By treating the roots or the fruits?
Most of us whose lives have been adversely affected by #vitiligo are keen to know what causes it (and even keener to know if there will ever be a definitive #cure). The potential for a single cure seems poor because all evidence points to there being numerous different causes of this skin condition, each of which would presumably require a different cure . This fact is evident if you consider current treatments: topical steroids, pseudocatalase, narrowband UVB, PUVA, herbal remedies and Ayurveda medicine, to name a few, have all proven beneficial to a greater or lesser extent but there is no single approach that seems to work for everyone.
Most of these therapies seem to be aimed at addressing the symptoms (i.e. the depigmented patches of skin) by tackling one or more of the latter processes involved in their development. For example, where inflammation is involved, corticosteroids are used to reduce the inflammatory response; where high levels of hydrogen peroxide are detected, antioxidants are introduced to counteract the oxidative stress; where melanocytes have become inactive, photosensitising agents and UV light are used to stimulate activity, and in the absence of any other effective therapy, many vitiligo sufferers resort to purely cosmetic solutions like camouflage, tattooing, skin bleaching, depigmenting or even skin grafting. It seems to me that what all of these approaches have in common is that they all – to one extent or another – focus on the final symptom and its immediate precursors. In other words, if you imagined the vitiligo sufferer as being like a diseased tree, therapies are nearly always aimed at the fruits instead of at the roots. In an ideal world, the approach would surely be to identify the root cause, or causes, and treat those; then the white patches would improve as a result.
This topic brings me back, as it usually does, to a line of reasoning that makes the most sense to me in light of my own experience: the likelihood that most chronic conditions are the cumulative effect of a defect or dysfunction in one or more of the body’s basic systems. (As ever, I must point out that my opinions on this subject are not founded on any medical training whatsoever: they are based purely on my own health experiences, medical documentation I have read over the years and some basic logic.)
So, the biological system that would seem to have the most potential to be the root cause of cumulative damage is the digestive system since this is the one responsible for taking in fuel and converting it into energy and into the multitude of chemical substances the body needs to perform all the other physiological functions required for good health. If food is not being digested properly for any reason the knock-on effect of this over a period of time will inevitably be disease. A natural consequence of this kind of disease is skin symptoms because the skin, like the gut, is an organ of elimination. So, when the gut consistently fails to deal with food as it should, toxins can build up in the body, the immune and lymphatic system might then also be compromised and toxic overload in the body would almost certainly show in the skin.
I have published the diagram below in aprevious post but I think it is worth showing again because it demonstrates so well how a defective digestive system can cause a host of other health issues, including autoimmune diseases and vitiligo.
I have had digestive issues ever since I was a young child. Many other vitiligo sufferers also report digestive problems and many more besides are probably unaware that they even have an underlying digestive abnormality because symptoms are not always easy to identify. So, the probability is very high that digestive defects are involved in the root cause of vitiligo in at least a proportion of sufferers. So, logic tells me that, in these cases, instead of trying to treat the white patches (i.e. the diseased fruit), a more effective and permanent solution is likely to be achieved by dealing with the digestive abnormality itself (i.e. the diseased roots).
Assuming the individual’s digestive system isn’t so damaged that it requires surgery, the most natural way to correct or compensate for poor digestion seems to be to avoid foods that aggravate the system and to eat foods that are easy to digest, high in nutritional value and known for their cleansing, detoxifying and healing properties. The foods that most closely match this description aregreen vegetables. For someone like me, who loves her veggies, this is not such bad news. But for many people, the idea of loading up on large servings of spinach, cabbage and broccoli at every meal is probably enough to turn them… well… green! So it’s just as well there are green food supplements that can top up your levels of these vital sources of essential and therapeutic nutrients.
Dietary changes may not, in reality, cure the root cause of vitiligo for everyone with digestive problems. But I am certain that they can improve digestive function to the point where the body is no longer chronically overloaded with toxins, at which stage it can begin to absorb nutrients and eliminate waste much more effectively and start to heal itself – a process that will eventually result in repigmentation of the skin affected by vitiligo.
