Is it possible to treat vitiligo by finding better approaches on how to enhance the immune system? Vitiligo is a common disorder characterized by a loss of pigment within the epidermis that results in depigmented white patches. It is a condition where the melanocytes disappeared in certain areas of the skin, small white spots start to appear over time, and then spreads all over the body.
The rate of the spread depends on the status of the immune system of the individual. Several scientists have discovered several genes linked to vitiligo that confirm the skin condition is indeed, an autoimmune disorder. If you can understand the pathway that leads to the destruction of the skin cell, then you can block that pathway.
The repigmentation of vitiligo depends on the available melanocytes from the hair follicle unit, which is the main provider of pigment cells, from the border of vitiligo lesions, and from the unaffected melanocytes within the depigmented areas. Also, depends if the pigment cells at these locations originate a perifollicular, border spreading and a diffuse repigmentation pattern.
Melanocytes are the pigment producing cells located in the basal layer of the skin. The human body’s autoimmunity has been associated with the Vitamin D deficiency and resistance. Most patients with an autoimmune disorder demonstrated positive responses to higher doses of Vitamin D3.
People with certain autoimmune diseases, such as hyperthyroidism, are more likely to get vitiligo than people who don’t have any autoimmune diseases. Many people develop it in their 20s, but it can occur at any age. However, this is noticeable in people with dark skin.
There is no way of telling if vitiligo will spread. For some people, the white patches do not spread. But, often the white patches spread to the other areas of the body.
For some people, the spread could take over many years. For others, spreading can occur quickly. Some people have reported more white patches after physical or emotional stress.
What Is Vitiligo?
The vitiligo disorder is a long term skin condition characterized by portions of the skin losing its pigment due to the lack of a chemical called melanin. It has been associated with anemia, thyroid disease, diabetes, Addison’s disease, and alopecia.
The disorder occurs when the cells that produce the melanin die or stop functioning, which leads to the loss of the skin color in blotches. The extent and rate of color loss are unpredictable.
Although the condition is not life threatening or contagious, you need to treat it at its early stage to prevent further depigmentation and other related diseases associated with an immune disorder.
In vitiligo, the immune system attacks the melanin producing cells in the skin. This means not enough melanin can be made, and as a result, over time you will see a formation of white patches on certain areas of the body.
A high number of patients with autoimmune disease are shown to be low in Vitamin D when tested. Even worse, many of them have what is known as Vitamin D resistance.
Vitamin D is produced by the body in response to the skin being exposed to sunlight. It also occurs in a few foods, to mention, in some fish, fish liver oils, and egg yolks.
Vitamin D has a long list of benefits to the immune system. It actually regulates approximately 1000 genes in the human body, where mostly are involved in the immune function. It helps to reduce excessive inflammation in the body and can reduce auto antibody production.
A word of caution. Please keep in mind that the dose of Vitamin D used in the study was extraordinarily high and not recommended without medical supervision. You should have your Vitamin D level checked.
This is a simple blood test that your doctor can organize for you. Correcting Vitamin D insufficiency is one vital component of the treatment of all autoimmune disease. It is also important to correct other nutrient deficiencies and improve gut and liver health.
Several studies found the Vitamin D deficiency in many conditions, including pigmented skin, obesity, advanced age, and malabsorption.
Vitamin D regulates calcium and bone metabolism, controls cell proliferation and differentiation, and exerts immunoregulatory activities. Vitamin D increases melanogenesis and the tyrosinase content of cultured human melanocytes.
Vitamin D decreases the expression of various cytokines that cause vitiligo. In conclusion, application of vitamin D might help in preventing destruction of melanocytes thus causing vitiligo and other autoimmune disorders.
The cause of the vitiligo is not known. The disorder happens when the immune system attacks some parts of the body. Vitiligo can affect the mucous membranes such as the tissue inside the mouth, nose, and the eyes.
