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Overcoming Alopecia?

My 12-year-old son has alopecia with about 75 percent hair loss on his scalp along with half of his eyebrows and some body hair.  What can we do nutritionally to help with this condition?

Answer (Published 1/16/2007)

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks hair follicles causing hair on the head to fall out, usually in small patches about the size of a quarter. Most people don’t lose all their hair, but some lose a lot. In a more severe form of the disease, people lose all the hair on their heads and everywhere else on their bodies (alopecia universalis).

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Unfortunately, autoimmune alopecia is unpredictable. Your son’s hair might come back, but if it does, it could fall out again. Some people continue to lose and regrow hair for many years. However, even among those who lose all their hair, there’s always a possibility that it will all come back.

Because autoimmune diseases tend to flare up in response to emotional ups and downs, I recommend some form of mind/body treatment – hypnosis may be especially helpful (children are more easily hypnotized than adults). You also might consider consulting a practitioner of homeopathy or Chinese medicine to get at the underlying problem. In addition, I recommend the following dietary changes for all types of autoimmune diseases:

  • Decrease protein intake toward 10 percent of daily calories; replace animal protein as much as possible with plant protein.
  • Eliminate milk and milk products, substituting other calcium sources.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables regularly and make sure that they are organically grown.
  • Eliminate polyunsaturated vegetable oils, margarine, vegetable shortening, all partially hydrogenated oils, and all foods (such as deep-fried foods) that might contain trans-fatty acids. Use extra-virgin olive oil as your main fat.
  • Increase intake of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Take black currant oil or evening primrose oil capsules as sources of GLA (gamma-linolenic acid), an essential fatty acid that improves the health of skin and hair. The usual children’s dose is 250 mg twice a day.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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