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Health Coach

My experience of alopecia as a teenager

I asked my son, Harrison, now aged 16 about his thoughts on managing the autoimmune disease alopecia. He was diagnosed in 2016. You can read more about his and my experience over the last few years here. https://practicalhealthcoach.uk/child-develops-alopecia/ There’s never going to be a good time to lose your hair, but having alopecia as a teenager regardless of whether you’re a boy or girl has got to be one of the worst.

What did you think when you first found a bald spot?

When I first noticed I had a bald spot it was pointed out to me by everyone in my year at school. It made me feel very self-conscious and that feeling of constant self-consciousness has stayed with me to this day. I took the short term solution to the problem and simply wore a hat until my hair grew back. But years passed and nothing changed.

What worried you the most about losing hair?

What worried me most was that I would be looked at differently and judged for not having hair. It seemed that I was either seen as a thug or as someone who was sick. At a rugby training camp, some of the boys thought that I was a skinhead and were concerned about being friends with me because of this! I despised the unwelcome attention given to me constantly because of how I looked.

Which was your least favourite treatment protocol that you tried?

My least favourite treatment by far was taking corticosteroid pills. One of the dermatologists prescribed them a couple of years ago. They gave me extreme mood swings… for example, my mood could go from happy and hopeful to angry and back to happy in under ten seconds as I was walking around at school.

After you’d lost all of your hair did you think that it would ever grow back?

Once I lost all my hair, I did not think my hair would ever grow back due to the sheer number of treatments I tried that failed. Eventually I gave up on my hope of getting my hair back, and thought that I’d be wearing hats all of the time.

What does it feel like now that your hair is regrowing?

Now my hair is finally growing back I feel much more hopeful for the future. But I still feel self-conscious because I still have some bald spots. I know that they’ll fill in eventually, but it’s taking time.

What to do if your child develops alopecia

First off, while it would be fantastic to receive a diagnosis at the very first hint of a bald spot, the chances are that it will take a period of time to receive a diagnosis after your child develops alopecia. Then you know what you’re dealing with, and can take appropriate action immediately. I’m speaking as someone who didn’t do this, and hindsight is a wonderful gift! It would have been much more straightforward, painless and quicker to address the autoimmune disease before it really dug in, took hold and became even more challenging to address.

What not to do…

We didn’t do this… My son, Harrison’s, alopecia didn’t start with an obvious spot. It began slowly during the Summer of 2016 with thinning eyebrows and the ophiasis pattern. The first time that we noticed it, we thought that it was just a bad haircut! His hair behind each ear had simply disappeared in even lines almost as if it had been waxed. It wasn’t until the next hair cut a few weeks later, with a different barber who announced that it looked like alopecia.

With the second hairdresser’s diagnosis we visited the GP who thought that maybe it could be alopecia, but he wasn’t sure. It was tempting to go back to the barber and ask for his recommendations given that the GP had none, other than there’s not much that you can do and it’ll probably grow back on its own. To be fair to the doctor maybe this would have happened, but unfortunately two other events happened in relatively quick succession which resulted in complete hair loss.

Immune System took a hammering

First, in December Harrison suffered a nasty spiral fracture to his leg while playing rugby. This meant that a super sporty boy was in a cast and stuck on the sofa for the best part of 12 weeks. He was annoyed at missing such a big chunk of the season, and unable to do any exercise at all. Being stuck inside and on the sofa had a negative impact on him. He then developed a throat infection. A week after starting a course of antibiotics his hair was falling out in handfuls. This was in March 2017.

Back at the GPs when I mentioned the timing they were genuinely confused and told me that hair loss wasn’t caused by antibiotics. It simply wasn’t a side effect of amoxicillin. At this time I had an awareness about gut health and knew that antibiotics could wipe out your ‘good’ bugs. I was wondering how I knew this but the doctor didn’t. Typically if your child develops alopecia you will be referred to a dermatologist, in our case he recommended a topical steroid cream. That didn’t work. Harrison lost all of his hair including eyebrows and lashes.

