How eating your greens helps prevent skin from turning white
It amuses me every time the media picks up on this or that piece of “cutting-edge” research proving, yet again, that #vegetables and fruit are not only good for you but are absolutely essential to maintaining physical and mental health and warding off chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease, as well as cancer and dementia. It does seem faintly ridiculous that teams of expensive and highly trained medical researchers should still be going over such old ground and coming up with conclusions that mothers down the ages have taken as self-evident common sense – i.e. that we should all eat our greens!
I am being flippant, of course. I realise that there is always more to learn about precisely why fresh fruit and veg is so very beneficial and why green vegetables, specifically, have such a potent effect on our health and wellbeing. After all, it is one thing for mankind to observe, over thousands of years of anecdotal evidence, that Hippocrates was right to attribute medicinal properties to a healthy diet in general and to vegetables in particular. But it is quite another to identify every one of the individual vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and other macro-, micro- and phytonutrients in each family, genus and species of vegetable and fruit and study the part they play in all the complex physiological processes of the human body! The more the scientific community can learn about this, the more positive spin-offs will result in terms of new treatments for a whole variety of diseases.
So, I do believe that this is an area of research that is important, and possibly all the more so given that intensive farming methods over the past 60 years or so have resulted is very significant decreases in the nutritional content of our crops (see table 9 of this authoritative document) as well as an increase in the residual levels of pesticides and other contaminants.
The net result of this declining nutritional quality in our crops is that a person who enjoys normal health would need to consume much greater quantities of greens and other fruits and vegetables than their grandparents did in order to derive the same health benefits. That news is bad enough, but what about the person with a health condition which leaves them deficient in certain nutrients to start with? How many buckets full of green, leafy veg would that person have to munch their way through on a daily basis in order to compensate? More than is practical or humanly possible, I would guess!
Antioxidants are a prime example of this. Antioxidants are the naturally-occurring chemicals that fight off harmful free radicals that would otherwise run amok on a daily basis causing damage to the body at a cellular level. The high antioxidant content of vegetables and fruits is a key reason for their effectiveness in maintaining good health and protecting against chronic disease, cancer and the ageing process. Large doses of antioxidants are needed on a daily basis for the average person just to counteract the ongoing process of oxidisation that is an inevitable result of simply being alive. For a person suffering from poor health to maintain this status quo typically requires even larger daily doses of antioxidants, far more than can necessarily be absorbed by eating well (even assuming the digestive system is not compromised). This is why supplementation, on top of a balanced diet, is sometimes necessary and why it can make all the difference (as it did for me).
Scientists now know that vitiligo sufferers accumulate abnormally high concentrations of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) in their skin, leading to the inactivation of catalase and glutathione peroxidase (two of the antioxidants that would normally protect it from free radical damage). This means that the skin loses antioxidants at a much faster rate than would be normal in a healthy individual leaving it in a permanent state of oxidative stress and resulting in damage to the DNA of the skin and the blood and to the loss of pigment. Unfortunately, research has not yet identified the root cause of these elevated levels of H2O2. But, until this cause, and a way of fixing it permanently, is found it is pretty clear to me that one of the most important things anyone with vitiligo can do every day in order to offset oxidative stress and avoid further loss of pigment is to consume very high levels of antioxidants, which almost certainly will require high quality supplementation as well as a diet rich in vegetables.
A final thought on this subject – for now, at least, since it is a favourite of mine – is that the question of whether a vegetarian diet is better for vitiligo than a non-vegetarian diet is often debated and no clear conclusion ever reached, as far as I can tell. Personally, I have never stopped eating meat (although I prefer veg) and yet I have regained virtually all of my lost pigment. Yet some other vitiligo friends swear by eating vegetarian. As I have been writing this blog post I find myself wondering if the key to this question is in fact nothing to do with the presence or absence of meat in a person’s diet. I actually suspect that the reason some people find a vegetarian diet beneficial to their vitiligo is because not eating meat simply leaves more space on their plate for additional vegetables and therefore additional antioxidants!
My name is Caroline.