Re-pigmentation and the meat-free myth
Before I get to the “meat” (sorry) of this article, I need to make a couple of things clear because the last thing I want to do is alienate anyone by my choice of title. Firstly, I am the biggest fan of vegetables you can possibly imagine and I believe that the healthiest diets consist predominantly of plants. Secondly, I am not trying to offend those readers who may eat vegetarian or vegan for religious, or other reasons of personal principle. It is just that I am frequently asked what I believe is the best diet for combatting vitiligo and one of the most frequently asked questions is whether or not you should eat meat. So, this blog is – from a purely nutritional point of view - about that very question. So now, having got the appetiser out of the way, let’s move on to the main course...
Everyone knows that veggies are good for you
Everyone on the planet must know by now that eating lots of veggies is good for you. That is not even up for discussion and, besides, I have blogged my socks off on that subject over the past few years so I won't repeat myself.
Not only does common sense tell us that this is true, but so do the health professionals, the scientific studies, the medical journals and even the history books, not to mention the billions of personal experiences shared, and blogs written, on the subject every day. Perhaps, most influential of all, is the testimony of our own bodies, which have a tendency to tell us loud and clear whether or not the food we are consuming day in and day out is giving us the right fuel to keep everything working as it should.
None of this will be news to your ears. Nutritional awareness has probably never been as widespread as it is now, thanks to the internet and our all-encompassing 24 hour global media. Yet nutrition is much like the legal system, only back to front. Just as ignorance of the law is no defence, knowledge of nutrition is no protection – unless, of course, you apply it. As the Chinese proverb says: “To know and not to do is not to know”.
For the average person in today’s well-informed society there is really no convincing excuse for not choosing a predominantly healthy diet over a predominantly unhealthy one. But things are a lot more confusing for those of us with #digestive-disorders or who suffer from chronic conditions like #vitiligo. The dietary guidelines that we need to follow in order to heal ourselves, and then maintain optimum health, may be very broadly the same as for everyone else but, it seems, there are some significant differences.
Why eating right is different for vitiligo
Too little scientific investigation has gone into the nutritional treatment and management of skin conditions – and vitiligo languishes, as ever, at the bottom of the research pile.
Of the conclusions reached, some are credible and backed by scientific knowledge, anecdotal experience or good old common sense. Others are debatable and some seem downright contradictory, as in the case of turmeric for example.
So, unless some solid, comprehensive research is conducted into diet and vitiligo, the sum of our knowledge on the subject will remain a small core of well-supported facts, surrounded by a thick (but useful, nevertheless) cocoon of anecdotal experience and educated guesswork, much of it conflicting and confusing.
In my opinion, the small core of factual knowledge we can rely on would include such indisputable advice as the importance of eating plenty of fresh vegetables, cutting out overly processed foods, reducing excess salts and sugars and drinking plenty of pure water instead of fizzy sodas and alcohol.
The thick cocoon would include, for example, advice on which types and quantities of fruits are good for someone with vitiligo. And it would definitely include the question of whether eating meat helps or hinders vitiligo recovery.
To meat or not to (m)eat?
Whilst there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the healthiest meats are unprocessed, organic, high quality and should make up no more than 20% of your food intake, I can find very little to suggest that a diet without meat is in any way nutritiously superior or even at all helpful to vitiligo sufferers. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Most healthy vegetarians remain healthy because they understand the need to consume vegetable sources of protein and supplement with vitamin B12, and its co-nutrients, to compensate for the absence of meat in their daily diet. But for those of us looking to improve a skin condition by changing our diet, it is not unusual for meat to be simply removed from the menu without such nutritional requirements being taken into account. This oversight is likely to be all the more damaging because the amino acids produced from eating protein are absolutely vital to skin health. And also because there is a well-established link between vitiligo and vitamin B12 deficiency. In addition to B12 deficiency, a lack of vitamin D is common to most vitiligo sufferers, so cutting out fish from the diet (as most vegetarians do) would carry an additional risk of making the condition worse.
Why do some people think avoiding meat helps?
If all the available facts suggest that cutting out meat is more likely to make vitiligo worse instead of better, how can it be that some people claim it helps them? I certainly don't doubt their experience. I am a great believer in the power of anecdotal evidence. My own story of recovery from vitiligo is a good example - it is based entirely on personal experience. If I had waited until scientists somewhere had conducted double blind placebo research into the effectiveness of each ingredient in the supplements I used to reverse my vitiligo before using them, I would still be waiting. And so would a lot of other people who have benefited from my anecdotal evidence. So I am a big fan of learning from the experience of others.
However, I wonder if the belief among some people in the benefits of a vegetarian diet for vitiligo have less to do with the relative nutritional values of a vegetarian versus a non-vegetarian diet and more to do with the fact that meat is harder to digest than fruit and vegetables and therefore aggravates the problems with nutritional absorption experienced by those of us with impaired digestive systems? This would explain why some individuals notice a slight improvement in their symptoms when they avoid hard-to-digest foods.
I would say that the link between poor digestive absorption and vitiligo straddles both of the categories I mentioned earlier (i.e. established fact and anecdotal experience / educated guesswork). I, for one, am utterly convinced it was at the heart of my own vitiligo and it is something that countless other vitiligo sufferers have shared with me over the past 7 years. And the relationship between digestive abnormalities, "leaky gut" and autoimmune conditions (including the serious vitamin B12 deficiency known as pernicious anaemia) is well known.
You might think that all of this is reason enough to stick to a vegetarian diet after all. But that might (if you are not careful about it) be a case of choosing good absorption of insufficient nutrients over poor absorption of sufficient ones: a classic case of Hobson's Choice. Neither option is likely to heal vitiligo. What we really need, of course, is to eat a diet that contains ALL the nutrients our body needs AND be able to digest and utilise them properly. This is why, I believe, a healthy diet plus a combination of appropriate nutritional supplementation and digestive support are so effective in treating vitiligo.
What worked for me... and what I recommend to others
The combination of nutritional supplementation and digestive support I used for my recovery consisted of two main supplements: Boost capsules (containing the nutrients most closely associatied with the tanning process) and Five a Day super-green foods (containing the broad nutritional support, plant protein and powerful antioxidant levels of concentrated vegetables). Because these supplements - combined with regular, moderate sun exposure, resulted in such dramatic re-pigmentation, this is what I recommend to others who want to treat their vitiligo naturally. And to those vitiligo sufferers who ask me about diet, my best advice, based on all of the above, is that a predominantly clean diet, consisting mainly of fresh vegetables, some fruit and (preferably) modest portions of quality meat and fish (or alternatively vegetarian or supplemental protein, vitamin D and B vitamins) is likely to be the best way of supporting a successful re-pigmentation protocol.
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.