Getting hot and sticky: one of life's simple pleasures !
My husband and I recently had a holiday that took us to the sunny climes of the Middle East and South East Asia. An exciting holiday, to be sure, but until my repigmentation 5 years ago this sort of trip would have been an ordeal to grin and bear. Why? Because, not only does the strength of the UV light in this region tan (or burn) quickly, highlighting any white patches caused by vitiligo, but the humidity would also sweat off all traces of camouflage within seconds. The kind of conditions that locals take in their stride bathes the average westerner in perspiration almost as soon as they step out of the shower in the morning. This would not pose a problem for most people. But for someone with vitiligo – especially someone like me, who always kept her white patches hidden – it would have been a nightmare. Even covering up with cool clothing is not really a viable option because, in that kind of heat, you just want to wear as little as is decently possible.
Of course, tourist hotels and shopping malls in this part of the world have extremely efficient air conditioning (so much so that a jacket or wrap are an essential item to have with you at all times). And I can appreciate why these systems are typically set to such low temperatures: I suspect that the intention is that it should be a delight to step inside out of the heat and an equal delight to step outside again afterwards to thaw out! This suited us perfectly because we punctuated our city sightseeing with periods of chilled respite in coffee shops, where we were able to cool our skin in the icy aircon and simultaneously freeze our insides with large quantities of frappe ready for the renewed onslaught of sun and humidity. We also enjoyed some superb nature walks in the steamy heat of the jungle, where the only air conditioning available was a hand-held fan, being sure to take with us damp towels for mopping our face and neck and plenty of drinking water.
It was such a pleasure to be able to get all hot and sweaty on these excursions and then cool off with a shower (at least two a day!) without having to worry about “repairing the damage”. It was lovely to lie by the hotel pool, working on a tan, until I simply had to jump in (something I hardly ever dared to do in public when I had widespread vitiligo). It was a superb holiday – especially as it provided a welcome dose of warmth and brightness in the middle of a drab UK Winter - but it was all the more enjoyable because it reminded me of how very thankful I am to be able to do some of the things that most people would take for granted (like getting hot and being exposed to strong sunshine) but which I had previously spent a lifetime avoiding.
Mucosal vitiligo / leukoderma
Do you ever ask yourself pointless questions, like whether fish drink water or why men have nipples? OK – it’s just me then!
I recently asked myself a vitiligo question that sounds equally silly, namely, do vitiligo sufferers develop #whitepatches inside their body as well as on the outside? You may reply, who cares if you can’t see them? But the question really isn’t as pointless as it sounds. In fact, it is known that vitiligo can – and frequently does - affect the mucous membranes.
The #mucosal areas most often referred to are the moist linings of the mouth, nose, genital, and rectal areas. In fact, I can find no information anywhere about mucosal vitiligo occurring deeper inside the body. I think the most likely reason for this is that virtually no one has ever studied this particular question. Why? Because vitiligo has always been considered to be a purely cosmetic problem. So, why would anyone be concerned about having white patches inside them where they can’t be seen?
Well, I do not believe that vitiligo is a purely cosmetic problem (with the possible exception of chemically induced leukoderma, which has an environmental cause).
My own experience of vitiligo, and the research I have done into the subject, points to associations between the skin condition and various other chronic health disorders, such as Diabetes, Thyroid disease, Pernicious Anaemia,
Addison’s disease, Liver disease and other autoimmune diseases.
Since it seems certain that there are a variety of causes of vitiligo, just as there are a variety of types, I realise that my experience of the condition may not apply to everyone. But I am utterly convinced that in my case – and in a great many others, I’m sure – systemic disorders are the root cause of #pigment loss. In other words, the white patches that develop on the outer skin (and in all probability on the inner lining of the body) are symptoms of other chronic health issues. (A larger image of the chart featured on this link can be found here.)
