NUTRITION FOR VITILIGO
It is perfectly normal to want to control your vitiligo, due to its erratic nature, and for many, trying new diets or supplements can be a really positive way of contributing to your overall health, and feeling more in control.
It’s important though to avoid any extreme diet or restricting completely healthy food groups, or pinning your hopes of a cure for your vitiligo on a regimen that you find on the internet because you may end up doing yourself more harm than good.
Read more about diet and supplements from John E Harris, Director of Vitiligo Clinical Care and Research UMMS, a champion of vitiligo in the United States, here
And from Science Based Medicine here
And above all else, do yourself no harm.
This area of the website is divided into six sections:
Most people know about the principle of eating five fruit and vegetables a day. You may also have been told to reduce the cholesterol you consume to control adverse symptoms related to a high cholesterol reading. You may know that we need 25gms of fibre a day, less than 6gms of salt (2.4 gms of sodium) and to balance your Omega 3 and Omega 6 intake in favour of the former.
But what should we actually eat?
First of all, if you have any medical condition, be sure to consult with your doctor, patient support group or body, for example Diabetes UK, to ensure that you are taking care of your specific health needs. For diabetics or those on the brink of diabetes, this may well mean reducing your carbohydrate intake.
The important thing for everyone is to find a way of eating that really nourishes you.
Here are some principles for improving your overall diet.
1. VEGETABLES AND FRUIT
Increasing a rainbow of vegetables and fruit in your diet can only contribute positively to your health. If you can afford the extra expense, buy organic or local produce. But increasing your levels of fruit and vegetables in any shape or form will help you. Dietary experts emphasise the importance of vegetables over fruit.
As an example of getting some more of both into your diet, you could try adding grilled tomatoes and cooked mushrooms to your breakfast, on wholegrain toast or with bacon or turkey bacon if you are carb-free. You could try a small portion of green juice on the side – which you can buy in supermarkets, but check that they don’t have added sugar.
You could add red or yellow pepper and carrot batons with guacamole or a dip to your lunch, or a minestrone soup made with either summer or winter vegetables. For dinner you could choose some protein, with either a large mixed salad, dressed courgette noodles or a mix of roasted vegetables. You might even try kale crisps!
Try reading the great book by Nina Teicholz The Big Fat Surprise before choosing your protein sources. You can choose from any kind of meat or oily fish, dairy produce or nuts and seeds as the protein source in your meals.
Brown or wild rice are a much better source of nutrition than white rice, and according to the British Dietetic Association, contain more:
fibre – both soluble (the type that dissolves in water) and insoluble (the type that doesn’t)
B vitamins and folic acid
essential fatty acids (omega 3 fat)
antioxidants including vitamin E, selenium and
Vitamin B in particular can be a deficiency risk for people with vitiligo. It is covered in more detail in the “Supplements” section below.
You can buy a wide range of grains to include in recipes or to use as a side dish such as quinoa, bulgur wheat, buckwheat and freekeh.
4. FATS AND OILS
Recent research showed strong heart benefits if you had a portion of cold olive oil (50 mls) every day, for example on a salad or drizzled on vegetables or soup. You can add chilli or lemon peel to a bottle of olive oil to flavour it. It is probably better to choose a fat that is not refined, like butter or olive oil, for cooking and spreading. Refined fats like margarines have been shown to be less healthy.
5. OTHER ESSENTIALS
Adding spices, a small quantity of salt, freshly ground pepper and fresh herbs all increase the taste of your food, making it more pleasurable while avoiding less healthy options. If you use a high-taste cheese like parmesan in cooking, you get a great flavour, with less saturated fat. Adding flavours to a small bottle of olive oil and letting it steep for a few days gives you a natural condiment with no artificial additives.
SPECIFIC DIETS FOR VITILIGO
At the moment there is no study that has been, or is being, undertaken that links a specific diet with an improvement in, or reversal of, your vitiligo. If one person, or company, recommends that a radical change in diet can lead to re-pigmentation, think carefully before spending your money on their products. No scientific evidence has been published to support this.
The difficulty with any dietary study is that the researcher needs a large group of people to make the study scientifically valid. In addition the study needs to control all other aspects of the subject’s life to ensure that it is only the diet that has brought, or not, any improvements to the skin.
