Alopecia (young people)

Diet and alopecia

Most people said their diet isn’t affected by alopecia or vice versa, but some talked about food and diet as:  Emily and Emma had blood tests when they first had alopecia and the results showed low iron levels. However, Emily points out that her alopecia continued after taking iron tablets. Others also said that it can be frustrating when people assume that they have alopecia because they have a ‘bad’ diet or are otherwise unhealthy. Meghan takes multivitamins “just to be safe” because she’s vegetarian and says that being a university student means she doesn’t always eat well. Ben’s doctor ran allergy tests which showed he was intolerant to gluten. He cut gluten out of his diet and, although his alopecia continued, Ben says he feels and looks healthier than before.

Emily doesn’t like that other people have assumed she has alopecia because she’s vegetarian.

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 19
I think a lot of it is them either assuming that I don’t eat properly at university because it’s quite expensive to be vegetarian and healthy, ‘cos you have to buy a lot of fresh vegetables every day and when you’re cooking for one person like a lot of things go to waste and, and it ends up being very expensive. So I think a lot of them either, I don’t know if they actually believe it or if they’re saying it just to try and stop me from being vegetarian but I think they’re just kind of trying to find any reason for it that they could possibly to explain it, which like I suppose I’ve been doing that as well. But yeah it’s quite annoying ‘cos it’s basically saying like it’s your fault for doing this, then that’s why you don’t have any hair. Which is, it’s not, it’s not fun. But now that I know that it’s not because I’ve had blood tests and everything, it’s all, I have ammunition.
  • helping regrowth of hair
Although their doctors had said that diet was unlikely to make much of a difference to their alopecia areata, some young people felt it was worth having a healthy diet in case it helped regrowth. Hannah thinks a healthier diet helped her hair regrow. Rochelle says she’s trying to “drink more water, have more fruits, less takeaways and less fizzy drinks” as well as drink less alcohol and cut down on desserts. Grace became “more conscious of nutrition” and says she would prefer to be “pumping all the vitamins in” from food than using steroids or minoxidil. Emily heard that a gluten-free diet could help regrowth and, although she’s “sceptical”, she might try it as “an experiment”. Krista had heard of a strict diet of “strange meals” for hair growth but didn’t think it was for her: “I love my food, I don’t really want to eat mackerel with beetroot”.
  • interacting with treatments and side effects
Emma found methotrexate tablets made her felt sick a lot of the time and she couldn’t drink alcohol while taking them, which affected her social life. Grace said oral steroids (tablets) led to water retention and weight gain which “wasn’t very appealing”. She became more conscious of what she ate in order to maintain her bodyweight. Some said that their appetite and cooking routines were affected when they felt low or less confident because of alopecia. For a long time, Arti’s housemate didn’t know she had alopecia and, because of this, Arti spent more time in her room and “didn’t cook as much”. Emily thinks that it’s good that she’s quite independent and lives away from home at university, as otherwise she might “settle into this cycle of feeling terrible” and not going out to buy food. Elizabeth said alopecia played a role in her “body image problems” which led to her getting help for “self-harm, a rubbish relationship with food, depression and anxiety”. Favourite foods could make people feel better on a low day. As Kayla explained, “my go-to is chocolate if I’m ever feeling down”.

Hannah struggled with her appearance when she first had alopecia and this affected her eating and dieting.

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Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 16
So then I noticed like a lot of things got worse. I had like struggles with my eating and my appearance and I noticed that and my family noticed that I would focus more on my appearance, my physical appearance, because I didn’t have my hair. So I’d try, I’d never feel like I looked good enough basically and I’d try losing weight or toning up and just because I didn’t have my hair and I didn’t have the control over that and I found something to control. And it makes sense now, but at the time it was just, y’know, I was lost in my own little world of not knowing what to do. But I lost the control of losing my hair and like I found something else to gain control over. But yeah, it can really affect people, so. 

Has that changed over time, the sort of focus on controlling other aspects of appearance?

Yeah well, it kind of, I think it just all changes like, different things happen obviously in your life and then, I kind of had a realisation of that I didn’t have a healthy lifestyle and I wanted to get a lot healthier. And so, I started improving on that and then I realised that actually my hair started to grow a bit better because I had a better diet and I was, I was just naturally healthier and I was happier as well, because like I was so malnourished that I didn’t think very clearly. So, when I kind of, was a lot healthier, I was actually feeling a lot better about myself and I could feel confident about myself. And that helped with the anxieties then because I didn’t get as anxious. And I just, it was more of an acceptance. It’s like a massive acceptance journey really. It’s like a journey through accepting it and some people can accept it straight away and like although it’s still hard and it’s not nice to deal with, they can kind of find a way of storing that sort of thing. 
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