Vitiligo AlternativesMarch 30, 2011 Written by JP [Font too small?]
Of all the organs in the human body, the skin receives the most attention the majority of the time. We consider whether it’s pale or tan, dry or oily, smooth or wrinkled. The appearance of skin also tells others a fair share about who we are. It can reveal clues about ancestry and genetic tendencies. One’s complexion can impart an impression of health when rosy and glowing or illness when pasty and pale. The choice of whether or not to use make up or how much of it also tells a story about who we are and what we value.
When I was growing up I was preoccupied about a certain aspect of my appearance. I somehow convinced myself that having freckles and moles was the absolute measure of unattractiveness. Since I’ve had a fair share of these pigmented spots on my body, I felt as though I was ugly.
A condition on the opposite end of the spectrum often provokes similar feelings in about 1% of the population. Vitiligo is believed to be an autoimmune condition that causes the destruction of melanocytes, cells that produce the distinct color of your skin. The most obvious manifestation of vitiligo is irregular shaped white patches of skin that can appear at any age and on any part of the body.
There are a number of conventional treatments for this skin condition ranging from the use of targeted ultraviolent light therapy (phototherapy) to topical corticosteroids and immunosupressant drugs. In addition, various techniques can be used to disguise the appearance of the white patches including makeup and skin dyes.
In recent years, natural medicine has also been evaluated as a possible adjunct or alternative to standard care. Here are several of the most promising holistic options currently under consideration:
Ginkgo Biloba Extract – A new study published in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine reports that 120 mg/day of a standardized Ginkgo biloba supplement effectively halted vitiligo spread, reduced the appearance of vitiligo and brought about some degree of repigmentation (15% on average). The study involved a small number of participants, did not use a placebo-control and lasted a total of 12 weeks. A previous trial, from 2003, found a similar “statistically significant cessation of active progression of depigmentation”. The latter investigation involved a larger study pool (47 patients), was a double-blind placebo-controlled trial and utilized the same dosage of Ginkgo biloba. (1,2)
Antioxidant Supplements – Patients with vitiligo often demonstrate lower levels of antioxidants in their blood and higher concentrations of oxidative stress markers. This observation has lead to the theory that balancing the oxidant-antioxidant system may help counteract or at least slow down the progression of both active and stable forms of vitiligo. Some preliminary research, conducted in both animals and humans, lends weight to this hypothesis. What’s more, combining select antioxidants such as alpha lipoic acid, green tea and Vitamins C & E may potentiate the effects of phototherapy, while at the same time minimizing the risk of adverse effects. (3,4,5,6,7,8,9)
Folic Acid and Vitamin B12 – There is some evidence that points to an association between high levels of homocysteine (an amino acid) and vitiligo. It’s well established that supplementing with B-vitamins including folic acid and B12 can lower homocysteine. B-vitamin therapy may protect against some of the negative consequences of excess levels of this amino acid such as coronary artery disease. Some, but not all research, supports the role of supplemental B12 and folate as a compliment to sun exposure and/or UVB phototherapy. At a bare minimum, testing for a deficiency of both of these nutrients seems a wise approach. (10,11,12,13,14)
Polypodium Leucotomos Extract – Polypodium leucotomos is a variety of fern that is known to possess photoprotective properties. Preliminary research using 750 mg/day of a P. leucotomos extract in addition to “narrow-band UVB” therapy improved repigmentation of the skin in the head and neck region by 44% and 27% respectively. Patients with lighter skin responded better to this combined therapy which took place over the course of about 6 months. A potential upside to using this fern extract in conjunction with phototherapy is that it may protect the skin from “phototoxicity” while simultaneously enhancing the repigmentation process. (15,16,17,18,19)
Several Autoimmune Diseases Are More Prevalent in Vitiligo Patients
Source: Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol. 2007 May-Jun;73(3):162-5. (link)
The role of diet in relation to vitiligo hasn’t yet received much attention from the allopathic medical establishment. A few investigations have examined a possible link between food allergies, such as gluten intolerance, and the characteristic pigment loss found in this skin condition. Those inquiries haven’t produced definitive results. However, some progressive physicians still recommend ruling out the possibility of food reactions in patients with vitiligo and other suspected autoimmune conditions. In addition, a recent review published in the Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology highlights the potential value of several dietary components including blackberries, crimini mushrooms, fish oil, pistachios, tea and whey protein due to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. (20,21,22)
There is much to be hopeful about with respect to the use of natural medicine in the management of vitiligo. But it’s imperative that research into this subject matter continues forward. This fact was recently made abundantly clear when a group of Indian scientists made an unexpected discovery about curcumin, a much revered nutraceutical. They investigated the effects of this traditional healing agent in patients with vitiligo largely because of it’s documented “antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anticarcinogenic properties”. Much to their surprise, combining curcumin with phototherapy actually reduced the effectiveness of the treatment. According to the authors of the study, “our in vivo results show that curcumin can contribute to the oxidative stress in acute vitiligo and prevent repigmentation. Dermatologists and other doctors treating patients with vitiligo should be aware of this possible problem.” While this is clearly disappointing, it reminds us all of a very important principle: assumptions are no replacement for testing when it comes to natural medicine. (23)
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Tags: Antioxidants, B Vitamins, Ginkgo Biloba, Skin Care
Posted in Alternative Therapies, Nutrition, Nutritional Supplements