Vitiligo is an autoimmune cosmetic disorder which affects 2% of the population globally where the pigment producing cells in the body are destroyed. Melanin is the pigment that gives color to our skin and a lack of melanin leads to white or discolored patches on the body in vitiligo.
Since vitiligo has no known cause, a permanent treatment has not been found yet. Though people opt for ayurvedic or other types of treatments which may help to a certain extent. Recurrence of the symptoms can still be a problem.
The relation of food with vitiligo has been described in Ayurveda as well as in modern Medicine. As some foods may aggravate discoloration of the skin while some foods that are rich in phytochemicals and antioxidants may slow down the disease progression. It is important to know what type of foods trigger vitiligo and increase the symptoms so they may be avoided.
FOODS TO RESTRICT IN VITILIGO
- Omega 6 Fatty Acids – Some foods may alter the internal catechol/phenol concentrations and reactive oxygen species which further alter the functions of melanocytes (pigment producing cells) and lead to autoimmune destruction of melanocytes.
Fish, cashew, pistachio, oak, cassava, areca nut, red chilies, cherry, raspberry, cranberry, blackberry, and tea contain naturally occurring plant phenolic and polyphenolic compounds (tannins), are examples of foods which may aggravate vitiligo by the mechanism outlined above.
- Vitamin C rich foods – Vitamin C is associated with collagen synthesis and is known to have skin lightening effects. Therefore, to avoid further discoloration of the spots, it is advised to limit intake of citrus fruits and vitamin C rich foods.
However, studies have shown that vitamin c rich foods do not alter the disease progression or worsen the symptoms. It is still a controversial topic in research and hence a firm conclusion cannot be made.
- Gluten – Celiac disease (CD) or gluten intolerance is frequently comorbid with other autoimmune diseases, and a body of evidence shows that gluten-induced manifestations also appear outside the intestinal tract. Alopecia areata and vitiligo are skin diseases reported in association with celiac disease and dermatitis.
People suffering from vitiligo may benefit with a gluten free diet that involves avoiding foods made from wheat, rye, and barley. One should always consult a professional dietitian or nutritionist before beginning any restricted diets of their own.
- Turmeric – The major active yellow pigment in turmeric is curcumin which has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticarcinogenic properties. But in vitiligo patients, several studies have shown that turmeric or curcumin from turmeric is known to contribute to the oxidative stress in acute vitiligo and prevent re-pigmentation. Studies also show promising results in people with vitiligo who avoided turmeric from their diet in regaining pigmentation. It is therefore advised that individuals with vitiligo avoid turmeric in their diets.
- Alcohol – Alcohol is known to increase the oxidative stress in the body and thus increase the reactive oxygen species. This can lead to worsening of symptoms and hence alcohol should be restricted in the diet for vitiligo. Alcohol can also cause burning of the skin, rashes, redness, or other such side effects.
FOODS TO INCLUDE IN VITILIGO
Foods that are high in minerals and vitamins like apples, carrot, radish, etc. are very beneficial for vitiligo patients. Green leafy vegetables, chickpeas and dates are rich in iron and therefore should be consumed by people suffering from vitiligo.
Beetroot has pigment inducing properties and therefore must be included in the diet. Copper is an important mineral for vitiligo and hence drinking a glass of water kept in a copper container for 8 hours can be beneficial.
Including foods that improve and build immunity is very essential for vitiligo patients. Colorful fruits and vegetables (except citrus fruits), nuts and seeds, green leafy vegetables, whole grains, dry fruits like figs, almonds, etc. are all foods that should be eaten in vitiligo.
There have been multiple studies about what foods must be eaten and what should be avoided for vitiligo and some studies have given reliable results. Many people have benefitted when they have restricted/excluded the foods mentioned above. It is always advisable for people to consult professionals before beginning a diet of their own.
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People with vitiligo must avoid stress both internal and external as stress is known to aggravate the symptoms of vitiligo and prevent pigmentation. Studies show almost 70% people with vitiligo suffer from vitamin D deficiency and hence they should try to expose themselves in the morning sun (9 am – 10 am). Direct sunlight in the afternoons can be too harsh on the skin so individuals must avoid being out in the direct sun.
It can be very stressful for people to live with vitiligo as they face criticism regarding the way they look. They are often judged, made fun of, or excluded in the social circle which lowers their self-confidence. We as a society must accept people with vitiligo as normal individuals and do everything possible to make them feel inclusive.
- Namazi, M., & Chee Leok, G. O. H. (2009). Vitiligo and diet: A theoretical molecular approach with practical implications. Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology, 75(2), 116. https://doi.org/10.4103/0378-6323.48654
- Grimes, P. E., & Nashawati, R. (2017). The Role of Diet and Supplements in Vitiligo Management. Dermatologic Clinics, 35(2), 235–243. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.det.2016.11.012
- Nardo, V. D., Barygina, V., França, K., Tirant, M., Valle, Y., & Lotti, T. (2019). Functional nutrition as integrated approach in vitiligo management. Dermatologic Therapy, 32(4), e12625. https://doi.org/10.1111/dth.12625
- Ramam, M., Pahwa, P., Mehta, M., Khaitan, B., & Sharma, V. (2013). The psychosocial impact of vitiligo in Indian patients. Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology, and Leprology, 79(5), 679. https://doi.org/10.4103/0378-6323.116737
- Dwivedi, M. (n.d.). Preventing Vitiligo with Herbal Remedies. 1(1), 11.
- Schallreuter, K., & Rokos, H. (2006). Turmeric (curcumin): A widely used curry ingredient, can contribute to oxidative stress in Asian patients with acute vitiligo. Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology, 72(1), 57. https://doi.org/10.4103/0378-6323.19722