DEAR DR. ROACH: I am an active 63-year-old female of normal weight. I exercise several times a week and am in seemingly good health. About a year ago I noticed that my eyebrows were disappearing, starting on the outer edges. They are now almost completely gone.
During my annual physical in November, my general physician found that I have thyroid nodules. Three large ones were biopsied and proved negative. Blood work, including a TSH level, is normal. Both my GP and dermatologist feel certain that the nodules are not causing the eyebrow problem, because I don’t have any other symptoms of thyroid disease, but they don’t know what is causing the loss. — K.F.
ANSWER: The loss of eyebrows, superciliary madarosis, has many possible causes, but low thyroid is the first that most doctors think of. A TSH level is a reasonable screening test for thyroid disease, but if the suspicion is high, I check additional thyroid tests, such a thyroxine (T4), free T4 and T3. Occasionally TSH still can be in the very broad “normal” range for most people but be abnormal for that person.
Other causes of eyebrow loss include autoimmune disease, inflammatory skin conditions and infection. Repeated plucking of the eyebrows can lead to permanent loss of the follicles. Allergies to cosmetics also can cause eyebrow and eyelash loss. Have you changed your makeup recently?
DEAR DR. ROACH: I’m a 42-year-old woman in good health. I am beginning a new job soon, and I feel it’s a good idea to build up my immunity before I work in this new environment. I chose an over-the-counter support supplement, but I am coming down with a cold!
I have found that I regularly react in this way to vitamins and supplements. Is this common? — D.F.
ANSWER: Having a strong immune system is always a good idea. However, supplements, even those that say they are good for the immune system, have no proof that they prevent colds or shorten their duration. A healthy diet, exercise and good sleep are much better for your immune system than a supplement.
Some readers insist that these products are effective for them, but the science so far has not proven it. Also, any drug, herb, vitamin or other supplement always has the potential for side effects. I would advise you to save your money.
. DEAR DR. ROACH: I often wonder if the white mold one sees on supermarket blueberries is at all dangerous to one’s heath. I’ve eaten a few with such mold, but with no apparent effect. — A.W.
ANSWER: I contacted an expert at Michigan State University, who told me that the white mold is likely a type of trichoderma. Trichoderma are not usually dangerous to humans, although some people can have an allergic reaction to it.
Still, moldy blueberries are likely to be old, not have as many nutrients and not taste so good. Eat berries right away, before they can get moldy, and if you notice that they are moldy as soon as you get them home from the store, take them back.