Living with vitiligo
There is no such thing as a ‘vitiligo diet’, but nutritious choices of foods are another way a person can help to maintain healthy skin overall.
Some foods that may be beneficial include:
- Vegetables: The iron and folic acid content in spinach is good for reducing blood levels of homocysteine (which can be damaging to blood vessels). Spinach also contains phytochemicals that are beneficial to the skin and aid in preventing degeneration. Other vegetables that contain good doses of phytochemicals include broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. In addition to preventing degeneration, these assist with balancing the body’s immune response, as well as contain beta-carotene and vitamin C.
- Fruits: Blueberries are laden with antioxidants, phytochemicals and anthocyanins which act as skin protectors. The antioxidants and vitamin C content in tomatoes are also beneficial for the skin.
- Protein: Fish and soy products are healthy sources.
- Whole-grains: These foods can be a good source of vitamins, minerals and fibre.
- Oats: Vitamin E content (tocotrienols) in oats are beneficial for healthy skin.
- Nuts: “Good fats” and phytochemicals in nuts, as well as vitamin E can help to give the skin a boost.
- Garlic: Antibacterial and antifungal properties in garlic offer protection for the skin and the heart too.
- Olive oil: This oil is beneficial for absorbing nutrients in many skin boosting vegetables.
- Green tea: Phytochemicals (polyphenols) and vitamin C content is helpful in keeping skin healthy, giving it a good antioxidant boost.
- Water: The skin requires plenty of water of a daily basis in order to remain hydrated and healthy. Ensuring that the body receives enough fluids every day will help to maintain healthy skin.
Foods with vitamin content are important for maintaining healthy skin. It has been noted by medical professionals that many with vitiligo also have low levels of certain vitamins – namely vitamin B-12, folic acid and vitamin C. Foods which are plentiful in vitamins and minerals should be sufficient in a person’s diet, but if lacking, supplementation with healthy quantities of these nutrients can also be introduced into a person’s daily dietary routine.
How do vitamins help skin?
- Vitamin A: Epithelial tissues in the skin, as well as the lining of the body’s organs, use vitamin A for the development of cells (in this instance, melanocytes). Maintaining a healthy immune system is another overall benefit of vitamin A.
- Vitamin B-12: Pernicious anaemia has a known association with some vitiligo patients whereby individuals have a deficiency in vitamin B-12. Also known as Addison’s anaemia, a lack of vitamin B-12 in the body results in a problem with absorption, causing a deficiency in red blood cell production.
- Vitamin C: Aside from helping to protect the body’s defence / immune system, vitamin C has a starring role in the production of collagen / connective tissue, and forms part of an antioxidant trio (along with vitamin E and beta-carotene) which aids in neutralising free radicals (reactive substances) that cause injury to melanocytes. Vitamin C is also needed for the overall health of the skin, teeth and bone structures.
- Vitamin E: Serving as an antioxidant, vitamin E helps to protect cell membranes and molecules from free radical damage, and also strengthens the immune system.
- Zinc: Key in aiding the immune system, sufficient zinc content helps metabolise necessary vitamins in the body.
- Copper: This chemical compound helps to synthesise connective tissues in the body’s skeleton and blood vessels, as well as aids in immune system function. By extension, copper helps with maintaining pigmentation in the skin, eyes and hair too.
Preventative care considerations
- Depigmentation of the skin can be somewhat worsened by injury. Measures to reduce the risk of insect bites and stings on skin affected by vitiligo patches, for instance, can be helpful in avoiding worsened states of depigmentation (i.e. preventing the Koebner phenomenon).
- Depigmentation may also be worsened by certain substances and should ideally be avoided – these include hydroquinone (a type of phenol compound often used in products aimed at lightening dark complexion spots, like freckles, liver spots, hyperpigmentation and melasma, it inhibits tyrosinase activity which is involved in producing melanin), hydrogen peroxide (often used as a bleaching agent), trichloroacetic acid (sometimes used in chemical peels and tattoo removal procedures, and can destroy melanocytes), benzoyl peroxide (a common ingredient in acne products, the substance can damage melanocytes causing depigmentation), and retinoic acid (an oxidised form of vitamin A which can thin out the outer layer of the epidermis and increase risk for depigmentation / skin lightening). Products which contain bleaching agents should be avoided, as should cosmetics and personal hygiene items which are aimed at clearing skin complexion (such as fairness / lightening creams, which typically block sun rays and interfere with the function of melanin).
Emotional distress, or psychological problems as a result of disfigurement should be appropriately treated. Vitiligo is now viewed by those in the medical profession as more than just a skin disease. Psychosocial aspects are very much a part of the treatment process. Stigmatisation and social embarrassment, appearance dissatisfaction and the possibility of developed mental health disorders, like depression must be addressed by the relevant medical professionals, who can help to improve a person’s overall quality of life (should the condition be interfering with a person’s ability to function normally). The emotional and psychological impacts of vitiligo are all treatable. Support groups can be beneficial for someone struggling with the condition, helping a person to understand that the skin is an organ of emotional expression and that the disease has not occurred due to something they themselves have caused. Emotional stress may have an impact on the skin, as well as the immune and nervous system. Minimising the impact of stress can reap benefits for the skin and these systems too.