I had the chance to chat with T.J., who has created an amazing online community for those with vitiligo. Like me, T.J (aka the vitiligo girl) was able to cure a lot of her vitiligo by changing her diet and lifestyle. Now, she runs a site where she documents her own journey and brings together various individuals who have been able to cure their vitiligo using non-traditional methods. You can see some of the pigment that has come back to spots on her shins! There are even more impressive before and after photos up on her site (my measly computer can’t hold them all) so I definitely recommend you check her out. And without further ado, meet the Vitiligo Girl!
Tell me more about your blog. What inspired you to start it?
Initially, my blog started out as my own special place where I could talk openly about my vitiligo and document my journey to stop and reverse my vitiligo-for my own benefit as well as for others. I found it therapeutic to share with others what I had learned through the things I was reading, which was anything and everything about autoimmune disease and why the body begins to attack itself. I quickly realized, though that I could do something more with my blog.
When I was first diagnosed with vitiligo three years ago, I desperately needed hope and reassurance from others who had overcome their vitiligo-I wanted to hear that I, too could heal. However, I wasn’t able to find very many personal experiences. Besides yours, there was Caroline’s over at TheVitPro.com, Dr. Wanakee Hill’s in her book, and the free online book, Emily’s Vitiligo. That’s it.
I knew that there were likely hundreds, if not thousands of other people just like me who were searching for answers. It was then that I decided that I wanted my blog to be an inspiring and comforting place where all of those people could go and ease their fears. I felt it was important that my blog be a place that would help reduce that terrible stress we all feel about our vitiligo by showing that it isn’t the hopeless condition many doctors would have us believe it is-because as we know, stressing about it can make it worse!
The blog has now grown into a little community where I’ve gathered and continue to gather the experiences and success stories of others with vitiligo as well.
How long have you had vitiligo? When did it start?
I was first diagnosed with vitiligo about a year after I had my son, so I’ve had it for about 3 years now. I was horrified to say the least. It is incredibly distressing to watch your skin color disappear before your very eyes. It’s indescribable, really.
I got my first spot on my left thumb after I had been taking my son for swimming lessons at the city pool. I have always felt that the swimming pool had something to do with my vitiligo starting, but I could never pinpoint the exact trigger. Was it the chlorine? The sun? Fungus? All of the above? The swimming pool was definitely the straw that broke the camel’s back.
I scoured the internet night and day looking for answers. I bought books on Amazon, purchased every eBook online I came across, and checked out books at the library.
I read the experience you have on your blog about overcoming your vitiligo over, and over, and over again to reassure myself and try to find commonalities that would allow me to gain some sort of insight into myself.
What do you think caused your vitiligo?
Looking back over the last 10 years, I’ve realized the tremendous amount of stress I had/have been under.
I believe that I became especially nutritionally depleted after a series of both physical and emotional traumas that ultimately set me up for developing vitiligo.
I had been in a bad car accident and subsequently diagnosed with fibromyalgia a couple of years later. Fast forward a few years later to a happy marriage, but severe financial struggles, a miscarriage, and then a physically stressful and difficult pregnancy that caused me to develop sacro-iliac dysfunction. Caring for my son (who never slept) and nursing him for two years further depleted whatever little nutritional reserves I had left.
By the time my son was a year old, I was struggling to make it through the day due to my severe exhaustion. My complexion was gray, I was very thin, my blood pressure was extremely low, I was cold all the time, and I had terrible dizzy spells when I would get out of bed in the morning. I had developed severe adrenal fatigue, and my thyroid was suffering as well.
What do you believe has helped the most with vitiligo?
#1 of course has been stress reduction.
But I’ve learned something very interesting about stress through my Nutritional Balancing program, and that is that stress can be from both internal and external sources.
Usually we tend to only think of stress in terms of being external, as in our jobs, relationships, emotional trauma, etc. But we don’t really think of the daily internal stress we put on our bodies. The wrong diet, or an unhealthy one that is high in refined carbs, sugar, processed foods, and that is nutritionally deficient puts a tremendous amount of stress on the body. Add to that toxic exposure from the air we breathe, the pesticides we eat on non-organic fruits and vegetables, and the medicines we take. These things clog our livers and ruin our digestive tracts.