How many experts?

We then started along a path of seeing various experts including: a pediatric dermatologist, allergist, pediatric gastroenterologist (x2) and immunologist. Each of these doctors carried out their own tests, and some prescribed treatments too which we dutifully carried out. These appointments were mainly through our private health insurance, but none of them helped much either. Although the second dermatologist told us that the first had prescribed the wrong version of the steroid cream. Awesome.

This all took months during which time Harrison would have some patchy growth and brows and lashes would come and go. For the most part he was wearing a hat to school, and his friends and teachers knew of his condition. When he turned 14 he joined our local gym and started working out. He trained himself using youtube videos and after a year or so he bought Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Body Building bible.

While he did have some patchy regrowth during this time it never stayed, as I mentioned before the brows and lashes were particularly unpredictable. We’d also completely given up on conventional medicine as none of these experts had helped at all. What continues to astonish me is that the gastros didn’t have a clue about gut health. The problem with all of these specialists is that they are so focused on their own little niche, which they’ve spent years being immersed in, that they no longer see the body as a whole interdependent system.

Done with ‘normal’ medicine

Having given up on mainstream or ‘normal’ medicine while continuing to have an unhappy bald son we crossed over the line to alternative treatments… We saw a trichologist, Chinese Medicine doctor, bought hair growth products from Israel(!) and tried acupuncture. Do I have to mention the shampoos? Yes we tried ‘hair growth’ shampoos too. All the above served to do was lighten my purse. With the exception of the acupuncture which I’ll come to later, none of the above helped at all. Still bald, still not happy.

In the Summer of 2018 we experienced hope for the first time in two years. Harrison had an appointment with a Functional Medicine doctor who was the first person to utter these magic words: Root Cause. Rather than treating the symptoms of alopecia i.e. hair loss, we would get to the bottom of what was actually causing the hair loss. He started on the Auto Immune Protocol diet which produced limited success, in that his eyebrows which had grown back did not fall out. He was treated for an infection and placed on a supplement regime which he took for 2 to 3 months depending on the supplement.

Child Develops Alopecia
Back to school 2018

Back to school

He went back to school in September with a smile on his face. It didn’t last long, by November his eyebrows had gone again. I didn’t want to be the kind of Mother who was constantly hassling her child so we didn’t try anything else. In fact, I thought that he had come to terms with it, and if he was happy, then I was happy. But sadly that wasn’t the case. In February 2019 he asked if he could get a wig. Clearly he hadn’t come to terms with being a bald teenager, and was starting to grab at straws.

I didn’t have a clue about how one went about getting a wig, none of the doctors had mentioned it as an option. Plus because he played so much rugby I kept seeing this image of him being on the pitch in a scrum, and instead of the ball coming out, it would be a wig… So we went back to the drawing board.

LDN

I remembered an autoimmune web conference that I’d attended where a US pediatrician mentioned using LDN with children suffering from autoimmune disease. In a nutshell, for those of us who like our science to be understandable… it causes increased endorphin release, and increased endorphins modulate the immune response. His Functional Medicine doctor had experienced success with this strategy for other patients with alopecia. He started in February, and by May new hair growth had started. This is something that you could perhaps consider if your child develops alopecia. I’ve written about it here https://practicalhealthcoach.uk/alopecia-and-ldn/

Functional Medicine Health Coach

Also in May I took a  5 week course with a Functional Medicine Health Coach on alopecia. This was the first time that I heard that it was possible to regrow hair even if you’ve been bald for years! By June I was hooked and enrolled on the ADAPT Functional Medicine Health Coach program in order to help spread both the concept of Functional Medicine and Health Coaching in the UK. It has literally been the only thing that has worked for my son, and as you can tell we’ve tried a pretty big array of treatments over the years.

