If you are anything like me, you will have read and heard a lot about vitiligo being linked to autoimmunity (and to other autoimmune diseases like including diabetes mellitus, thyroiditis, pernicious anaemia, alopecia areata, Addison disease and multiple endocrinopathy syndrome) but you may be a bit unclear as to exactly what this means.
Of course, the actual cause (or – more likely – various causes) of the condition are still not known for certain but most doctors believe vitiligo to be an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases occur when your immune system mistakes some part of your own body for an intruder (e.g. those shown in the diagram above) and attacks it. In the case of vitiligo, the white patches that appear may be the result of the immune system attacking the melanocytes (pigment- producing cells) in the skin. In other words, your own immune system, which is designed to protect you from infection, becomes “over-enthusiastic” and starts attacking your own healthy cells.
The question I have often asked myself in relation to autoimmune diseases is: what is the correct way to treat such a condition? Should you strengthen your immune system (as conventional wisdom dictates in the case of all other diseases) or should you do the opposite and suppress your immune system (on the basis that it is this that is causing the problem)? I have asked several dermatologists and a couple of nutritionists this question in the past and never had a definitive answer.
The answer I have found that make the most sense to me is that it is not as black and white as either strengthening or suppressing the immune system. But rather, it is a matter of stabilising and balancing it so that it returns to normal functioning.
The immune system is not an organ – it is not localised in one area of the body but spread throughout it. However, the gastrointestinal tract contains the largest number of immune cells of your whole body, constituting approximately 60% of your entire immune system. In my opinion, it is no coincidence that most vitiligo sufferers I speak to have digestive problems: it seems logical that digestive and immune disorders often go hand-in-hand. And it also seems logical that the best way to normalise malfunctioning digestive and immune systems should be through nutrition.
There is every reason - including my own personal experience - to think that strengthening the digestive system will also balance the immune system (and maybe vice versa) and that this, in turn, will then stop attacking the body, resulting in recovery from autoimmune symptoms (in this case, vitiligo).
So, what should we be eating if we want to heal our digestive and immune systems? This useful website lists the key nutrients involved and, interestingly, those listed all feature prominently in the greenfood supplement and Boost capsules that I took to re-pigment my vitiligo, e.g. protein, B vitamins, antioxidants, vitamins A, E, K and D, zinc and iron. Glutamine is also recommended for healing the lining of the stomach and for strengthening the immune system.
Of course, eating for digestive and immune health also means avoiding foods that are harmful to both, like excess sugar, alcohol, caffeine and processed foods as well as any known allergens or food intolerances (for example, many vitiligo sufferers seem to be sensitive to gluten).
So, it seems highly likely that the route to curing vitiligo is, in fact, via the stomach.
My name is Caroline.