Is Histamine a prime suspect?
I sometimes feel that using the internet to delve into the causes of vitiligo is a recipe for insanity because it can lead you in ever decreasing circles. As someone with no formal scientific training and only hazy recollections of school chemistry and biology lessons, my searches typically involve scores of browser tabs, hours of cross-referencing articles and frequent checking of definitions. Whilst I find the subject matter utterly fascinating, the process can be frustrating, especially when I come up against dead-ends or realise I have been chasing shadows, as sometimes happens when I make wrong assumptions or follow promising leads that then go cold.
A medical doctorate would have come in handy but I'm afraid that ship sailed decades ago when I chose to study literature instead. It strikes me that the literary figure best equipped to come to my aid now would probably be Agatha Christie, given how much detective work is involved in tracking down likely causes and possible treatments. It requires the kind of sleuthing that would have taxed Hercule Poirot's little grey cells to the limit. Luckily, I am a bit of a murder mystery buff, so I am not easily put off by the twists, turns and red herrings that characterise the best detective stories. And, believe me, vitiligo is one of the very best.
Who killed Mel Ann O'Cyte?
... Seems like a good title for this particular mystery.
Who killed the pigment-producing cells? (Are they even dead or are they just in a coma?) Was it Miss Scarlett in the Conservatory with the Sunburn? Was it Professor Plum in the Bathroom with the Leaky Gut? Perhaps it was Colonel Mustard in the Nerve Centre with the Melatonin. Could it be Mrs White in the Panic Room with the Mental Torment? How about Reverend Green in the Kitchen with the Toxic Diet? Or even Dr Koebner in the Rumpus Room with the Blunt Instrument? I think there are many more rooms in this murder house and a lot more suspects besides these... but you get the general idea.
Murder or Grand Theft Auto-immunity?
Whether the ability to produce skin pigment in vitiligo involved the death of melanocytes or simply the "theft" of their ability to do their job, it is generally agreed that the Prime Suspect to date is Autoimmunity, that no-good villain who causes our body's own immune system to attack healthy cells instead of genuine invaders. But is the wayward immune system acting alone or with the aid of accomplices? Is Autoimmunity a lone pigment attacker or just one part of a conspiracy involving other suspects (for example, that Rogue Gene, Major Stress or that free radical known as ROS)? A new suspect I have added to my line-up recently might surprise you since he is not often mentioned in connection with vitiligo, in spite of the fact that the is is a notorious trouble-maker, a member of the Autoimmunity gang and a known associate of all the other suspects: his name is Histamine.
Cleverly written murder mysteries often cause the reader to overlook clues that later appear so obvious that you wonder how you could possibly have missed them. This has certainly been the case with my particular vitiligo story. In the years since I started to re-pigment I have gradually pieced together some vital clues that were staring me in the face all along and one of these was my virtually life-long history of allergies. My allergic reactions have mainly been niggling and annoying, rather than severe. But they have been there as long as I can remember, the main symptoms being blocked sinuses, itchy eyes and persistent rhinitis. Over the years I also started to experience skin sensitivities like adverse reactions to certain beauty products or fabrics. But I never thought there could be a connection between these other symptoms and my vitiligo. However – having done some reading and exercised my little grey cells on the subject of “histamine intolerance” - it is now glaringly obvious that all these allergic symptoms were clues that I had raised levels of histamine in my body. And I now know that a long-term accumulation of histamine can cause havoc, resulting in a host of inflammatory health problems including digestive disorders like leaky gut syndrome and skin conditions like vitiligo.
Solving the case
Including Histamine in our list of suspects may not amount to solving The Mystery of the Missing Pigment and finally bringing the perpetrator to justice. But I do think it helps to untangle what appears to be a complex, systemic “conspiracy”, rather than a simple, direct attack on the skin. And, more importantly, it suggests that an additional way to reverse vitiligo might be to keep histamine levels in check (locking up a key conspirator could thwart the rest of the gang!).
So, following in the gumshoes of all my favourite fictional detectives, I am going to leave my readers in suspense until the next chapter, when I will delve a bit deeper into how re-pigmentation of vitiligo could be improved by tackling excess histamine. To be continued...
My name is Caroline.