Vitiligo is a condition where the skin is patched with white – the result of a lack of melanin, the compound that gives pigment to the skin. It’s also called leucoderma, (literally ‘white skin’). The patches, which grow bigger over time, usually appear on wrists, elbows and knees, over smaller joints such as those of the hands and feet and around the eyes or mouth. They may also develop near the armpit on the lower back and, occasionally, around the palms, soles of the feet and genitalia. They are more likely to be found on skin exposed to the sun. Vitiligo is not a cosmetic problem. White-skinned people generally find it easier to live with, but vitiligo can cause great social embarrassment for people whose natural skin tone is brown or black. Often they are intensely anxious that it may spread all over the body.
Although tests on patients with vitiligo show nothing wrong, researchers have found that they are host to a type of antibody that attacks some of the melanocytes (melanin-containing cells) so that they cant produce melanin. Vitiligo has now been categorised as an autoimmune disease, meaning that the body’s immune system attacks its own cells. Vitiligo is also linked to a high incidence of endocrine (hormonal) diseases. Patients often suffer from a hyperthyroid disorder (where too much thyroxin is produced), a parathyroid problem (where the glands controlling calcium levels in the blood become unbalanced).Addison’s disease (where the adrenal gland doesn’t function efficiently), diabetes and anaemia. If these conditions are successfully treated, the vitiligo may sometimes be arrested.
In India, traditional doctors link vitiligo to combining fish or shellfish and milk products. So avoid this mixture. Many Indian families had secret remedies to help this autoimmune condition, which they dispensed free. Research by the Council of Unani Medicine in India has found that some of these products do help regulate the autoimmune disorder and improve melanin production. For more information, contact Dr Shakeel Tammana, who is attached to Hamdard University, New Delhi (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Here are tips that I learned from my family and have also gleaned over my years of experience:
- Juice a large piece of peeled chopped fresh ginger root with a handful of fresh mint leaves and store in the fridge. Take one tablespoonful with one teaspoonful of manuka honey every morning, after breakfast for two months, to support the immune system.
- Put seven or eight saffron strands in half a cup of organic whole milk, stir until the milk becomes deep orange, then strain and drink warm or cool. Do this daily after break fast for three months to help regulate the immune system.
- Strictly avoid acid and sour foods, including citrus fruits, pickles, chillies, vinegar, pineapple, mangoes, tomatoes, kiwi, rhubarb and canned products which have citric acid as a preservative. These harm digestion and sensitise the skin.
- Avoid alcohol, coffee and excess salt which excite the nervous system.
- Haldi tablets : take two daily for three months.
- Kolonji oil : take one teaspoonful with honey after lunch or evening meal.
- Kadu and kariatu : soak three Kadu wigs and one third of a teaspoonful of kariatu in a cup of hot water overnight. Strain and drink in the morning on an empty stomach for three months.
- Zinc citrate : one daily for two months.
- Massage the neck and back weekly for 15 minutes, for three months, to improve blood flow to the pituitary gland, the main controller of the immune system. Once its functions are regulated, the autoimmune reaction will calm down.
- It is very important to get sufficient good quality sleep, as stress often exacerbates vitiligo. To help you sleep, go for regular walks in the fresh air and do therapeutic iyengar yoga with a qualified local practitioner. Also play a relaxation CD at bedtime and practise deep, rhythmic breathing in bed.