I have written previously about the realisation that my vitiligo was caused by a digestive problem and how I have been able to virtually #cure both using nutritional supplements. But something I have not mentioned before is the fact that I also have long-term sinus trouble, resulting in persistent rhinitis and a tendency to sore throats. Now, I know that I would be testing the patience of most medical doctors if I suggested that there could be a link between mucosal abnormalities of the #sinuses, stomach, bowel etc. and vitiligo (unless they have a more enlightened, holistic approach to disease). Whether or not there is a link between mucosal vitiligo and other conditions affecting the #mucousmembranes in the body I don't know. And, if there is a link, whether vitiligo is the cause or whether it is the effect of these other conditions is also a mystery. I rather doubt that anyone is researching into this possibility. But it is definitely food for thought…
A (pillow) case study
If you suffer from any kind of #skincomplaint, or from #allergies of any description, it is wise to wash all fabrics that you come into close contact with before use. This is good advice, not only from a general hygiene point of view, but because most of the garments, furnishings, bedding items and towels we buy nowadays have been treated with harsh #chemicals (fire retardants, for example) and these can cause irritation or worsen existing symptoms.
I was reminded of this last week when I bought some lovely, soft new pillows to replace our old lumpy, discoloured ones. They were larger than the standard pillow size and so I also purchased new pillow cases at the same time. I was so eager to use these temptingly comforting-looking fluffy clouds of gorgeousness that I brushed aside a lifetime’s habit (drummed into me by my mother) and decided not to launder the pillow slips before using them. After all, they were new and came in a sealed wrapper so they were bound to be clean, right?
The next couple of nights my husband (who has mild asthma) and I (who have very sensitive skin and throat, linked – I believe – to my vitiligo) felt restless and had difficulty dropping off to sleep. My husband snored more loudly than usual (!) and I developed a sore throat and an itchy rash on my face. The pillows themselves were wonderfully comfortable but we both felt very ill at ease all night (a sensation I can only describe as an indefinable state of anxiousness) and couldn’t figure out why.
It wasn’t until I paid closer attention to my sense of smell, which had been trying to tell me something ever since I unwrapped the pillow cases, that I realised the unfamiliar (but not unpleasant) scent emanating from the fabric was no doubt due to chemical treatment during or after manufacture. Chiding myself for my laziness and impatience in not washing them to start with, I whipped the offending covers off the pillows, laundered them thoroughly and was rewarded with a good night’s sleep for myself and my husband and the swift disappearance of all aforementioned symptoms.
I kicked myself for making this basic error, given that it was only a couple of months or so ago that I blogged about the potentially harmful effects of the chemical treatments that are routinely applied to clothing and other household items. Not only are these unseen chemicals highly likely to exacerbate allergy symptoms or even trigger symptoms in those who previously had none (typically respiratory symptoms or contact dermatitis) but there is good reason to think they could aggravate conditions like vitiligo and psoriasis. It’s a pity I didn’t go back and read my own blog posts!
When I was a child I used to think that my mother must have a bad case of OCD because she cleaned, polished, scrubbed and laundered everything at every opportunity (or so it seemed to me at the time). I never inherited the good-housekeeping gene from her, taking after my happily disorganised father instead, but I do now appreciate the good old-fashioned common sense that prompted her to sanitise everything that came into the home. I’m guessing that, back then, her main concern was cleanliness. But it seems to me that today’s highly processed goods pose far more of a #toxic threat to our health and wellbeing than a hygiene one – all the more so because most people are blissfully unaware of it. So, let this "(pillow) case study" be a warning and take my advice: imagine that all future clothing and household purchases have a big label attached bearing the words “wash before use”.
Did you overindulge during the holidays?
Let’s be honest, most of us overdo the food and drink during the Festive Season - and I’m not talking about green vegetables and mineral water!
You know how it goes every year, even if you do start off with good intentions. First of all it’s the odd mince pie and glass of mulled wine during early December to get into the spirit; then it’s the office party (let’s not even go there); next it’s the feast day itself (or, if you are British, three days of it) which seems to have become a media-and-advertising-fueled contest in which we are expected to outperform previous years’ celebrity-chef-inspired #gluttony. Then, of course, we have to finish off all the calorie-laden leftovers before doing it all again a week later to see in the New Year. No wonder January finds many of us carrying extra pounds and a lack of energy and #vitality!
Recovering from such #overindulgence can be an uphill struggle for the healthiest among us. But if you have a compromised #immune system, defective digestive system, or any other chronic health condition, it is likely to take longer and require a little more help to achieve.
