When I went to the doctor for hair loss, I didn’t tell her I had been having diet problems.
My weight looked like I was relatively healthy. But if had told her that I now had compulsions to starve, purge, and overexercise, she could have offered me some better counsel that would have helped my hair.
So I went and got my Rx, thinking that the thyroid pills would mitigate the effects of my weird dieting. Basically, I thought that since I now was treating the presumed cause of my hair loss, I could keep starving myself in the hopes of losing the weight – and still get to keep my hair.
And that’s how I lived for the next year and a half. In that year and a half, I was still losing hair, but hardly any weight. Still I continued on. “It’s okay,” I rationalized – “I’ve got the thyroid pills, so as soon as I’m at my goal weight, I can stop starving and immediately grow my hair back.”
During that time, I kept dieting erratically, and speeding things along with the laxative abuse. And then I got to the point where I couldn’t just starve myself anymore. So I started a cycle of binging, purging, and then starving some more.
By age 21, my appearance had changed so much. I could no longer part my hair in the middle – it was too thin. I wore the same style everyday, with a part further to the side. My skin became so dry, and I started running through cans of lotion since I needed to apply it at least 4 times per day. I developed so many blackheads on my nose that it looked like a strawberry. I had dark circles under my eyes and had to wear makeup to cover them up. A guy told me I looked like I was 40 – ouch.
At age 22, I no longer was on any form of thyroid medication and my hair was getting thinner. For a while, I decided to stop starving myself as much and make my diet healthier – so I ate everything in sight.
This led to a very quick weight gain of 30 pounds in about 5 months, which caused my self-esteem to take an even bigger nosedive. I think at that point I was choosing to be more concerned with my weight than my hair, since it was still hard for others to tell if I had hair loss. I had forgotten how to lose weight the healthy way, so I started going back on on lemon water fasts, and starving myself.
My hair continued to gradually get thinner. At age 23, I took a job working in the woods as a wildland firefighter. A job made all the more difficult by my continuous attempts to eat next to nothing. It would always be binge-starve, and more binging when we were actually out for a tour (they try and give you about 7,000 calories per day to keep you going).
It wasn’t until my last set of fireshifts, when I was out in the woods for two weeks, that I experienced my first severe hair shed. I didn’t sleep much, and was very stressed during this time. At night in the showers, I started combing out massive clumps of hair – and this was every night for nearly two weeks. It was very frightening and caused further stress.
And it wasn’t until after we got done with the tour that I realized I had been growing dark whisker-like hairs on my face, that I needed to wax off immediately. I hadn’t noticed since I wasn’t looking in the mirror often. Also, when I was eating more and working, I found it very easy to put on muscle, like a lady lumberjack. So there was some definite masculization going on. I did this job for about a year and a half before finding a less stressful one.
After that fire tour, my hair had a harder time growing for a while. It eventually stopped shedding so bad a few months after I quit, but from then on, it had the tendency to fall out a little easier. It wasn’t until years later that I learned that high cortisol from intense physical labor or exercise can suppress the production of thyroid hormones. This is one of the reasons why chronic stress can contribute to hair loss.
When I was almost 25, my hair loss continued to be gradual with diffuse thinning that became more and more obvious to me. I decided to invest all of my tax return money into a visit to a naturopathic doctor, a complete blood panel, and a laser helmet.
Anyway, when my blood tests came back, the only thing out of “normal” range was my free testosterone, which was a few points higher than normal. I had the tests interpreted by a gynocologist at my free clinic, who said that given my blood results, my weight, and my symptoms, I had polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
Since I was so insistent that hair loss was the worst of my health problems, I asked him for a solution to my problem. He told me about 2 different options: birth control and spironolactone. “I’ll take them both,” I said. So I got my Rx for spironolactone and ortho tri-cyclen lo. The gyno also instructed me that weight loss was the most effective treatment for PCOS.
I was on these pills for a year, and during that time I started having panic attacks, followed by hair shedding that came and went. My laser helmet also did no good for my hair loss, so I sent it back after 6 months.
I got off the spironolactone as I felt that it had caused a bunch of symptoms. After interviewing Dr. James Wilson, I now know why spironolactone is so dangerous. But to be honest, at the time I might have suffered through the occasional panic attack and heart palpitations if it had really worked for my hair. But it didn’t. Nothing was working.
My cousin had told me that getting the Depo Provera shot had put a stop to her hair loss, so after a year I decided to switch my birth control to that. And when I did switch, I had some crazy symptoms. Now these may have been due to the simple fact that my hormones were all in a jumble, and the various pathways and feedback loops that affect them were confused. But my breasts shrank from a C to a B cup within a few weeks.
It happened so fast that I developed stretch marks that have been there since. There was more hair loss, weight gain, and more facial and body hair growth (hirsutism). And that’s just something that happens when we bring in drugs that play chemist with our sex hormones.
