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alopecia areata

Alopecia areata: what is it?

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition which causes hair loss.

It’s thought around 2% of people will experience alopecia areata at some point.1

What is alopecia areata?

With this condition, the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy hair follicles, causing hair to fall out and stop growing. Hair loss occurs in small, coin-sized patches over the head or body.2

What is the best treatment for alopecia areata?

It’s important to know there is currently no available alopecia cure. There are several forms of alopecia treatment available, from steroid injections to immune response-blocking drugs which can be effective in some people, although the condition can reoccur.3,4

What are the main causes of alopecia?

Triggered by both genetics and environmental factors, it’s not always obvious what causes alopecia.

It’s fair to say that alopecia areata isn’t really about hair at all. The hair loss is a side effect caused by signals in the immune system breaking down, causing your body to attack healthy hair follicles by mistake.

Hair follicles have ‘immune privilege’ – meaning they are protected against the body attacking them when bacteria or viruses are present. The hair follicle cells in someone with alopecia areata lose their ‘immune privilege’ and are attacked by the body as it attempts to purge the follicles of the non-existent threat.5,6

Some common alopecia causes are thought to include:

  • A family history of other autoimmune conditions such as Type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Contracting a condition such as herpes simplex or flu7,8
  • Environmental triggers such as stress or a poor diet9,10

What is the best home remedy for alopecia areata?

The following natural methods might help manage the condition.

  1. Acupuncture

Derived from ancient Chinese medicine, this complementary therapy involves inserting fine needles into the skin in order to stimulate sensory nerves.

Some studies have found that acupuncture might be able to help alopecia. This could be because it helps stop a certain type of cell known as a T1 cell from attacking the hair follicles. Benefits could also be a result of the acupuncture stimulating the hair follicles and increasing blood circulation to the area.11

  1. Diets that support your immunity

If you’re experiencing alopecia areata, your may want to look at a diet which supports your immunity.

Make sure you eat lots of fruit and vegetables of various types and colours, whole grains, pulses and legumes, healthy fats such as olive oil, and plenty of water.

  1. Probiotics
Research published in 2019 suggests there could be a link between the health of the gut microbiome and alopecia areata.12

Italian scientists studied patients with alopecia areata and their gut and scalp microbiome. Their results showed that what we eat affects our scalp microbiome, which in turn seems to have an impact on the progression of alopecia areata.

See if you can re-set your gut microbiome with probiotics. These are live bacteria which you eat or drink to help colonise your gut with healthy bacteria in order to promote a better balance of microorganisms. Probiotic foods include natural yoghurt, saueurkraut and other fermented foods such as kimchi, kombucha and pickled cucumbers.

Last updated: 27 November 2020

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