This is the first of a series of posts which I hope will be useful to all those vitiligo detectives out there who are looking for the underlying cause of their pigment loss.
Until very recently I was only vaguely aware that vitiligo could be linked to problems with the liver. No doctor or dermatologist I have consulted about my vitiligo has ever suggested I have a liver function test and the connection only rarely appears in online search results.
However, a Facebook message I received the other day from a vitiligo contact about her son’s pigment loss being linked to liver disease rang bells with me. I suddenly remembered that three separate complementary health practitioners (an acupuncturist, a Chinese herbalist and a Reiki Master) had all, at different times, told me they could detect a problem with my liver but I had not taken any action as a result of their comments.
The lady who contacted me told me that her 19 year old son was diagnosed with vitiligo about 5 years ago and that it had since come to light that he also has an autoimmune liver disease. He had not had any symptoms of liver dysfunction and so the problem would have gone undetected had his dermatologist not been thorough in the tests he ran and found elevated levels of liver enzymes. Since then he has been on treatment for his liver condition and, happily, his pigment has been returning.
She went on to say Since November 2013, when he started the treatment, his pigment has been returning. In fact, it was an accidental sunburn on his arms that proved that his pigment was still there. As time has passed, we've been experimenting with sun exposure and it's working. We saw his liver specialist last Monday and she was shocked at how much pigment has returned and how it coincides with his liver treatment. She said she's heard of people with liver transplants having their vitiligo disappearing, but had never seen it with just treatment with pills alone. The point of my message is: 1) ANYONE with vitiligo should insist their liver be thoroughly tested to eliminate a liver disease. and 2) Vitiligo isn't necessarily its own autoimmune disease. We were told that my son had 2 autoimmune diseases--vitiligo and autoimmune hepatitis. He doesn't have 2, he only has one disease and it's autoimmune hepatitis. The vitiligo is a side effect of his liver. I hope his story is helpful and/or informative to you. I kept pushing for answers to my child's vitiligo and I got them. There's a reason that a link in the chain of skin pigment is broken. It might start in the liver or somewhere along the way, but there's always an underlying reason.
I would like to thank this lady for contacting me. (I have not named her, out of respect for her privacy and her son's, but she did kindly indicate that she hoped the information she gave me would help others with the condition.) For her son, the development of white patches was almost certainly a blessing in disguise - a message his body was sending to say that something internal was amiss. Even though my vitiligo has virtually gone, I will still be asking my doctor for a liver function test to see if there is a problem as the three complementary practitioners suggested.
This academic article adds context to this young man’s experience.
I have copied and pasted some of the text below for quick reference:
DYSFUNCTION IN THE BODY’S second largest organ, the liver, often yields changes in the body’s largest organ, the skin. If we can recognize these manifestations early, we are better able to promptly diagnose and treat the underlying liver disease, as well as the skin lesions.
The liver has many jobs: synthesizing proteins such as clotting factors, complements, and albumin; neutralizing toxins; and metabolizing lipids and carbohydrates. Insults to the liver can compromise any of these functions, affecting visceral organs, joints, gastrointestinal tissues, and the skin. Dermatologic signs of specific liver diseases include alopecia and vitiligo associated with autoimmune hepatitis, and xanthelasma in chronic cholestatic liver disease.
My name is Caroline.