Fast forward to today and Harrison’s hair is continuing to grow in. Perhaps more importantly he hasn’t lost it either. I mentioned earlier about acupuncture, we tried that for a few weeks in the Summer of 2019 when his hair had already started to grow back, potentially that may have helped too.

My Health Coaching Practice

In my practice I work with clients (or their parents) to help them find their own root cause for alopecia. I can guarantee that your root cause will be different to other clients. There’s no magic lotion, potion or pill. Just because LDN helped Harrison it may not help you. If your child develops alopecia you need to start with gut health and diet, moving on to the importance of sleep and exercise, finally looking at breathing/meditation and environmental causes. I know, it all sounds so simple and straightforward!

What’s unique about my work is the focus on micro behaviour changes through the lens of autoimmune disease. I’ve spent the last four years learning about what works, and what doesn’t, for alopecia. I’m actually really excited to be able to share this with you in the hope that you save time and money yourselves. I will always work with people who can’t afford my fees on a pro-bono basis. Please get in touch if you’d like to go on my pro-bono waiting list. Obviously, like you, I can’t afford to work for free so each quarter I work with one client for 3 months on this basis.

Thanks for reading, I wanted to raise awareness that if your child develops alopecia it’s entirely possible for hair to regrow. I want to give you both insight and hope.

What is Health Coaching?

Let’s be clear, when I was growing up in the 70s Health Coaching didn’t exist. Little kids did not say that they wanted to be a Health Coach when they grew up. For the record I had aspirations to be a spy… But I found myself drawn to the world of health and wellness as a result of managing chronic health conditions both for myself and my children. The regular GP route with referral to individual specialists didn’t work for us. We were all still ill.

I saw a Functional Medicine practitioner in the UK, Dr Sarah Davies, https://www.drsarahdavies.co.uk/ which ignited my interest in this area of lifestyle medicine. Perhaps more importantly we started to get better. This was all of the evidence that I needed. But I wasn’t about to retrain as a doctor… After working with a Functional Medicine Health Coach in the US I was really keen to help bring that level of care and service to the UK.

I joined the second cohort of the ADAPT program at the Kresser Institute as my research showed that it was the best health coach course available. I was looking for academic rigour without the wishy-washy woo woo component. (That’s not a technical description…).

In a nutshell I support my clients to make critical lifestyle and behavior changes to enable them to reach their health goals. For example, we all know what a healthy lifestyle looks like:

  • Eating unprocessed whole foods
  • Adequate exercise
  • Enough sleep
  • Not smoking
  • Limiting alcohol

So if we all already know this, how come we’re not all the absolute healthiest that we can be? We all have that same information. Simply put, information alone cannot create change. A coach will help you to understand and prioritise which health goal is most important for you at this particular time in your life.

As a coach my role is to empower you to uncover your own knowledge and strengths, support you without judging, help you to devise your own solutions to issues and hold you accountable to your goals. By making micro changes we’re able to tiptoe past your amygdala bypassing the freeze, fight or flight response.

How is coaching different to having a chat with a friend over coffee? For a start while your friend obviously likes spending time with you they are not at all invested in helping you to find your inner knowledge and innate strengths.

So you might tell your friend that you ended up having three glasses of Pinot on Friday, when you only meant to have one small glass… She will likely respond with a similar story of when she had too much wine as well. There will be no conversation around how you felt when you poured that second glass or what you were thinking about by the time the third glass came around.

Coaching creates the space to have that conversation and understand the motivations regarding why you chose not to stick to your original plan. It will explore how you felt afterwards, and provide some options for the next time that this situation comes up which gives you opportunities to respond differently.

Those of us that aren’t key workers have likely found that we have more time on our hands due to events being cancelled and the complete reduction of commute times as work and study have both moved into the home. What are you going to do with this time? What have you always put off because you didn’t have enough ‘time’. What’s perhaps more interesting is what’s stopping you now, if you still haven’t kicked off that project?

