Stress Can Cause Hair Loss: My Battle with Frontal Alopecia
We’ve all heard the expression ‘I’m going to lose my hair’ when things get stressful. I thought it was just a saying but guess what? Stress does indeed cause hair loss. Like most people, I always took my hair for granted. I have had long, curly hair since around age 7 after my mother stopped insisting that my sister and I have matching pixie haircuts (which traumatized me so much that I’ve stayed away from any short hairstyle since!). Beginning in my mid-50s, I noticed that my hair started to thin. It was also around then that I was hit with a particularly stressful year at work. To my shock, I started to see bald spots, mostly toward the front of my scalp—I was absolutely horrified. I thought, how could this be happening to me when I eat such a healthy diet and take such good care of myself?
Stress can really decimate our bodies more than I had realized. After consulting with my dermatologist, I learned about PRP (platelet-rich plasma) and after two treatments, I noticed new hair growth. PRP must be administered in a doctor’s office and involves taking the platelets from our blood and spinning them into a serum, which is then injected into your scalp. It’s the most natural way to boost hair growth (although it’s not cheap and somewhat painful). What we will do in the name of vanity!
Just as my new hair growth started to return last fall, I contracted a nasty sinus infection just before Thanksgiving. Between the flights to and from my hometown Chicago, the cold weather there and running around too much (I’m not good at resting), I didn’t heal properly. Did I need to go to that yoga class the day after I flew back? Of course not, but I always push myself and rarely listen to my body. No surprise that I had a recurrence, yet the second round of antibiotics did not clear things up and I was pressed to heal quickly since I had an important business trip coming up. Years before, I had taken prednisone after I ran a half-marathon with a light cold, which went into my chest by the end of the race. I couldn’t believe what a “miracle” it was! When I asked my doctor about taking a short dose of the steroid again, he agreed and prescribed me a five-day course. Again, it did the trick and I was back to normal. Or so I thought.
Just after the five days of prednisone, I noticed a massive amount of hair in my brush after I washed my hair. I thought it might be from being sick and taking two rounds of antibiotics, but I had no idea the actual culprit was the prednisone. It turns out that steroids in many forms can have adverse effects on our bodies, especially those of us with autoimmune diseases (ulcerative colitis in my case).
The hair loss continued unabated and was mostly concentrated toward the front of my scalp—of course the most noticeable part. I soon met with my naturopathic doctor who told me that my adrenals were shot from the prednisone and he started me on a course of supplements to help bring my body back into balance. I thought that would change the course of hair loss but after a few weeks, it was clear that it wasn’t working as quickly as I would have liked.
I made an appointment with my dermatologist who, after seeing the pattern of my hair loss, promptly pulled up a photo on his phone of what frontal fibrosing alopecia looks like and I almost fainted. He explained to me that prednisone can stay in your system for up to three months and that there was nothing I could do to make it dissipate faster. The universe was teaching me a tough lesson in impatience. Why did I ever take that cursed drug?
Nearly two months into my hair loss, I realized that I needed to do something since wearing a head scarf wasn’t a great look for a woman in my line of work. Fortunately, I had heard about a wonderful salon that specializes in all-natural hair wigs. I thank my lucky stars that I found The Wig Fairy in Beverly Hills. Owner Mona Zargar and her team quickly found me the perfect wig and, lo and behold, it made me feel so much better. And my obliterated morale was boosted by the positive feedback that I received when I ventured out for the first time.
Many of Mona’s wigs have separate front hair pieces that make them look so natural that I don’t think anyone had any idea about my “secret.” I was grateful for all of the amazing women that I met there—some of them cancer survivors whose hair didn’t return to its normal luster, others who have had alopecia since they were born. My heart was opened in a new way and I was now a part of a special sisterhood.
I started to educate myself about hair loss (I had no idea that 70% of women face it in the course of their lives) and decided to do everything I could to boost my hair regrowth. With the help of my naturopath, Dr. Steven Small, our combined efforts worked and after three months, the hair loss stopped and new regrowth started. I am convinced that my aggressive approach led to my success. My hair is still sparse in areas- alopecia’s healing is unpredictable, but it’s a massive improvement. I learned about topical serums, adaptogenic mushrooms, and a drug that blocks testosterone (which can inhibit hair growth in women). I wanted to share my course of action so that others in my situation can learn. Of course, it’s important to speak with your healthcare provider before you embark upon any new medicinal regimen.
Here are my suggestions to combating hair loss:
- Get your thyroid tested by a functional medicine doctor. I say this because the guidelines that general practitioners often use can be too conservative. I was told that my thyroid activity was in the “normal range” by my internist but when my holistic nutritionist and my naturopath looked at my blood test results, it was borderline Hashimoto’s disease. You may need a thyroid supplement to optimize your thyroid’s functioning.
- Take Om Beauty’s Organic Mushroom Powder. You can buy it in the supplement section of Whole Foods and most natural markets. One teaspoon a day (I put in my morning smoothie) is full of biotin, beta glucans and antioxidants.
- Spironolactone—this drug blocks absorption of testosterone, which can inhibit hair growth in women.
- Collagen helps hair growth. I put one scoop of organic bone broth collagen powder in my smoothie every morning. It also does wonders for your immune system.
- JuveTress™ is an all-natural hair serum created by a dermatologist in Calabasas. I massage it liberally into the affected areas for 30 seconds once a day.
- Nutrafol®—this oral supplement has hydrolyzed marine collagen and a blend of vitamins that nourish your system and support your hair.
- PRP—as stated above, it’s an investment but there are many studies to prove that platelet-rich plasma works. You receive treatment for three or four months in a row and then maintenance every four to six months. It has undoubtedly helped me in a big way.
- Acupuncture- take the time to get your body in balance with this ancient Chinese treatment. It helps to open up your chakras which will allow the body to heal. Most insurance companies will cover at least part of the cost (thankfully, mine does).
- Yoga- deep breathing and inner focus helps to combat stress. Having a supple body also helps reduce injuries.
At the end of the day, we are all our own best healthcare advocates and we must educate ourselves how to care for our aging bodies. The deleterious effects of stress are infinitesimal and must be managed. It may not be easy but with a supportive team, together we can do it!