Today I want to write about my journey with vitiligo, a skin disease affecting no more than 2% of the population and known for turning Michael Jackson white. Medical research suggests that vitiligo can be caused by stress, low immunity, or skin trauma; and once you develop the disease, any one of these factors can exacerbate it. I have had vitiligo since the age of 15. It started out when I burnt my forehead with a curling iron; when the scar healed, a white spot came in its place. Then slowly, throughout the years, I saw it spread—to my arms, chin, and legs. I tried everything—UV light treatment, topical ointments, oral medicines—and nothing worked. By the time I was 18, I looked like this.
When I turned 22 years old, I began changing my eating habits. I didn’t even do so with the intent of reversing my vitiligo—I had long given up on that. I wanted to have a stronger immune system. I was constantly getting sinus infections and my stomach was always in knots. I was already vegetarian and only occasionally ate goat kefir, but it wasn’t enough. I saw a holistic nutritionist who gave me some extra tips on how to improve my digestion. She said that healing starts in the gut, and that once I improved my gut flora, the rest of the body would follow. I followed all of her suggestions religiously, and after only 3 months saw the pigment come back to my forehead. While I still have some on my chin and arms, it’s barely noticeable compared to how my vitiligo looked 3 years ago. In addition, I haven’t had any eczema or psoriasis flare ups, which I also used to experience under stress. Here are some of the things that helped make it happen.
Give up wheat, dairy, alcohol, and processed sugar
Most people cannot properly digest wheat or dairy, even if not lactose intolerant or celiac. When someone with an intolerance eats these foods, undigested particles remain in the gut and scratch along the surface of the intestinal lining, causing inflammation and the opening of intestinal pores. Add processed sugar and alcohol to the equation, and you’ve got a breeding ground for yeast. YUK! This yeast then enters through the inflamed intestinal lining into the bloodstream, causing the white blood cells—normally responsible for defending us from disease—to freak out and attack our bodies rather than protect us against sickness. Taking out these foods is the first step towards healing the gut.
Now that you’ve cut out the food culprits, it’s time to fight off the yeast that have fed off these foods for years and to restore the good bacteria to your gut. This is where a high quality probiotic comes into play. For my first couple of months, I used metagenics probiotic powder. It’s expensive, but it does the trick, and I was able to switch to a more affordable one for maintenance as my symptoms subsided.
L-glutamine is an amino acid that is often used by body builders to help with recovery. However, in small doses and on an empty stomach, it also helps to rebuild the intestinal lining. I took a half of a teaspoon of l-glutamine along with my probiotic upon waking and going to sleep.
Like L-Glutamine, NAC is an amino acid, which helps with tissue formation. In addition to this, studies have shown that those with vitiligo tend to have lower levels of glutathione, which NAC can help supplement. Aside from vitiligo treatment, NAC has tons of benefits, including increasing immunity and thinning out mucus. When my vitiligo improved, my nutritionist claimed that taking the NAC probably did the most to help.
While not everyone has a b12 deficiency, studies have connected vitiligo with low B12 levels. If you are vegetarian, you want to make sure that you are taking a B12 supplement. Make sure to take it in a dissolvable sublingual form, as it can be destroyed by stomach acid otherwise.
Once you start taking all of these supplements and changing your dietary regimen, your body will be better able to absorb the sun’s rays and the vitamin d that is essential to re-pigmentation. I first noticed a stark change in my vitiligo when I was on summer vacation in Toronto, where my friend and I explored the city by bike. It was a sunny day, and by the end of it, I was worried that I would have gotten a blotchy, uneven tan that would require me to put on pounds of specialized dermatologic makeup. When we got back to our hostel, I looked in the mirror and was ecstatic to see that I had gotten a normal tan! We took this picture that same day—with no makeup! Check out that spotless forehead!
I know, I know. It’s easier said that done. When I was told that my vitiligo was exacerbated by stress, I thought, “Great. Not only am I stressed, now I’m stressed about being stressed which just makes me more stressed!” My best tip for this is to buy some makeup and forget about it. Dermablend actually does a pretty good job of covering it up. Make all the necessary dietary changes, but let your skin be your second reason for making dietary changes—otherwise you will simply obsess over it; at least I know I would.