and promote normal immune function. These nutrients come in many forms including vitamins, minerals and bioflavonoids to name a few. Fruits and vegetables represent the richest source of antioxidants, and you should eat the full range of colors to get all the available forms. Particularly rich sources include leafy greens, berries and tomatoes.
Biotin, one of the B vitamins, plays an important role in the health of the hair and nails. Typically, you get the recommended amounts in your diet, and rich sources include nuts, romaine lettuce, carrots, tomatoes and chard. The University of Maryland Medical Center notes you might benefit from supplementation with the vitamin if you do not get enough from your diet.
In addition to eating a diet that promotes a healthier immune response, you might want to consider additional natural strategies. Weil recommends mind/body techniques to manage stress and promote emotional well-being as the flare-ups associated with autoimmune diseases such as alopecia areata often have an emotional trigger. Experiment with yoga, meditation, deep breathing, visualization and any other activity that makes you feel good. He also recommends taking a supplement that contains GLA—a fatty acid that encourages healthy skin and air. Good sources include evening primrose oil or black currant oil.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.