Functional Medicine For Vitiligo (Leucoderma)
What is Vitiligo?
Vitiligo is an autoimmune skin condition. It is unclear what causes vitiligo. Scientists believe it is caused by several factors such as genetics, bacterial overgrowth, food sensitivities, nutritional deficiencies, accumulation of toxins, mental or emotional anxiety. The immune system attacks the melanin-producing cells known as melanocytes, and this process causes areas of the skin to reduce their pigmentation. It currently affects 1-2% of Americans. To date, there's no cure for vitiligo. But new hope is on the horizon, due to recent research that's improving our understanding of the pathways involved in this condition and possible new strategies to treat it.
Vitiligo can negatively impact an individual's confidence and self-image, particularly if it affects areas that can not be hidden like the hands and face. Traditional treatment for vitiligo involves the ultraviolet light treatment, which can be quite helpful in improving the appearance. But with conventional treatment only, the internal autoimmune process remains because the underlying causative factors haven't been addressed. An integrative approach to vitiligo therapy is essential to deal with the root cause and protect against the development of other autoimmune problems. An integrative treatment approach to vitiligo would incorporate a holistic approach in conjunction with conventional therapy.
For the majority of the populace, vitiligo is presently perceived as an abnormal skin condition where the skin starts to shed melanin, the pigment which gives skin its signature shade. The way it works is that melanocytes--cells that produce melanin--from the skin perish, no longer protecting the skin from damaging UVA and UVB rays. A vitiligo patient may suffer from depigmented or white skin stains anywhere, such as visible areas such as the hands and face. Early graying of hair and discoloration of mucus membranes are also indicators of vitiligo.
There's uncertainty around the root cause of vitiligo, although there's a known genetic component. Recent studies reveal that changes in the genes that govern glutathione, a powerful antioxidant, play a part in vitiligo. Vitiligo is historically regarded as an autoimmune disease or a condition where the immune system reacts to itself.
Can functional medicine heal vitiligo?
What is Functional Medicine?
Functional medicine takes a scientific approach to focus on identifying and addressing the root cause of disease. It takes a systems biology-based approach and determines how and why sickness occurs and restores health. Functional medication usually involves specialized lab testing to identify imbalances and diminished organ systems in the person. Remedies may include lifestyle medicine, nutrition, nutritional supplements, and herbs. To correct imbalances and help the human body's natural ability to heal.
Can Functional Medicine Reverse Vitiligo Naturally?
Functional medication can slow down the autoimmune process by re-balancing the immune system. In certain vitiligo sufferers, this is sometimes sufficient to cause the skin to recover pigment. In others, the functional medicine approach stops spreading vitiligo, and traditional therapies are required to stimulate the skin to produce pigment. A functional medicine approach can help normalize the overactive immune response and prevent additional spreading, so permanent improvement is experienced when traditional treatments are discontinued. For nearly all vitiligo patients, the disease started in youth, spreading through the years. However, thanks to efforts being made on Instagram, mainstream beauty advertising campaigns, and the buzzy skin positivity dialog --it is beginning to get better.
Conventional medicine remedies
Vitiligo is a frequent disease of unknown cause, which creates disfiguring white patches of depigmentation. These can be treated using various new treatments, such as NB-UVB excimer laser, narrow-band ultraviolet B (NB-UVB) micro phototherapy, and monochromatic excimer light. Conventional medical treatments include topical corticosteroids and other topical treatments, like antioxidants, tacrolimus and pimecrolimus, prostaglandin E, and vitamin D derivatives (Lotti, Berti, & Moretti, 2009). The objective of treating vitiligo is to make it less noticeable by simply restoring lost pigment by removing pigment.
Conventional remedies have some success in treating vitiligo but often work best to control the spread and work on self-confidence instead of a full reversal of the disease. More cutting-edge treatments exist but do not address the root cause.
When these treatments provide patients with choices, rethinking vitiligo opens additional avenues for therapy. Like most autoimmune diseases, vitiligo is a manifestation of an immune system disease, triggered by a variety of factors. Finding solutions about vitiligo from the root cause can help expand the options to approach this disorder.
Functional medicine for vitiligo treatment
Functional and natural vitiligo treatment
There are increasing reports that vitiligo may be due to a trifecta of several factors: genetics, hormone imbalances, exposure to chemicals, oxidative stress, viral causes, and anxiety. Approaching vitiligo with this systems-biology approach may eventually be of more advantage than a single-treatment strategy. Managing oxidative stress, inflammation, toxic load, immune system, and even hormone balance can influence the spread of the disease.
Inflammation begins in the gut, so adhering to a diet that reduces inflammation is essential in the management of autoimmune diseases, including vitiligo. Increasing healthy fats, such as omega-3 and omega-9 fats, additionally helps to reduce the inflammatory load. Lowering gluten and dairy intake while restricting sugar are fundamental tenets of the diet.
