A head of hair is show with a very full luscious half on the left side, followed by a sparse and few stranded right side.

Atopic Dermatitis, Alopecia, and Vitamin D

In these days of instant access to information, one thought or one page leads to a different thought and a different page, and then another. I started researching alopecia and it evolved into investigating vitamin D for atopic dermatitis.

Losing my hair from an autoimmune disease

When I lost all my hair, including my eyebrows and eyelashes, the dermatologist said it was an autoimmune condition, probably permanent, with perhaps occasional periods of hair regrowth. Growth that would likely disappear again. And again. She was right. I’ve had very small amounts of baby-fine white hair appear occasionally, but nothing more, I’m still quite bald. One good thing, I now have almost no eczema flares on my scalp, and an itchy spot is much easier to treat.

Is atopic dermatitis an autoimmune disease?

This led me to an investigation of autoimmune diseases, which, if you have one, it means you were genetically predisposed to it, as well as to others. Atopic dermatitis is another one of mine. The exact cause of autoimmune disorders is unknown and there are differing theories as to possible triggers.

What makes an autoimmune disease?

The three factors at play in autoimmune diseases are genes, the immune system, and the environment. The genes confer the predisposition; the immune system becomes unbalanced and provides the means; and the environment delivers the triggers.1

Immune system dysfunction and inflammation

The body’s immune system is supposed to protect the body, attacking bacteria, viruses, or other microorganisms. But in an autoimmune condition, it overreacts and mistakenly attacks normal cells, causing chronic inflammation which is the body’s attempt to heal itself and repair damaged tissue. Tamping down the immune system comes with its own problems and is not something to be undertaken lightly.

Vitamin D and autoimmune diseases

In searching for solutions, I discovered that inadequate vitamin D intake may contribute to the onset and progression of autoimmunity. This inadequacy could be from a genetic problem or an environmental one caused by insufficient sunlight. Vitamin D supplementation is considered a prospective candidate for these diseases. But more studies are needed to confirm the potential of vitamin D to prevent and help autoimmunity.2

How do you get vitamin D?

It can be difficult to get enough vitamin D each day through sun exposure and food alone, so taking vitamin D supplements can help. It is a fat-soluble vitamin, so if you take a supplement, taking it with a meal improves absorption.

How much vitamin D should a person have?

The US National Institute of Health lists the following recommended dietary allowances for vitamin D:3

  • Below the age of 1: 400 IU (10 mcg)
  • Ages 1 to 70: 600 IU (15 mcg)
  • Over 70: 800 IU (20 mcg)

The Upper Tolerable Limit is pegged at 4000 IU (100 mcg). Many experts recommend a minimum of 1000 IU for all adults.3

Foods that contain vitamin D

Few foods contain much vitamin D, but many are fortified with it. Some healthy foods with vitamin D include:

  • Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and tuna
  • Sardines
  • Egg yolk
  • Shrimp
  • Milk (fortified)
  • Cereal (fortified)
  • Yogurt (fortified)
  • Orange juice (fortified)
  • Organ meats such as beef liver
  • Mushrooms

Making changes to lessen eczema severity

There are no cures for autoimmune diseases, but perhaps if we make a few small changes, they may work together to help lessen the severity. If something as simple as taking a pill, and eating more vitamin D-rich foods have even the slightest chance of mitigating my eczema flare-ups (and growing hair), count me in! What about you?

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