A matter of quality AND quantity
The word #diet usually makes me think of hunger, restriction and abstinence. In the context of #vitiligo, though, eating for health is not about cutting #foods out so much as ensuring you get enough of the right foods.
There are many theories as to what a person with vitiligo should avoid eating but I am not aware of any natural, whole foods or food groups that should be eliminated, unless the individual has an allergy or intolerance (e.g. gluten).
If, like me, you suspect your vitiligo is a result of poor absorption in the gut, the last thing you want to do is reduce the amount of food you are eating. The chances are that – regardless of how much you weigh – you are, in fact, malnourished. If your digestive system is not able to deliver adequate levels of nutrients to your body from the food you eat, restricting your intake will presumably only leave you even more nutritionally deficient.
I strongly suspect the secret of success in compensating for poor absorption is to increase the quantities of high quality foods in your diet.
Of course, I’m not talking about stuffing your face with anything that takes your fancy: loading up on doughnuts isn’t going to help your vitiligo or your waistline. Not only that, but it will fill you up so you won’t feel like eating the kinds of food that will help you.
Some people say you should avoid meat if you have vitiligo. Personally, I have never cut meat out of my diet and I was still able to virtually eradicate my vitiligo. Meats contain many valuable nutrients and I doubt very much that they contain anything that causes vitiligo. The way I see it, the only problem with meat (and I’m talking about unprocessed meats here) is that putting too much of it on your plate doesn’t leave enough space for the large quantities of vegetables I have come to believe a compromised digestive system needs in order to function normally, maintaining good health and normal skin.
In fact, depending on how severely compromised your digestive system is, you may still not be able to get enough of the nutrients your body needs most even if the only foods you ever put on your plate were mountains of veggies. I think that this is why taking a super-green supplement every day in addition to eating plenty of veg in my diet was one of the key factors in restoring my lost skin colour.
So, my advice to anyone with vitiligo is to eat an inclusive, varied diet (including all the food groups unless you have allergies or are vegetarian or vegan by choice) and choose the best quality, unprocessed produce you can afford - organic, ideally). BUT… to ensure you get enough of the most nutritious foods, my top tip is to reduce the ratio of everything else you consume in relation to green vegetables. Your veggies should be the main dish, instead of the side order. And, in addition to that, take one dose a day of super-greens. (This is the one that works for me) to ensure you get enough alkalising nutrition, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals fibre and phytonutrients (or if you can’t face the prospect of piling up your plate with #vegetables at every meal, take multiple doses of your green supplement a day to compensate).
Adjusting the ratios of foods you eat is so much easier than cutting some out altogether. It just means changing your food preparation habits slightly instead of denying yourself altogether. I was certainly no angel while I was repigmenting. I indulged in some processed foods and still enjoyed drinking wine and the occasional cocktail. But the super-high doses of green nutrients I was getting from my supplementation and the fact that I also included plenty of #greens in my diet meant that I was still able to compensate for my poor digestion and gradually recover my normal skin colour as a result.
A review of Vitix and Viticolor
I am usually wary of products that claim to treat #vitiligo. That probably has a lot to do with the fact that there is an increasing number of so-called “guaranteed cures” out there on the internet that have very little to do with helping people and everything to do with parting them from their money. So, I have found it generally pays to err very much on the side of skepticism.
That’s why I was pleasantly surprised to spot a couple of products recently that looked like genuinely well-conceived and moderately priced items designed to fill two important vitiligo needs, namely 1) to help recover lost pigment and 2) to provide cosmetic colouring to depigmented skin.
These products are called #Vitix (a #topical treatment) and #Viticolor (a faux-tan-cum-camouflage gel). Manufactured by a French pharmaceutical and dermatological company Laboratoire Dermatologique ACM, Vitix appears to be based on sound research and makes no unrealistic claims. Quite the reverse, in fact… the product literature clearly states that “There is, at present, no 100% cure” and that “there are no treatments that can prevent vitiligo developing again.” (In my experience, the only way of achieving that is through #nutrition.) The boldest claim the makers of this product make is that it “increases the probability of achieving satisfactory repigmentation by 50%”, a reassuringly modest claim compared to many that are bandied about online.
