Vitiligo is believed to be an autoimmune disease that affects the skin’s pigmentation. The disease destroys melanocytes, the cells which make pigment, leaving patches of white on the skin. These patches may appear on different places on the body. The disease may also cause similar patches on the retina and the mucous membranes, and in some situations, the hair that grows along an infected area will also turn white.
There is no known cause for vitiligo, but there are several theories on the cause. Some believe that those who suffer from vitiligo may be genetically predisposed to the disease as a result of inheriting a group of three specific genes. There is another, more widely accepted theory that vitiligo is an autoimmune disease and the depigmentation is caused by the body reacting against itself.
When someone suffers from vitiligo, their body will produce certain proteins, called cytokines which alter the pigment producing cells. The alterations cause the pigment producing cells to die. There is another theory, although not as widely accepted, that the melanocytes destroy themselves. There have been cases of individuals reporting their vitiligo is triggered by emotional distress or sunburn.
There is about one percent of the world’s population which is impacted by vitiligo. This equates to about 65 million people worldwide. Somewhere between one and two million people in the United States are affected by vitiligo. About fifty percent of those who develop vitiligo do so by their 20th birthday. Most will develop symptoms by their 40th birthday. The disorder affects all races and both genders equally, although it is more noticeable in those with dark skin.
There also seems to be a link between those who already have some sort of autoimmune disease and vitiligo. These autoimmune diseases include adrenocortical insufficiency, hyperthyroidism, pernicious anemia, and alopecia areata. Vitiligo may also be inherited, running in families. Children of parents with the disease are more likely to develop vitiligo. Almost 30 percent of those who have vitiligo have another family member with the disease.
The Vitiligo Diet
There is no specific vitiligo diet, however a healthy, balanced diet which supports the immune system is a good idea. This is because doctors theorize that vitiligo is an autoimmune disease. There are certain foods to avoid, including pears and blueberries since they contain hydroquinone which is a natural depigmenting agent. The spice turmeric also seems to worsen the condition in some people.
Anyone suffering from vitiligo should ensure they get foods which are a source of good nutrients, calcium, proteins, and vitamins. A balanced diet can also help improve the immune system.
Some research shows that excessive amounts of vitamin E can worsen the effects of vitiligo. Those suffering from vitiligo should avoid eating foods with too much vitamin E or taking vitamin E supplements. It is recommended that a vitiligo diet contain lots of vegetables, including carrot, green leafy vegetables, spinach, cabbage, and Brussel sprouts.
Green leafy vegetables are a great source of iron and calcium. They also help improve cardiovascular health, obesity, and high blood pressure. Carrots contain antioxidants and vitamin A which help to prevent the risk of lung and mouth cancer. Spinach is another leafy green vegetable which contains high amounts of iron and calcium.
Someone suffering from vitiligo should also each plenty of fruits, including apples, apricots, and peaches. These types of fruit contain minerals, vitamins, and calcium, as well as phytonutrients which help with overall health.
Many vitiligo patients are lacking certain essential vitamins and minerals including copper, zinc, folic acid, and vitamin B12.
It is possible to boost your levels of these by eating certain foods without needing to take supplements. Vitamin B12 is found in shellfish, fish, diary, and meat products. Good sources of folate, which is the natural form of folic acid include dried beans, spinach, fruits, and peas. A balanced and health diet will be naturally rich in zinc and copper.
Research also shows that some natural supplements such as ginkgo biloba can help reduce the spread of depigmentation. The recommended dosage for taking this supplement to fight depigmentation is to take a 40-milligram dose of a standardized extract daily. There are also studies which suggest combining exposure to ultraviolet light with the natural amino acid L-phenylalanine may help increase the repigmentation of spots caused by vitiligo. Another helpful supplement is khellin, which is produced by extracting the fruit from the plant khella found in the Mediterranean.
There are other ways to help reduce the appearance or spread of vitiligo. These include using sunscreen, support groups and cosmetics. Anyone suffering from vitiligo should always use sunscreen with both UVA and ultraviolet B protection. Tanning can increase the contrast between depigmented and normal skin. Sunscreen also helps protect skin from sunburn and additional damage.
Those suffering from vitiligo can help reduce the effects of the disease by eating a balanced and healthy diet rich in certain minerals and vitamins. While there is no 100% guaranteed cure for vitiligo, those inflicted with the disease can still live a normal and happy life.