But what my doctor didn’t bother to find out was that having a period four times a year was something I was used to. It was something I often felt strange about as a young girl, when all of my friends had their menstrual cycles working like clockwork.
About two months into the magical birth control pill, my hair began to fall out. Not a little bit, but in chunks. I was horrified and called my doctor straight away. Her advice? To go on taking the pill because it probably had to do with “something else.” She asked, “are you stressed at work?”
Desperate for answers, I took to the Internet to see what other women were saying. I was shocked when I came across a forum of women talking about their hair loss and Seasonique. One woman said she had been off the pill for years and her hair continued to fall out.
I ignored my doctor’s suggestion and threw the pill in the trash. The next day, I made an appointment with my dermatologist to see what I could do about my hair. A chunk of hair had fallen out in the front and it was embarrassing and scary.
The Dermatologist Diagnosed My Hormone Imbalance
My dermatologist did what my gynecologist should have done: she ran a battery of blood tests right away. Within a day, she called with some news. “We believe the hair loss is caused by alopecia areata,” she said. “It can be brought on by stress but is a hereditary disease.” She prescribed me steroid injections to stimulate the hair growth but then she added something else:
“You also have elevated DHEA levels,” she said. “This is not something to be too concerned about, but I suggest you speak to an endocrinologist or reproductive specialist.”
DHEA? What was that? I thought. But before I could ask, she was gone.
So commenced the journey of being my own doctor, my own counselor, my own pharmacist, and my own biochemist.
Unfortunately, in this world of busy doctors and poor bedside manner, you sometimes have to take the research upon yourself. Leave no stone unturned. Ask questions. Be annoying. It’s your health and you must fight for it.
Here is what I found out: DHEA, or dehydroepiandrosterone, is an important steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It works as a precursor to both male and female sex hormones and therefore helps regulate over 55 hormones in the human body. Healthy DHEA levels are important to maintaining hormone balance in the body.
Still confused by the meaning of this, I called a reproductive health specialist at a clinic for fertility. I was lucky at the time to have excellent insurance, something I know a lot of women do not.
As soon as I talked to the doctors, who would later end up performing endometriosis surgery on me, I was instantly impressed by their care, efficiency, and expertise.
PCOS and Endometriosis
They quickly diagnosed me with PCOS, or polycystic ovarian syndrome. This, they said, was the reason for my increased DHEA, hair loss, and weight gain. Next, they took a detailed history from me. Through this they discovered what they expected to be endometriosis. They recommended laparoscopic surgery to clear out the endometriosis.
This was all so much information for me, and I took a few days to try to process it. My new doctor, an expert surgeon, said something that intrigued me:
“We are seeing an increase of women who have dual diagnosis: PCOS and endometriosis.”
More women with conditions just like me? Why would this be?
My research began with trying to make sense of the two diseases. I underwent surgery for endometriosis in 2011 and then focused on working with my doctor to change eating habits that exacerbate symptoms of PCOS.
But that link still bothered me.
Why would there be more women with the two illnesses? And what was this increased DHEA doing to my health? And what could be causing this increase? Unfortunately, these questions still linger, with many doctors avoiding my questions.
When my treatment for endometriosis was over (they found adhesions on my bladder, uterus, and small intestines), I was left to pick up the pieces of my scarred body. I ignored my doctor’s advice and went off the birth control pill, something I has been taking for 10 years, and commenced on a journey of self discovery and holistic health.
I’d like to share them in the hopes of helping other women who might be struggling with the same afflictions:
Get a Second (and Third) Opinion
A huge lesson I have learned is that if you think something is wrong with your body, you are probably right. Get a second opinion, get a third opinion, call people day and night if you have to, but don’t take this lying down. Ask questions and make sure your voice is heard when it comes to your health. At the end of the day, if your primary doctor is not helping, seek help elsewhere.
Enjoy the Fruits of Nature
Things that are made in a factory and placed in a can or a box are not healthy for anyone, but particularly for people struggling with hormone imbalance. Xenoestrogens, or estrogen mimicking hormones, can be found in a number of food additives and preservatives. Animals in the United States are raised with doses of antibiotics, steroids and growth hormones. Whatever the animals are eating, you are eating, and it continues the toxic cycle. My suggestion is to turn to a vegetarian, whole foods, organic diet, and keep away from the frozen, boxed, or canned meals. If you want to keep eating meat, just make sure it is organic.
Treat the Whole Self
Undergoing a major procedure or surgery is not just jarring for the body, it is jarring for the mind. A part of you has died and you have to allow yourself time to mourn it. One of the best things I ever did was to explore reiki and other forms of spiritual healing. Whether you choose to do yoga, journaling, hiking, dancing, reiki, acupuncture, or just take yourself on a vacation, make sure you treat the whole self. The body can repair itself in time, but the mind takes much longer. Allow yourself that time. Love yourself as a way to repair.
Work Up a Sweat
The worst thing you can do for hormone imbalance is sit around all day and feel sorry for yourself (those are my mother’s words). In our daily 9 to 5 lives, stuck behind a computer, sitting in our cars stuck in traffic, it’s hard to find time to exercise. But that’s why you have to make the time. Whether you sign up for a gym, start swimming, do yoga, or just walk around your neighborhood, moving your body will help your hormones wake up. Try to get at least 1.5 to 3 hours of cardio a week and you will begin to notice the difference in your physical and mental state.
Get Off the Pills
I am no advocating you run off and get pregnant, but I will say that getting off birth control was a decision I stand by to this day. You have to allow your body to show you how its working without the hormones and then make a decision about your treatment. Nowadays, birth control is prescribed so quickly to young girls, when there is very little research done about their medical history. Meanwhile, women are on birth control for 10, 15, 20 years without doctor’s mentioning that this might not be in their best interest. If you can, try to get off birth control, at least for a while, to see how your hormones are working on their own.
Two years later and my hair has fully grown back. Looking back at that time, I would not have changed a thing. And oddly enough, I am glad that my hair fell out, because it woke me up to something that was going on inside of me that might have lay dormant for years. If I were a doctor, I would research quite ferociously the link between PCOS, endometriosis, and DHEA. I would be curious as to why there is a link between PCOS and endometriosis and particularly, why now? Is it because we could not accurately diagnose the two disorders in the past? Or is it because people are eating differently now? Or perhaps because more women are on birth control pills now than in the 1950’s?
These questions are lingering, but one thing remains: you can overcome your symptoms of hormone imbalance, you can overcome your hair falling out, you can overcome surgeries that cut you deep inside, and you can rise to become better and stronger than you ever were before.