I have never used a topical vitiligo treatment myself (except for one disastrous encounter with a Chinese herbal concoction which left me badly burned) and am curious as to whether it could help even out the remaining mottled areas I still have on my hands and feet, where my repigmentation – though virtually complete everywhere else – is still quite uneven. When I asked the UK suppliers if they would like me to review these two products they kindly sent me some samples to try and some further information on them. So I will be giving them a go over the coming weeks and months and will report back on the outcome after that.
In the meantime, I will give you my first impressions, which are very positive. Most topical treatments I read about are either designed to calm lesions down using steroid hormones (like corticosteroids) or else purposely to irritate them by increasing the skin’s sensitivity to UV light (like psoralen) so it’s refreshing to find that Vitix has been formulated to take a different approach, namely to reduce the excess hydrogen peroxide typically found in vitiliginous skin by increasing catalase levels. This principle is at the heart of Dr Karin Schallreuter’s Dead Sea treatment and seems to me to make a lot of sense, given that the oxidative stress theory as to the likely mechanisms involved in vitiligo is so well established.
So, instead of trying to restore colour by soothing inflammation or by irritating the skin into producing pigment, Vitix claims to act “locally on the epidermis by creating an environment ideal for the cells responsible for producing the pigments responsible for skin colour (melanocytes)”. This concept appeals to me because it seems to fit with everything I have learned about the antioxidant status of vitiliginous skin and it strikes me as a logical extension of the approach that I used to regain my lost pigment. Whereas I used nutrition to raise my levels of catalase and other antioxidants from the inside, Vitix promises to do the same from the outside.
Of course, having so little vitiligo left on which to test this product might make it more difficult for me to gauge results but I will take before and after pictures and keep careful notes of any changes that occur and pass my feedback on once I have given the product time to work.
The product itself, by the way, is a gel in which the active ingredient is delivered by means of little microspheres that feel slightly gritty when first applied but which then seems to dissolve away soon after. It seems easy and pleasant enough to apply and does not smell or stain. It can be used alongside UV treatment (whether medical or sunshine) and under camouflage.
Finally, for this post, I want to comment on the other product, Viticolor. This may seem like the less important of the two products because it is not a treatment but a purely cosmetic item. However, as anyone whose vitiligo causes them distress will know, anything that can help a person feel comfortable in their own skin and forget about their white patches is a godsend. Not only that, but this product can, according to the literature, be used during treatment, including during phototherapy. So it may be a way to deal with the increased contrast between vitiliginous and normal skin during UV treatment. I have only tried this product once so far and made the beginner’s error of applying too much and ending up with the partially depigmented areas on my hands sporting a much deeper tan than the surrounding normal skin. So, my tip on using Viticolor would be to use it very sparingly the first time, especially as it only seems to come in one shade that has to work for everyone, so the idea is to build it up very gradually over several days and then just top it up once or twice a week once you have built up your ideal depth of colour.
So, that's it for now... I will keep you posted :)
One man's recovery from vitiligo
One of the best parts of being a #vitiligoblogger is the sense of being part of a global community of people who love to share their experiences. So many of the comments and emails I receive – as well as the forums and support groups I visit - are full of mutual encouragement and empathy. There is something about the experience of living with vitiligo that seems to increase our compassion and understanding of others who also have the condition and makes us all want to help each other. This seems to be just as true of vitiligo sufferers who have recovered their skin colour as those who are still living with their white patches.
One example of this was an email I received the other day from a complete stranger – a lovely guy who contacted me via my website – who wanted to share his story and was kind enough to give his permission for me to publish it in this blog. This is Taylor Vaughan's experience of developing, and then recovering from, vitiligo...