Oxidative stress can be caused by environmental toxins, natural wear, and tear, or anxiety. It's where the body starts to produce more free radicals, damaging and altering our DNA. A diet high in antioxidants can prevent oxidative stress. You can get these from brightly colored fruits and vegetables. Oxidative stress and melanocyte survival might be affected by glutathione (the antioxidant released when greens are mixed or juiced).
Stress management can be a factor in vitiligo. Some studies point to the usage of St. John's wort to lower stress and manage depression and anxiety.
- Thyroid function
Vitiligo may be linked to imbalances in thyroid function. Optimizing hormone balance and thyroid function can be helpful also. Finally, knowing your toxic load and the use of toxins in the term of vitiligo is an evolving discipline. Taking measures to minimize exposure to environmental toxins in household goods, personal body care, cosmetics, and food is vital.
Quite a few herbal products and organic products advocate for the treatment of vitiligo with varying degrees of success. In Ayurveda, herbal formulations that mimic the action of psoralens are frequently utilized to treat vitiligo. The herbs Katuki and Bakuchi contain psoralen and antioxidant effect, respectively, and help re-pigment the skin. Turmeric has been used extensively in traditional Ayurvedic Medicine as well for skin repigmentation. A number of these natural products and herbs are used both internally and topically.
Ginkgo biloba has been proven to have anti-inflammatory results and to be useful in treating vitiligo. Replacing B vitamins and silica has also shown some promise in treating vitiligo. In traditional Chinese medicine, the Psoralea corylifolia plant is a pure source of psoralens. The seeds have been used in combination with other herbs to re-pigment skin.
- Functional nourishment
Functional foods and healthy diet, with nourishment, form an assortment of sources, might be regarded as an integral part, in addition to useful, of vitiligo's medical treatment.
Individuals suffering from vitiligo might need to consume a particular diet to prevent the worsening of the skin condition or to overcome nutrient deficiencies.
Since vitiligo is an autoimmune disease, it's wise to eat a diet that's rich in phytochemicals, beta-carotene, and antioxidants. This type of diet will boost the immune system and promote healthy skin and might pave the way for repigmentation of the skin.
For those who have vitiligo, avoid consuming pears and blueberries. These fruits are organic sources of hydroquinones, which are proven to have depigmentation properties.
Some individuals also face issues with citrus fruits, while some may discover turmeric, which can be used as a seasoning in meals, causing difficulties. Hence, if you fall under these categories, you should avoid citrus fruits and/or turmeric.
- Methylation Cycle Connections into Vitiligo
The amount of correlations linking methylation cycle SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) to different diseases is growing. In cases like this, researching in Italy discovered three gene SNPs in higher frequencies for patients with vitiligo. This autoimmune attack on the skin melanin cells leaves behind a lack of pigment in coalescing patches. Stopping its progression throughout the patient's body and reversing the last depigmentation stands as a challenge to traditional medicine and functional medicine. In functional medicine, we could occasionally see improvement if we could determine the cause for the immune dysfunction.
These Italian researches compared patients with vitiligo into a control group with no autoimmune disease. In the vitiligo patients, three methylation cycle genes were more common: MTHFR, MTRR, and CBS. MTHFR 677 homozygous states were found at a statistically higher rate in vitiligo patients combined with CBS 278TT and MTHRR 66GG patients. The CBS enzyme (cystathionine-beta-synthase), as well as the MTRR enzyme (methionine-synthase-reductase), are included in the methylation cycle and its corresponding transsulfuration pathway.
The mechanism for this correlation remains unexplained and does any idea if addressing these SNPs and/or methylation cycle vitamins would make a difference in disease development. It only hints at the value of the methylation cycle and its enzymes to both health and disease. This research is apparently the first genetic predisposition (according to the investigators ) with vitiligo. Hopefully, others will pursue this discovery and shed more light on the connections.
- Ayurveda & Yoga
In a 2015 research study, significant improvement was noticed in the symptoms of Vitiligo (Shvitra) with the treatment of Ayurveda and Yoga. Researchers concluded that both forms of Apamraga Kshara Yoga are effective in cases of Vitiligo (Shvitra) and can be good alternatives for conventional treatment and medicine.
As treatment choices continue to evolve, understanding the intricacies of vitiligo is essential to its resolution. From focused therapy choices to underlying causes, altering considering vitiligo into a whole system-biology strategy can bring more success at repigmentation and avoidance. Helping patients and relatives through the emotional and self-esteem problems associated with vitiligo should also be a priority.
1. Jadav HR, Galib R, Prajapati PK. Clinical efficacy of Apamarga Kshara Yoga in the management of Shvitra (vitiligo). Ayu. 2015;36(2):163-168. DOI:10.4103/0974-8520.175553
2. Di Nardo V, Barygina V, França K, Tirant M, Valle Y, Lotti T. Functional nutrition as an integrated approach in vitiligo management. Dermatol Ther. 2019;32(4):e12625. DOI:10.1111/dth.12625