One example of a longitudinal study in Alzheimer’s was called “The Nun Study”, because it was able to use a population of Roman Catholic nuns in American convents to see what effect the very controlled environment in which they lived had on their neurological degeneration. More information about the study can be found here. The advantages of using the nuns in this example were that:
They weren’t exposed to a wide range of foods – diet in the convents was reasonably austere and controlled
There wasn’t any snacking – an element in diet that is very hard to control in the wider population
They had a moral code to be honest in answering questionnaires or researcher’s questions, which may not be true of all of the wider population who may under- or over-estimate the quality and/or quantity of their diet and
The nuns didn’t smoke or drink.
You can see from this some of the difficulties in completing research in this area with a group of vitiligo patients, in their own homes and going about their normal daily lives.
The main principles behind a diet that is helpful for vitiligo would be about helping the body to deal with internal inflammation.
The principles of an anti-inflammatory diet are:
Prioritise Omega 3, found in high quantities oily fish, natural nuts and seeds, raw or stir-fried/lightly cooked vegetables, especially the cruciform vegetables – broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower – and tofu.
Balance carefully your intake of Omega 6 when it’s in a unhealthy form, found in sweets, processed foods and hydrogenated or trans fats
More information on this balance can be found on the site for the Institute for Food, Brain and Behaviour which also contains other useful advice.
For example, you could consider adding some of the following to your diet, in a balanced way:
Green leafy vegetables
DEBUNKING SOME OF THE MYTHS ABOUT VITILIGO
Eating fish and milk together or shortly after each other does not cause or accelerate vitiligo.
Eating white foods doesn’t cause or accelerate vitiligo.
Eating sour foods such as citrus fruits doesn’t cause or accelerate vitiligo.
There may well be more out there, but if you take a look at our page “What is vitiligo?” you will see that research has not identified any dietary cause for the skin disease.
In July 2016 the UK Government’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition updated its advice on Vitamin D for the population as a whole.
It advised that, because it is hard to get sufficient naturally rich food sources of Vitamin D into your diet, people should take a supplement.
If you have vitiligo, wear camouflage and/or sunscreen or avoid the sun, you are even less likely to be able to produce sufficient levels of Vitamin D from exposure to sunshine.
We therefore echo the government’s advice to take a Vitamin D supplement.
The government report stated that the amount to take was recommended to be “10 μg/d (400 IU/d)… for the UK population aged 4y and above”
This means, when purchasing a supplement, you should look for one that has 400 IU in it, of cholecalciferol or vitamin D3. So, for example, search for “Vitamin D3 400 iu”. On Amazon there are a number of supplements you can purchase that fit that requirement.
Folic Acid and Vitamin B12
There has been one particular study with vitiligo patients in this area, indicating that an addition of Vitamin B12 and Folic Acid, through supplements, may help in repigmentation after exposure to sun light. The study was not of a large group of people, and wasn’t ‘blinded’ (so that patients in this trial were told what they were taking, and the purpose for it, which can influence the results) or ‘controlled’ (so that there wasn’t in this case a control group who didn’t receive the therapies with whom to compare and contrast).
A lack of Vitamin B12 can manifest due to an auto-immune disorder called ‘pernicious anaemia’. This is not particularly common, usually develops over 50 years old and is more common amongst women. If you have more than one auto-immune disorder, or have a family member with pernicious anaemia, it is worth being aware of the symptoms and making sure that you haven’t developed this.
It is worth reviewing your levels of these two vitamins, perhaps through a nutritionist, to see if you have low levels.
If you decide to supplement, it is recommended that you take both B12 and Folic Acid together as they work in tandem. Do keep an eye on the symptoms of pernicious anaemia which is another auto-immune disease, though not particularly associated with vitiligo.
There has been a study which showed that doses of the supplement gingko biloba could stop the spread of vitiligo and patients in the group taking the supplement had a higher rate of re-pigmentation than those taking the placebo. The study can be found here.
Harvard University has a great set of resources and information from the US about diet which you can find here
The Institute for Food Brain and Behaviour has an interesting set of studies showing the development of nutritional information in the UK which can be found here.
If you are looking for a nutritionist to see privately to help with any specific dietary issues, check the register of The British Nutrition Foundation, which also usefully explains the difference between a dietician and a nutritionist. The home page can be found here.