What are phenols and polyphenols and how do they affect pigment loss?
Before you let the title of this post put you off reading any further, let me say that chemistry and biology were two of my least favourite subjects at school (joint second only to mathematics) so it comes as no surprise that I sometimes struggle to understand a lot of the medical research and other scientific information I find online as I continue to learn about #vitiligo. One thing I have learned though is that a little learning can be a dangerous thing because it is sometimes tempting to put two and two together and make five (and no - not even my maths were that bad!). However, I never let this risk put me off because, as this sign at Liberty University School of Law puts it, a little knowledge may be dangerous but “a lot of ignorance is just as bad”. And, since vitiligo seems to be one health issue that is still, relatively speaking, shrouded in ignorance (among large sections of the medical fraternity as well as the general public) I feel strongly that it is up to each one of us affected by vitiligo to take responsibility for being as well informed on the subject as possible. This is why I continue to read as much as I can about vitiligo, leukoderma, pigmentation disorders and related health problems and continue to discuss them in this blog.
One reason science can be so confusing to the uninitiated like me is the fact that certain data can appear to be completely contradictory if you take them at face value. The group of chemical compounds known as #phenols provide a good example of this. I have been aware for some time that industrial phenols can cause skin irritation and may trigger pigment loss and yet phenols are also common in nature and include tyrosine (an essential amino acid which is a crucial part of the very process which produces melanin in the body, essential to providing colour to skin and hair). So, it would be a gross oversimplification to say that phenols are bad for vitiligo! Phenols are simply a particular category of chemical compound (similar to alcohols but possessing a stronger hydrogen bond). Polyphenols, not surprisingly, are compounds made up of multiple phenols. These occur in nature, are among the most potent antioxidants found in our food and are the subject of research into the health-boosting effects of certain fruits and vegetables. So, when it comes to the word “phenol” it pays to understand what type of phenol you are dealing with: this link explains the difference between phenols and polyphenols and highlights the good, the bad and the ugly of these compounds.
Finally, for this post, I leave you with this article describing research into vitiligo treatment using vitamins, minerals and polyphenol supplementation, which concludes that “antioxidant supplementation is significantly beneficial in contributing superior clinical efficacy to cure vitiligo”. This conclusion, of course, supports the now well established view that low #antioxidant status in vitiligo patients is a key factor in the mechanism of pigment loss and reinforces the message that nutrition can play an important role in effective treatment of the condition when used to combat free radical damage in the body.
My name is Caroline.