Thursday, March 29, 2012

Redefining Normal after Illness

A few years ago I fell down a flight of stairs injuring my lower back and breaking my right ankle in three places.   During my recovery I developed lupus-like symptoms finally diagnosed as Undifferentiated Mixed Connective Tissue Disease.   The condition left me with significant numbness and piercing pain in both my hands and arms  – during flare-ups my hands go numb and I become very clumsy.   I finally went to plastic cups after breaking almost all of my glassware!

I am an attractive over fifty-year-old woman with no overt signs of illness or disability.  I have developed a higher-than-normal pain threshold, after years of living with fibromyalgia, a condition which causes widespread muscle and joint pain.  MRI’s have revealed two compressions, a herniated disk, and a spondylothesis.    Lastly, a neurologist and EMG studies found pinched nerves as the cause of my severe right hip pain and reduced range-of-motion.

I have a handicap license plate on my car, and during my flare-ups welcome the opportunity to limit my walking distance from the parking lot.   I have experienced my fair share of dirty looks and nasty comments from on-lookers who question my disability. 

As a registered nurse I know that I will never be symptom-free and as a doctor of naturopathy I have been able to find periodic relief from non-invasive treatments like hydro-therapy, massage, and herbal cocktails.   After years of denying the need for medication I finally decided that prescription anti-inflammatories and pain medication was not a sign of weakness or failure, but a proper adjunct to my alternative health remedies.

Finding a new normal after being diagnosed with a chronic illness takes time, patience, and self-love.  I have learned to let go of the excess baggage in my life like disappointing and unsupportive friends.   I no longer have the cleanest house on the block.  I rely more on my husband and children to help me with household chores - The dishes may sit longer in the kitchen sink than I would prefer, with the dusting and vacuuming moving from daily to weekly.   I focus more on what I can do rather than what I can no longer do. 

What I do have is a more positive and realistic outlook on life and although I can no longer handle the physical demands of being a nurse, I have found exciting possibilities since enrolling in legal studies.  I am redefining myself and my illness, taking control of it – not allowing it to control me!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Female Hair Loss

The scalp contains approximately 100,000 strands of hair and on average we lose about 50 to100 strands per day. Aging and medication use, among others can cause visible changes in the hair's structure which can lead to hair loss.

A Single Strand of Hair
A single hair is composed of two parts: the hair shaft, or the visible part of the hair, and the hair root. The hair root is found below the skin and contained within a tube-like structure called the hair follicle--where hair growth occurs.

Each hair follicle goes through four phase cycle:

  1. Anagen: During the phase, which lasts about three to four years, hair is actively growing.
  2. Catagen: During this transitional phase, the hair follicle begins to shrink and wrinkle.
  3. Telogen: During this resting phase, which lasts a relatively short period of three to four months, the hair has reached the end of its life cycle and falls out. These hairs are easily removed by the act of brushing, combing, and shampooing.
  4. Mesanagen: Hair growth returns.
Generally, the time span for a full cycle varies from two to five years per hair follicle, with 10-15% of the hair on the scalp being found in the telogen phase. Stalled growth and hair loss occurs when a larger percentage of hair is found in the telogen phase. If a bald spot develops, it is often due to a large batch of telogen hair follicles.

Causes of Hair Loss
There are many causes of hair loss and curing the problem may be simply a matter of changing a diet or reducing stress. However, disease and genetics are issues not easily circumvented, as are problems related to those discussed below.

Diet and Supplements
Hair (as well as nails and skin) is composed of keratin, which is a type of protein. Therefore, low-protein diets can compromise the integrity of the hair. In addition to protein, our hair requires the benefits derived from a variety of vitamins and minerals, such as B-complex, Vitamin D, calcium, copper, and zinc.

DHEA - A  Dietary Supplement
More is not always better when it comes to the nutritional needs of the body. Take for example DHEA—it is a precursor to both male and female sex hormones, and naturally produced by the adrenal glands. DHEA levels begin to decline after age 30 and have been related to complaints of low sex-drive in women. Unfortunately, the long term effects of DHEA have also been associated with significant hair loss.

Hormonal Changes
Every woman, at one time or another will experience hair loss as the effects of aging and decreasing levels of estrogen associated with menopause can trigger such events. Other hormonal shifts from birth control, menstruation cycle, perimenopause, and even pregnancy have been associated with hair loss.

More serious hormonal imbalances related to polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), thyroid disorders, insulin resistance, testosterone levels, and adrenal disorders can manifest itself in dramatic changes in the hair structure.

Infection and Inflammatory Conditions
A rash-like extremely itchy condition called folliculitis results from inflammed hair follicles. It is triggered by ingrown hairs, allergic reactions, yeast infections, or skin disorders.

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition characterized by patchy bald spots on the head. Alopecia, skin infections, and inflammatory conditions are best diagnosed and treated by a dermatologist.

It is common knowledge that one of the many side effects of chemotherapy drugs is major hair loss. But did you know that many commonly prescribed drugs also have the potential to cause hair loss? This can include medications such as:

  • Antidepressants
  • High blood pressure medications, specifically beta-blockers and ACE inhibitors.
  • Mood stabilizers
  • Hormone replacement therapy
  • Weight control medication
  • Lupus medications
  • Parkinson's drugs

Drug-induced hair loss can occur in one of two ways:
1.  By causing the hair to prematurely enter the telogen (resting) phase and fall out, or
2.  By preventing the cells from dividing and growing normally during the anagen (active) phase.

Also problematic is the fact that the outward signs of hair loss may not be visible for several weeks to even months of taking the medication.

In conclusion, hair loss can be caused by a variety of conditions, some of which are easy to treat and cure while others are more serious and require more stringent methods of care. The bottom line is, see a doctor before you self-diagnose and treat hair loss. The condition that you see on your hair (or skin) may signal something more serious going on inside your body.

BIO: Dr. Mundorff is the author of several books, Memories of My Sister: Dealing With Sudden Death, Medical Terminology: A Student Workbook, and her latest, Take Control: A Guide to Holistic Living, is an innovative health guide, which helps the reader learn how to regain control of their health by discovering the practical effectiveness of combining alternative and modern medicine. You can reach her at or visit her blog at

Disclaimer: Dr. Mundorff is a Registered Nurse and Board Certified Naturopath, and not a medical doctor. The information in this column is for educational purposes only and should not be used to self-diagnose and treat diseases. Naturopathy is a complementary practice to health care and should be used in conjunction with a competent health care practitioner. Many herbal and homeopathic remedies can actually be contraindicated in many health conditions, with certain prescriptions, and over-the-counter medications. Please consult your physician before starting any alternative modalities.