One of the things that I’ve done is rewatch a film that I saw once back in 1991. I was actually afraid because I loved it so much! I was worried that I wouldn’t like it as much as I remembered. As all of my usual excuses vanished I sat down with my teenage daughter and we watched it together. It was a completely different experience, I saw different nuances to the storyline, but thankfully still loved it.

What’s on your to-do list? How do you want to spend your time during this unique stretch of history? What kind of person do you want to be as you come out of the other side? How could your health be improved? As a functional medicine health coach I can support you to answer these and other questions that you haven’t even thought to ask yet.

Thirty Day Paleo Reset

After embarking upon a rigorous course with the Kresser Institute to study and train to be an ADAPT Health Coach, I decided to put myself in my prospective client’s shoes and begin a Thirty Day Reset diet following a Paleo template (sometimes called ancestral health diet). Typically a client would be prescribed a diet protocol by a Functional Medicine doctor, a Registered Dietitian or Nutritionist to address their health concerns.

In fact, last year my family and I were placed on the Auto-Immune Protocol (AIP) by a Functional Medicine doctor and I found that to be very challenging. The Thirty Day Paleo Reset is quite similar in approach with some subtle differences, e.g. unlike AIP it includes nuts and seeds in moderation, and excludes natural sweeteners like maple syrup and honey completely.  I wanted to understand the challenges that clients would be dealing with when faced with a prescription or protocol that you can’t just hand in to the pharmacy to fill.

Let me start by saying that the Thirty Day Reset was a lot more straightforward than last year’s AIP. This was due at least in part to the fact that I’d already made so many lifestyle changes over the last 12 months. I felt overwhelmed by the AIP because it was a huge amount of food shopping, cooking and preparation. As soon as one meal was finished and I’d cleaned up, I’d start to prep the next as we’re a family of 5, with 3 of us battling auto-immune diseases. I remember walking into the supermarket and thinking ‘this will be quick!’ as only the first aisle had the fish, meat, vegetables and fruit that were part of our ‘new’ diet. I found the supermarket incredibly expensive and soon turned to my local butcher, fruit and veg stall, fish man and egg lady who not only provided a wider and better priced array of local produce, but could also vouch for the provenance.

A key difference with my AIP experience was that this time it was just me, and not my entire family. This meant that I didn’t have to spend time preparing food, then more time talking people into eating it, teenagers don’t tend to like hot smoked mackerel salad. Surprisingly I still had the caffeine withdrawal symptoms on Day 2, but this was less severe and more short-lived than before. One of the worst days was Day 5 which was the first Friday night. Typically my husband and I will have a glass of wine or a G&T to mark the start of the weekend. This ritual effectively disappeared as a glass of San Pellegrino with a slice doesn’t really cut it.

Another challenge was going out to dinner with friends. I was driving so not having an alcoholic drink wasn’t a problem. However, I became that person, you know the one who asks for the salad, but then proceeds to ask for half of the ingredients listed on the menu to be excluded. My three friends had ordered their complicated tapas dishes in the time that it took to figure out my amended salad.

How did it go? Well, I feel fantastic. My sleep has improved, my skin is clearer, my thoughts are sharper and I’m much less tired than before. I’m waiting on blood test results to see if my auto-immune disease has been pushed into remission. Was it easy? Yes, because this time around I knew what to expect and I had a far greater insight into the science behind the diet because of my Health Coach training. Was I hungry? No, although I did have some cravings for sweet food. Did I lose weight? Yes, I lost 3 kilos over the month which was an unintended benefit.

The most important thing is that I feel more like myself and have so much more energy. Now the fun starts with the food reintroductions, I’m going to take it slowly and carefully monitor any side-effects. By the time that I’m finished I’ll have created a personal paleo template that will be the perfect diet for me at this time in my life. For more info, take a look at The Paleo Cure by Chris Kresser or e info, take a look at The Paleo Cure by Chris Kresser or https://chriskresser.com/