As I went through the dreaded deletion of photos on my phone this week (gosh, I really should have bought more storage!!), I came across some snaps of my hair that I took in the summer of last year. I photographed most of these myself so that I could get a better look at the back of my head rather than to document my progress, but as I look back I’m in awe of how far I’ve come and just how quickly the body can repair itself. Many of you ask me what to expect and what ‘normal’ hair growth looks like so I figured I should share these photos with you and answer a few of those FAQs!
“When did you start AIP?”
Probably the most popular question I receive is ‘how soon after starting the diet did you begin to see hair growth? This is incredibly difficult for me to answer because in all honesty, I’m not sure. I didn’t start the Autoimmune Protocol cold turkey. For a number of weeks before I went full-on strict AIP I had been experimenting with other diets. I started out with the Candida Diet – a pretty much ZERO sugar diet (including fruit) while taking anti-fungals (grapefruit seed extract) and LOTS of probiotics in the form of live-bio yoghurt and kefir. From there I moved to a combination of GAPS and the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) which is almost paleo with the exception of homemade bio yoghurt but is definitely not like AIP because lots of typical allergens and inflammatory foods such as nuts, eggs and nightshades are included. So lets say I began:
Experimenting with probiotics and no sugar in April 2015
GAPS / SCD diet for all of May 2015
FULL Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) from June 2015
I think I did a lot of the hard work with these prior diets in terms of clearing out bad bacteria and preparing my gut for change – I certainly had the symptoms anyway, my candida die-off experience was awful!! Even though during this time my hair had probably begun growing at the root and wasn’t yet visible, my symptoms of Crohn’s disease were chronic and persisted until I embraced the Autoimmune Protocol. It wasn’t a conscience choice to progressively work my way up to AIP, it’s just that I didn’t discover it until much later but when I did, I jumped in immediately!
“How do you know it’s regrowth?”
Any growth is regrowth! There was a period of time that you had to look at my scalp with a magnifying glass to see the growth. I knew it was there but a few family members couldn’t really see what I was talking about. I could see there was a slight colour change on the bald patch (as if the roots were becoming visible under the skin) and then the area began to feel less smooth and slimy. Instead, it was just soft like the skin on the rest of the body that is covered in downy hair. It’s gotta start somewhere right?!
From there very fine hairs became visible and were light in colour. Grey even! They were nothing like the rest of my thick dark hair. I think they even reached an inch in length before my true colour started coming through and the thickness along with it.
One thing that worried me through all of this is that it didn’t all grow back at the same rate. While some patches were well on their way to growing back, others didn’t have a fleck of hair in sight! I thought that maybe I had done some permanent damage over the many years of repeated hair loss and that maybe not all of it would come back this time. You can see in the photos just how patchy the back of my head was. But sure enough, it all came through with time and now I can’t even tell the difference in length!
“I’ve started the AIP, why is my hair still falling out?!”
I hear this A LOT! You’re not alone, don’t panic! Even several weeks into the AIP I noticed hair at the bottom of the shower or just all over me, as usual! The Autoimmune Protocol is not an overnight cure. It takes time and absolute dedication to reap the benefits. As I explained in this blog post, the damage that needs repair is in your gut. Eating heaps of vegetables isn’t going to change this immediately. It’s not about eating healthy foods, it’s about healing foods. Bone broth, animal skins, connective tissue and probiotics are absolutely integral to this. You need to work hard at closing up those tight junctions in the gut lining to prevent any further symptoms of a leaky gut while also starving the bad bacteria and working hard to grow the population of the good stuff.
Everybody is different. Some people may not have a lot of damage in the gut and therefore only take a few weeks before the body can start showing the external signs of change – hair growth. Other people with extensive inflammation may wait six months before their body is settled enough for their hair to grow back. Obviously none of us know how bad things look on the inside (unless you’re like me and you also have crohn’s disease!) and therefore it’s incredibly difficult to stick to a diet that is showing no benefit but please, please don’t give up! All good things come to those who wait.
Now I’m no doctor or scientist (although I am about to begin studying this), but I’m pretty sure that once your body has sent out it’s messages of ‘attack’, there’s no reversing them. My best guess is that once it’s got to work on killing off those cells and ultimately your hair follicle, the damage is done (temporarily). So yes, of course your hair is still falling out even once you start AIP – the inflammatory autoimmune response isn’t switched off until the gut is repaired. BUT, once it is repaired, your hair has a fair chance of growing back! 🙂
“When can I stop eating this way?”
Ultimately this is another answer of ‘everybody is different’. Many put this question to me as ‘when can I stop treatment?’ I don’t see AIP as a temporary treatment in the way we take medication to deal various ailments. AIP is an absolute lifestyle change. Strict AIP ‘elimination phase’ is temporary, yes, but somewhere along the very grey lines of a paleo/grain free diet is a permanent change if you want to keep autoimmunity at bay and prevent further flares (in the case of AA – more bald patches). Remember, grains cause a leaky gut. Why would you want to reintroduce them and undo all your hard work of repairing it?
We call strict AIP the elimination phase because all allergens and inflammatory foods are excluded. Many of these excluded foods are actually included in a standard paleo diet and you may very well be able to eat them again once you’ve healed, but as a precaution, all of them are excluded at the beginning of the AIP so that as you gradually reintroduce them, you can see exactly which are problematic for you and which are totally fine.
If you’re at the stage where you believe you can safely make reintroductions, please have a read of this free guide by Sarah Ballantyne: http://www.thepaleomom.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Reintroducing-Foods.pdf
Or see her book ‘The Paleo Approach’.
There is specific method to managing reintroductions – which foods to try first and how much. Don’t be tempted to eat a gluten free pizza and experience grains, dairy and nightshades all in one go! Follow the guide; it will help you immensely. If you’re interested to read more about reintroductions, Elieen Laird (phoenixhelix.com) has put together many great resources:
Top 5 mistakes people make reintroducing Foods
Podcast – Reintroducing foods on the Paleo AIP
Paleo AIP Reintroduction Guide
I hope that answers some of your questions. If you have more, please feel free to leave them in the comments section.
In my upcoming posts I will share with you where I currently stand with my own food reintroductions and I’ll also be posting about some other lifestyle changes I’ve made aside from diet. Please subscribe if you haven’t already! 🙂
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