How checking for hypochlorhydria could save your skin
I used to be slightly skeptical about #vitiligo being an autoimmune disease, mainly because no doctor had ever mentioned this to me (and still hasn't to this day!). When I was first diagnosed, as a child in the 1960s, the idea that antibodies could attack a person's own cells was still a relatively new theory and had definitely not reached the average family doctor's surgery. Even after I had heard about #autoimmunity, I still didn't feel that my vitiligo necessarily fitted the autoimmune model. This was really only because I eventually managed to rid myself of nearly all my white patches simply by taking certain nutritional supplements (and sitting in the sunshine) which led me to the conclusion that the progressive pigment loss I had suffered throughout my life was simply due to some mysterious deficiency of nutrients that my body required to make melanin. It was easy enough to identify the likely reason for this deficiency, since I had always suffered from symptoms of poor digestion and fatigue that suggested I was not absorbing enough nutrition from my diet. I am still certain that this was the key part of the picture. However, it was a simplistic explanation for what is obviously a much more complex condition.
Once I started to read up on vitiligo research, I realised that the evidence for an autoimmune connection was overwhelming. But what wasn't at all clear was if and how this aspect of the disorder fitted in with the nutritional side of things. Was the autoimmunity a genetic defect, which then led (in my particular case) to digestive problems? Or did the cumulative effect of improperly digested food lead to an autoimmune response in which the vitiligo gene allowed my immune system to mistakenly attack my pigment-producing cells? Researchers in this field still don't have all the answers (hence the absence of a cure) but the prevailing view would tend to support the second scenario. In other words, there was a domino effect:
I'm not saying that there is necessarily a digestive dimension to all cases of vitiligo. There are most likely various triggers, as I discussed in a previous post. However, so many of the people I correspond with about their vitiligo tell me they have chronic digestive symptoms that I get the impression it is one of the most common triggers. Certainly, vitiligo (and other autoimmune diseases) are frequently linked to hypochlorhydria and, given that it is possible to have low stomach acid and not experience noticeable symptoms, I think it is a pity that doctors do not routinely test for it whenever they see a new patient with vitiligo - especially as hypochlorhydria is so easy to treat with betaine HCL.
It is now thought to be statistically more likely that an individual who experiences symptoms of indigestion will have too little stomach acid, not too much, and the risk of deficiency only increases with age. It is also statisitcally more likely that individuals with vitiligo or other autoimmune conditions will have hypochlorhydria. So it does strike me as a serious oversight on the part of the medical profession not to make all vitiligo patients aware of the fact.
Insufficient stomach acid means that the body is unable to absorb iron, calcium and magnesium, essential antioxidant vitamins like C, A and E, and vitamin B12 (common deficiencies in vitiligo). It also means that proteins are not broken down and digested properly. It is this, when left untreated, that is thought to lead to numerous chronic diseases, food allergies, leaky gut syndrome, and autoimmune conditions including vitiligo.
What can often make matters even worse is that most people who routinely suffer from poor digestion reach for the antacids because the symptoms of too little stomach acid are, confusingly, identical to those of hyperchlorhdria (too much acid) and so they mistakenly reduce acid levels in the stomach even further.
Anyone with low stomach acid should avoid indigestion remedies (antacids) like the plague and take measures instead to increase acid levels at meal times. Drinking some apple cider vinegar or lemon juice before eating is enough to help some people if their hypochlorhydria is not severe. But the ususal treatment is to take an appropriate amount of Betaine HCL in tablet or capsule form with meals (especially those meals that contain protein). This provides the stomach with the right levels of hydrochloric acid to be able to digest food properly, absorb nutrients for the maintenance of good health and to empty the stomach effectively (thus avoiding acid reflux or heartburn). It also creates the right environment to sterilise the stomach and kill bacteria and yeast that may be ingested, reducing the risk of candida and other forms of bacterial overgrowth, which can also be common issues for vitiligo sufferers.
It is advisable to take a betaine product containing pepsin if you are not already taking a separate digestive enzyme supplement.
It is a big topic - one I will probably revisit in future posts - but I think one sentence from this site highlights the seriousness of hypochlorhydria as clearly as any other: "Low Stomach Acid Causes the Body to Attack Itself!"
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.