White patches on the skin are the main sign of vitiligo. The patches may appear on the following parts of the body
- Around the mouth
- Rectal areas
Some patients often have hair that turns gray early. Sometimes, there may be depigmentation of the retina. As a result, patients with vitiligo show problems with anxiety, embarrassment, and difficulty in creating intimate relationships.
It is always relevant to know the glucose levels, complete blood count, and the measure of the thyroid function to eliminate other suspected symptoms.
A significant body of data suggests that vitamin D3 is strongly immunosuppressive and that low levels are associated with autoimmune conditions including vitiligo. However, the cause of low vitamin D3 in patients with autoimmune conditions remains unknown.
It is possible that the disorder is triggered by a stressful event or a damage to the skin, such as cuts or sunburn. It could also be triggered by an exposure to certain chemicals at work. The disorder may appear at any age.
This polygenetic, multifactorial disorder is associated with 3 other autoimmune disorders, namely the Addison’s disease, hyperthyroidism, and the pernicious anemia.
One theory that scientists believed was that the body tends to produce antibodies against the melanocytes, which create a different response from the immune system.
The lymphocytes may be one of the contributing factors in killing the cells. However, in most cases, the disease seems to demonstrate a multifactorial genetic basis.
This usually unpredictable, progressive, and chronic disease shows spontaneous repigmentation starting around the hair follicles. The disease can be precipitated by severe emotional stress, bacterial, viral infections, physical trauma, sunburn, and physical illness (Millikan, 2005).
Vitiligo patients were seen to have an increased frequency of a variety of autoimmune diseases such as hyperthyroidism Graves’ Disease, hyperthyroidism Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Alopecia Areata, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Pernicious Anemia, and Addison’s disease.
The association of vitiligo with anemia and alopecia areata confirms the development of an autoimmune disorder. This suggests that the best step to potentially cure vitiligo is to work on the person’s immune system health first.
Vitiligo is caused by a lack of melanin. There is no clear explanation why the melanocytes disappear or are lacking in certain areas of the skin. When you have a vitiligo, you will see white patches developing on your skin or hair.
The most common type of vitiligo is the nonsegmental vitiligo or the autoimmune disorder. Instead of attacking viruses, the immune system produces antibodies that attack the healthy cells and tissues.
This means the body’s natural defense system is not functioning properly. It is often associated with an overactive thyroid gland.
The segmental vitiligo is caused by the chemicals released from the nerve endings of the skin. The poisonous chemicals were seen to kill the melanocyte skin cells.
Vitamin D supplementation
Only Vitamin D analogues may be efficient and safe in the treatment of vitiligo (Pappas, 2011). Exposure of human melanocytes to Vitamin D promotes tyrosinase activity and melanogenesis that increase the number and length of the dendrites.
Vitamin D analogues target the immune response by interfering with the activated T cells and inhibiting the expression of cytokine genes.
A Vitamin D supplementation can prevent or forestall the development of the autoimmune disease. Develop a healthy meal diet plan high in Vitamin D such as fish, cod liver oil, oysters, fortified soy products, eggs, and mushrooms.
Vitamin D is a steroid hormone with pleiotropic effects through the Vitamin D receptor. There is an increasing evidence that Vitamin D may have an immunoregulatory role in various autoimmune diseases.
Even though the mechanism by which the Vitamin D affects autoimmunity is not known, there is a clear evidence of regulation of the immune cells by the Vitamin D in vitro.
Vitamin D has multiple effects on the innate and the adaptive immune responses through its effects on the T and B lymphocytes, macrophages, and the dendritic cells.
There are also reports associating the deficiency of Vitamin D with several autoimmune disorders, such as the inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, type 1 diabetes mellitus, and the rheumatoid arthritis.
The association of vitiligo with autoimmune conditions have been well-established. However, there is no reliable evidence that a Vitamin D supplementation can treat or prevent vitiligo.
The Vitamin D3 compounds are known to influence melanocyte maturation and differentiation, including how it can up-regulate the melanogenesis through pathways activated by specific ligand receptors.