As a child, I believe around the age of 7-8yrs old, I noticed several stark white patches on my shins. They slowly over time grew in size and then I noticed other areas including my right elbow, spots on my forearms, a circular spot on my chest, the finger tips where my nails begin. The spot on my elbow grew to the size of a half dollar and the spots on my shins became large enough I stopped wearing shorts. The spots seemed to stop growing in size when I started high school but they were so noticeable it controlled my life. I would look at magazines at these pictures of people with more than half of their bodies white due to the loss of pigment and I feared I would look the same someday.
So I decided to begin lifting weights. My reason was that if I was going to look like the pictures I had seen then I was at least going to be someone who was huge to combat the comments people had already made and future comments. I gained 20lbs or of muscle over the course of my freshman the following summer. I would find myself purposely sun burning my skin in order to redden the white areas to make them less noticeable. My junior year I messed around with testosterone because, even with constant weight training, I was still a scrawny guy. I went from 115 lbs. to 135 lbs. But stopped there. So, at that time 20 years ago steroids were easy to get and not really controlled. By the end of my senior year and into my first year of college I had gained about 40 more pounds of mostly muscle and some fat. I was about 175 lbs. going into college.
However I had noticed that the spots on my shins had started to freckle up with pigment. I was so happy, and had hopes that maybe they would continue to regiment and I would for once be a normal kid that didn’t worry about people seeing my spots.
I continued to lift and take testosterone and by the end of my junior year of college I was not only a large guy, about 210 lbs. and lots of muscle but my white spots had 90% filled in and gone away. I continued to lift and take testosterone through the end of college and graduated at 225 lbs. and 100% free from my vitiligo.
I married and later began work and stopped taking steroids. I stayed around 200 lbs. and still am to this day at age 40 and still remain vitiligo free. My point to this story is 2 years ago I was feeling fatigued, more than usual so I had my doctor check my hormones, thyroid etc. The results were my testosterone levels were close to zero, he said they were at the level expected out of an 80 year old. Now I don’t know if my taking testosterone had shut down my own production or if I had low levels from childhood. I have read stories about vitiligo and low RBC counts and steroids raise your blood counts so I am wondering if taking steroids raised my blood counts and/or if I had low hormone levels and didn’t know it as a child and these low levels had some type of influence on my development of Vitiligo.
I just feel that this may be something that isn’t even considered since checking adult male hormones is just becoming something that is seen as a problem. I would however suggest that anyone who has vitiligo at least have their blood counts and hormone levels, mainly testosterone levels, checked because those are the only 2 things that I personally did to alter anything physiologically with my body other than weight training. I tried every vitamin and home remedy that I could find prior to this and nothing changed it.
I just feel I needed to share my story and I certainly don’t condone taking steroids as now they are considered a controlled drug and highly watched etc. My physician prescribes testosterone for me and checks my levels every 4 months and only gives me enough to stay in my normal level. He thinks I shut my own production down by taking testosterone at a young age so I suppose I will never know if I simply had low levels my whole life or if I caused them. He said I will have to be on it the rest of my life with constant monitoring and testing. So I certainly wouldn’t take anything without working with a doctor.
Maybe there will be studies on vitiligo and the correlation to hormones and blood count levels in the future that might help prevent and cure this devastating disease.
Id like to thank Taylor for allowing me to publish his story and photo. He even offered to have his email address published but, to preserve his privacy, I felt it might be better to say that if anyone would like to get in touch with him just let me know via this site and I will gladly pass it on.
Taylor's story of recovery is completely different from my own and just goes to show how many different factors can be involved in the onset of vitiligo and also in its cure.
If the subject of how #hormones can affect pigmentation interests you, here are a few links for you to follow:
A tricky question if you have vitiligo
We Brits have a reputation for going a bit bonkers with our #sunbathing whenever we get good weather and, as a result, each mini “heatwave” tends to leave a percentage of the population a tender shade of beetroot. Despite all the health warnings, it seems that the lure of a warm, relaxing sun lounger and the prospect of airing our winter-cocooned flesh for the first time in six or seven months is just too much for some of us to resist and so we throw all caution and common sense to the wind whenever we get the chance.