In my case, I have suffered all my life with #chronic fatigue, #IBS, #arthritis and vitiligo. I have become convinced over recent years that all three are symptomatic of a defective digestive system and my repigmentation four years ago, using a nutritional approach, supports this belief. I am aware that I have not cured any of these three conditions: I have simply used #nutrition to enable my body to heal itself to a point where I have seen a vast improvement in all my symptoms. However, it is noticeable that many symptoms become worse whenever I overindulge for too long. The first sign that I am abusing my system is usually lethargy and tiredness, followed eventually by exhaustion and aches and pains. IBS symptoms also worsen if I don’t get my #eatinghabits back on track. Happily, I have never had any relapse in my vitiligo but I am certain that this would eventually follow if I stopped taking the green superfood blend I used to repigment in the first place. It seems to cover a multitude of sins by providing an ongoing detox, enabling me to enjoy life’s guilty gourmet pleasures in moderation without suffering any adverse effect on my #skin.
There is a significant amount of evidence to suggest that the liver is also implicated in the loss of skin pigment in vitiligo. So, for this reason too, it seems likely that detoxing after a period of #overindulgence is a good idea if you want to prevent further white patches from developing. So, my advice for anyone wanting to shed a few unwanted pounds, regain their energy, revitalise their skin and generally clear out their whole system is to detoxify your body now. If, like me, you don’t respond well to crash detox diets (I have felt as if I was being poisoned each time I’ve tried one of these and I certainly don’t recommend it for anyone with IBS) I would suggest simply cutting out alcohol for a week or two and then limiting it to a glass of wine or two a week, drinking plenty of mineral or filtered water, eating plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits (but especially green veg) and cutting out sugary and highly processed foods. Eating organic meat, veg and whole grains will put the least amount of stress on your poor, abused #liver too.
As you might expect, this is pretty sound advice all year round, whether you have vitiligo or not. But it is likely to be especially relevant at this time of year and could make a big difference to your general #health and to your skin in particular. Happy detoxing!
and maybe new pigmentation!
With the holiday season behind us (I hope it was a good one for you) and 2015 already several days old, it’s the perfect time to leave behind old habits, old disappointments and past ways of thinking that may have prevented us from enjoying the health and happiness we wished for ourselves this time last year.
OK, I know that #NewYear is just a date in the calendar. But it can be so much more than that if we use it as a time to pause and mentally “re-group” instead of jumping right back onto the same old merry-go-round as last year. I love the symbolism of New Year: the idea that it is possible to leave behind the baggage I no longer need and make a fresh start. It gives me a greater sense of being in control of my destiny and a greater sense of purpose in each new day.
Making a list of New Year’s #resolutions can have its pitfalls though. It can seem like a chore – something we do because it is as traditional as tinsel and Brussels sprouts. Worse still, it can become totally counterproductive if we start to associate the process with past failures. If last year’s resolutions were broken before the decorations even made it back into the attic I am hardly likely to set myself up for another dose of failure this year, am I?
That’s why I no longer set unrealistic resolutions, like losing unhealthy amounts of weight in an inappropriately short time frame. Neither do I write my resolutions as if someone were looking over my shoulder and marking them out of 10 for “worthiness”. I prefer to sit and think about how I would like my lifestyle, health and general quality of life to improve during the coming year and note down the key activities that I believe will help me achieve those improvements so that I can keep referring to them throughout the year and keep moving in the direction I have chosen. Taking this approach means the process is a positive and hopeful one rather than a doomed exercise in willpower.
Creating a greater sense of control over my future is only part of the thrill of New Year for me though. The other side of the coin is the knowledge that anything could happen: something wonderful and completely unexpected could be just around the corner. I could win millions on the lottery! Yes, I know it’s unlikely – especially as I don’t play (a fact which probably doesn’t alter the odds very much, come to think of it) – but stranger things can happen. In January 2010 I had no idea that the New Year would bring rapid repigmentation of my vitiligo, a condition that I had lived with for almost 50 years. Getting rid of the white patches that eventually covered roughly 80% of my skin had been at the top of my wish list every year since I saw the first one appear but it had never featured in my New Year’s resolutions because it was not something I had any control over. Finding a treatment that reversed my #vitiligo was a stroke of luck that came out of the blue and changed my life in a very significant way.
So, this New Year I wish all my vitiligo friends health, happiness and new hope: may 2015 be the year that wonderful things happen in your life :)
My name is Caroline.