At the molecular level, the addition of the Vitamin D compounds to a vitiligo treatment regimen along with different forms of UV and glucocorticoids can halt disease progression.
It is recommended in the study not to combine treatment of topical Vitamin D analogues with the NB-UVB or PUVA therapy because of its additive effect if combined. Future studies are required to evaluate the relationship between Vitamin D and vitiligo.
Vitamin D has been properly acknowledged for its importance in the bone formation. Recently, several studies have associated it with its interference in the proper function of nearly every tissue in the human body, including the brain, heart, muscles, skin, and the immune system.
Vitamin D is a fat soluble prohormone steroid with endocrine, paracrine, and autocrine functions. However, this vitamin has a number of cofactors such as the magnesium, Vitamin K, zinc, boron, and Vitamin A. Taking excessive amounts of the Vitamin D supplement can raise blood levels of calcium to levels that may lead to hardening of the arteries and kidney stones.
Nutrient deficiencies are the usual causes of a dietary inadequacy. Vitamin D deficiency occurs when the exposure to the sunlight is limited and the usual intake is lower than the recommended levels over time.
Regardless of the existing controversy, topical vitamin D3 analogs are members of the armamentarium of therapeutic modalities for vitiligo.
The key findings pointing the role of Vitamin D in the prevention of the initiation and progression of lethal skin cancers are the involvement of Vitamin D in the regulation of multiple signaling pathways that have implications in carcinogenesis, among which are the inhibition of the hedgehog signaling pathway, the pathway underlying development of basal cell carcinomas, and upregulation of nucleotide excision repair enzymes.
Vitamin D protects the epidermal melanin unit and restores melanocyte integrity via several mechanisms including controlling the activation, proliferation, migration of melanocytes and pigmentation pathways by modulating T cell activation, which is apparently correlated with melanocyte disappearance in vitiligo.
Stress causes hormonal imbalance and adrenal gland exhaustion. Whenever you feel stressed, your stressors signal the adrenal glands to produce stress hormones. The adrenals are crucial to health.
It provides strength in the form of hormones, such as the cortisol and adrenaline. When the adrenals are constantly required to sustain high cortisol levels, they will eventually get exhausted, damaged, and impaired. The dysfunction results in the inability of the body to appropriately respond to stress.
Symptoms of an adrenal imbalance
You have food cravings and weight changes. You feel tired and wired most of the time including lack of stamina. You have less emotional coping ability and find yourself struggling to get through the day.
You experienced fuzzy thinking and find yourself unable to stay focused. If you have an infection, you will find yourself with a low immune response. This would mean you need longer time to recover from illness.
You find yourself unable to sleep. However, you may sleep soundly but wake up exhausted. Adrenal dysfunction could contribute to a variety of medical conditions.
Healthy diet meal plan to fight stress
Regulate your meals and snacks to prevent the adrenal glands from overworking trying to release more cortisol and adrenaline just to maintain a normal body functioning. When you go for long periods without food, your body experiences a blood sugar drip that results in a stress reaction.
The cortisol levels follow the body’s natural circadian rhythm. It rises around 6 am and peaks at 8 am, and then fluctuates throughout the day. It is at its lowest level during sleep.
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Mostafa, W. Z. & Hegacy R. A. (2015). Vitamin D and the skin: Focus on a complex relationship: A review. Journal of Advanced Research, 6(6), pp. 793-804.
Pick, M. (n.d.) Eating to support your adrenal glands. Women To Women.
Sang, Ho Oh & Kim, Miri (2011). Vitamin D and Vitiligo: Vitiligo – Management and Therapy. Dr.Kelly Kyunghwa Park (Ed)., ISBN: 978-953-307-731-4, InTech, Available from: http://www.intechopen.com/books/vitiligo-management-and-therapy/vitamin-d-and-vitiligo
What is vitiligo? (2014). Retrieved from http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Vitiligo/vitiligo_ff.asp