Having said all that, deciding how much sun exposure is too much is not an exact science, especially as the answer is likely to be different for each person, depending on their age, skin type, whether or not they use an SPF and the strength of the sun in their location on any given day. Then there are other apparently contradictory considerations to take into account, like the fact that sun exposure is good for you because it is a natural mood enhancer, it stimulates healthy blood circulation and it is the body’s main source of vitamin D production, and yet it is bad for you because it causes skin damage and can lead to painful burns or even cancer.
If you then throw into the mix a particular skin condition – like #vitiligo – that involves increased photosensitivity, the question of how much sun is too much becomes even more problematic. Since the #whitepatches caused by vitiligo lack pigment to protect them from UV radiation they are more prone to sunburn than normal skin. Not only that, but the cosmetic and psychological implications of increasing the contrast between the pigmented and depigmented areas of skin by sunbathing are enough to cause most vitiligo sufferers to avoid sun exposure as much as possible. But, on the other hand, many people report improvements in their pigmentation following sun exposure and, of course, UV therapy (especially narrowband UVB) has a well-documented success record in a significant proportion of vitiligo patients.
Sunburn is sometimes cited as a cause of new vitiligo lesions but, as far as I can tell, there is no concrete evidence for this. It seems to me more likely that this is a perception due to the fact that newly formed vitiligo patches are sometimes not clearly visible (except under a Wood’s lamp) until sun exposure has caused the surrounding skin to darken. So, if someone’s vitiligo is spreading, exposing their skin to sunlight will simply highlight what is happening anyway. Another reason for the perception that sunburn can cause vitiligo might be that sunburn often causes the skin to itch and then if the person scratches their skin the trauma can cause new lesions to appear (otherwise known as the Koebner Phenomenon).
In any case, the fact remains that some people find sunlight beneficial and others believe it makes their vitiligo worse. This could be due to a number of different factors. It could be a question of how much sun exposure a person has (too much may be harmful, whereas a moderate amount is helpful). It could be the fact that sunshine consists of a variety of different types of radiation and different people might respond differently to each one. For example, UVA increases oxidative stress, which is now believed by most vitiligo researchers to be a key factor in the development of vitiligo, whereas UVB is known to stimulate the production of new melanin and is used with good results in the treatment of vitiligo. Or it could be because UV exposure only improves vitiligo if the body has sufficient reserves of the raw materials it needs to produce pigment. Some vitiligo sufferers may have just enough of these in their system for sunlight to trigger the mechanism and others may not.
I am certain that regular sun exposure played a part in my repigmentation but only after I had started to supply my body with the nutrients that it needed and, for some reason, was not getting in sufficient quantities from my diet. Without the nutritional programme I put myself on, my experience would still have been that sunshine made my vitiligo worse – because that had always been my previous experience: every summer I used to dread sunny weather because it was then that new white patches became apparent and old ones looked more conspicuous. It was only after supplementing my diet that sunbathing started to trigger the pigmentation process again.
In any event, the conclusion I have reached on the question of sun exposure will probably come as no great surprise: it is a matter of moderation in all things. It seems sensible that the best approach (whether you have vitiligo or not) is to avoid burning your skin since sunburn is uncomfortable, unsightly and potentially carcinogenic. But it also makes sense to get regular, moderate exposure so as to benefit from the health and mood-boosting benefits it delivers, especially if one of those benefits is to wake up dormant pigment and return your white patches to their original colour. So I, for one, am looking forward to soaking up some sunshine this weekend - given half a chance - but I won't be overdoing it!
Here in the UK the May Bank Holiday is upon us. The trees are heavy with blossom, the garden is full of primroses and bluebells and there is definitely more clear sky around than cloud. In fact, we have already had a few days this Spring with temperatures reaching the low 20’s Celsius, which is a veritable heatwave if you live in the north of England! As long as the rain holds off, this long weekend will find many of us out enjoying our gardens, either mowing the lawn, tending the plants or generally lazing about in the welcome heat of the sun (we hope).
A vitiligo blogger since 2011. My name is Caroline. I had vitiligo for nearly 50 years before finding an effective treatment. I created this blog to share my experiences with others affected by this skin condition.