I changed my birth control again after 3 months (when the Depo shot ran out). Again, this birth control (Modicon) had no effect on my hair loss, and it just kept getting generally worse.
The only thing that stopped my shedding during this time was a two week “hug” experiment that a roommate and friend of mine tried. It went like this: every morning he would literally give me a hug for a set time period. It was just something he wanted to try, to help me be happy. He didn’t know that it was affecting my hair at the time, but it was.
My hair loss completely halted during that time. Perhaps it was because I may have been flooded with happy hormones from my friend caring enough to do this for me. I just felt really good as a result of the hugs and I know that sounds weird. But it also makes sense. When we experience love and care directed and concentrated on us, we can heal and de-stress faster.
That was my first experience of something having that dramatic of an effect on my hair. Why did that seem to work when my other interventions hadn’t? I then guessed that perhaps my hair loss really was the product of stress. If a hug from someone who cares about you puts a stop to the cycle, that makes it a potent anti-stress/hair loss drug. Highly effective, cheap, and free of side-effects. Anything that calms stress could be a potential “solution” for hair loss.
The hugs stopped when our work schedules changed. And the hair loss came back, giving a little more support to that theory.
At this point I was 25, nearly 26. I weighed about 195 and still wanted to bring my weight down. I found out about the Paleo diet, and got started. This really was one of the catalysts for getting healthier for me as sticking to the diet meant that I wasn’t eating gluten or other grains. And I lost some weight, getting down to 187 with this diet. Though it still wasn’t quite right.
In February of 2013, I was still eating Paleo. It didn’t affect my hair as powerfully as I thought it would. I was eating a lot of organic beef and veggies, but no help really for my hair.
I started scanning the internet for solutions to hair loss and started learning about estrogen dominance, and how birth control can contribute to it, as well as hypothyroidism. You can find some of the sources where I learned about these on my “Resources” page.
Anyway, I traded my birth control for a non-hormonal IUD. And I got blood tests to try and look for hypothyroidism. The tests showed possible autoimmune disease, but other than that, my thyroid markers were within normal range.
I stumbled about a thyroid E-course that showed some good reference ranges for what a healthy thyroid should produce. They look nothing like the “normal” ranges by the way. There it was: I was sub-clinically hypothyroid with some autoimmunity.
I went to get a thyroid medication and got on one that was whole thyroid with its T4 removed. Now remember at this time that I was eating lots of meat and veggies. I started on the medication and that same day, my hair stopped falling out. For three months, I lost a very “normal” amount of hair, no severe shedding.
Some spots that had been empty for a while started regrowing normal hairs. It was amazing, and it was nice to have the three month break from stressing about my hair. At that point I thought I had it all figured out finally, that the problem was fixed. But this didn’t last, and I’m pretty sure I know why.
What happened at the end of that 3 months? Well, I started slacking off on my healthy, gluten free diet. Because, like years before, I had the idea that being on this pill would save my hair from my diet. I started eating glutenous foods, and other inflammatory foods containing pufa and hydrogenated oils. Even though I knew that my family has a problem with gluten. And I stopped eating as clean as I had been.
It was completely irrational of me to act this way, but I did. And when I started gaining weight again, you know what I did? I’m annoyed with myself even as I write this, because I can see how unreasonable and lazy I was. I didn’t change my diet or stress. What I did was double my dosage of thyroid medication.
But when I did that, coupled with my careless diet, my hair started falling again. I also forgot to mention that I started doing hill sprints everyday, and kept ramping up the reps so that I could lose weight faster. And I slipped right back into that stress-filled cycle. I was also bleeding more heavily during my menstrual period from having the IUD, which possibly contributed to problems with my hair.
So, can you spot the mistakes that preceded my hair loss, even when I thought I had found a balance for three whole months? It should be pretty obvious.
So what happened next?
Between then and now, I’ve removed the thyroid medication from my regimen, done a lot more research, and realized that I personally need to rebuild my health from the ground up a little bit before I try to add supplements back in again.
I believe that giving myself natural health through simple steps will lay the groundwork for thyroid medications to work, and real hair growth to occur again.
In March of this year, I decided to ask 11 of the most capable and innovative health experts I knew of to help me (and other women with hair loss) understand the problem of hair loss and help us fix it.
Knowing that it was a long shot to ask them to lend me their valuable time, I went ahead and did it.
And you know what? I’m really happy I did.
The result was an on-line summit specifically for women’s hair growth.
During these talks, these speakers showed me possibilities I had never thought of before, even from all of my research and reading. Everything they said fit perfectly in the context of female hair loss, with the intricate details that are specific to women.
My hope is renewed because now I finally know exactly what to do for my own hair loss, and intend to rely solely on this information to help heal my hair in 2015.
I hope that my writing out this whole story helped you to understand a few ways that hair loss can develop.
If you want to follow me in my journey to better hair, with progress shown in real time, check out this page here.
Yours in hair and health,