Is vitiligo also on the rise?
#Vitiligo is so frequently labelled an autoimmune condition that this view is very rarely challenged. I am not a scientist and would not presume to disagree with successive researchers who have come to this conclusion. There certainly appears to be plenty of evidence that people with certain autoimmune diseases are more likely to develop vitiligo than people who don’t have any autoimmune diseases. And there is also a consensus among vitiligo researchers that there is an autoimmune element involved in the process of pigment loss in vitiligo. But whether autoimmunity is the root cause of vitiligo (or of any autoimmune disease, come to that) or whether in fact it is just part of a physiological chain reaction that actually starts elsewhere in the body no one seems to know. I suspect that the digestive tract may be where such a chain reaction inside the body would start (since this is where most of the body's processes start and since it plays such an important role in the immune system). But I also believe that external influences are almost certainly implicated.
Why are the industrialised nations so sick?
What is clear is that the better known autoimmune diseases (e.g. type 1 diabetes, Graves' disease, vasculitis, myasthenia gravis, connective tissue diseases, autoimmune Addison's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, hemolytic anemia, celiac disease, and scleroderma) are spreading significantly in the western world. Interestingly, I cannot find any references anywhere to a similar rise in the incidence of vitiligo cases. This may be that no one has yet compiled any data on whether the geographical distribution of vitiligo as a population percentage is static or not, or it may just be that I haven't looked in the right places. (So please let me know if you are aware of any such research.)
In any case, the research that has been done into the rise of autoimmune diseases generally clearly shows that this increase is occurring specifically in the developed world - to the extent that it has been dubbed "the Western Disease" - and that it is worse in urban areas than in rural ones. This strongly suggests that either the diet and/or the environment in industrialised countries (and in their cities in particular) are playing a part in the proliferation of these conditions. We are all well aware that the quantities of synthetic ingredients in our highly processed foods and the presence of potentially toxic chemicals and heavy metals in our environment have increased alarmingly over recent decades in the developed world, especially in urban areas. So the likelihood of there being a direct link between these two phenomena seems to me to be self evident. And, whether or not vitiligo is among those autoimmune diseases that are on the rise, the increasing number of toxins and allergens in our environment are bound to have an adverse effect on anyone with either existing vitiligo or a predisposition to it.
According to the author of The Autoimmune Epidemic: Bodies Gone Haywire in a World Out of Balance the incidence of autoimmune disease has tripled in industrialised countries over the last three decades, making them the Number Two cause of chronic illness in America and the third leading cause of Social Security disability behind heart disease and cancer. They are also the eighth leading cause of death among women, shortening the average patient's lifespan by fifteen years. Since women are still exposed more routinely than men to domestic cleaning chemicals it seems likely that these may be one environmental trigger. I have no doubt that there are many more triggers in our western environment and lifestyle and will continue to look at these in future posts.
My name is Caroline.