As for external stress, it’s impossible to eliminate it completely since it’s a part of this life that we live. However, many times we can be the cause of our own stress to a certain degree. I found this to be true of myself. I had to change the form of exercise I was doing, change my thinking, and change the way that I do things, which included getting more organized and minimizing as much clutter in my house as possible…which is still a work in progress with a four year old running around ☺.
We can also change the way that we respond to upsetting situations. I know you mentioned in your interview on my blog that meditation helped you. For me it’s my shower that I turned into a near infrared sauna. Walking is also a wonderful stress reducer as well.
What advice would you give to readers with vitiligo?
I agree 100% with you when you say that stress reduction is probably the most important thing when it comes to vitiligo. Stress depletes us nutritionally which ultimately causes a breakdown in bodily functions, and can contribute to the development of autoimmune disease.
Once I understood this, vitiligo wasn’t nearly as scary and there wasn’t a day that went by where I wasn’t absolutely sure that I would overcome it. In my mind, it was just a matter of time. As a result I was able to relax and figure out an effective plan of attack against my vitiligo.
Another thing I would like to mention is that no regular doctor/MD is going to tell you anything positive about vitiligo, so don’t feel down-hearted when you hear over and over again that there is nothing you can do about it. Ignore nay-sayers and well-meaning family members who tell you to just accept it and live with it. You don’t have to. Have an open mind and realize that there are effective, alternative ways to deal with vitiligo.
I personally don’t feel that there will ever be a cure for vitiligo that works for everyone–not because I am not hopeful-but because there is simply no way to prevent stress and its effect on our bodies, not to mention the fact that each of us responds to stress differently. Lifestyles must be changed, and body systems and functions must be repaired and corrected before any healing can take place. And the reality is that most people don’t have any interest in taking the time to do this. They’d much rather just pop a pill and be healed. Vitiligo is much too complex for that.
I realized early on that I needed to be aggressive and take control of my health, not just the vitiligo. Sure, I desperately wanted it to stop spreading. But the more I focused on how fast it was spreading, the more anxious I became. It helped me to just simply focus on getting healthy-because really the vitiligo was a clue of a much bigger issue that was looming. My health had not yet deteriorated to such a degree that I couldn’t fix it, although it was headed in that direction. I didn’t have cancer, I didn’t have Lupus (yet)…I still had time to fix myself. It’s still a work in progress, but my vitiligo has stopped spreading and I am getting lots of new freckles with (almost) daily sun exposure.
I know that were it not for my vitiligo, I would never have made significant changes in my lifestyle and embarked on such a healthy journey, and so for me, my vitiligo has been a blessing in disguise.
It’s been quite some time since I’ve written here. And during that time, I have gone through quite a few changes. To boot, they include:
Graduating law school and taking the NY Bar Exam
Relaxing my food rules
Resurfacing vitiligo on my neck
Starting a new career path
My vitiligo began to return around this time last year. At that point in time, my diet was as “clean” as could be. Completely vegan, very little (if any) grains or nuts, and nothing that couldn’t be made in my own kitchen. Nevertheless, my skin was getting worse. As a result, I began to cut more and more out of my diet. Meanwhile, I hadn’t gotten a period for about 6 months, I was getting colds for the first time in years, and I generally felt very low in energy.
The solution to getting my period back was simple – I needed to eat what I felt like eating. This didn’t necessarily mean I had to stop being vegan, but it meant that I needed to get rid of rigid rules. I learned that eating cleanly was a way for me to feel in control of one aspect of my life. Even though I was unsure about my career and my personal life, I knew how to eat properly, and that gave me a sense of false security. As a result, the thought of eating something that wasn’t on my list of approved foods would cause mental havoc. Now, if there is nothing around for me to eat other than French fries and I’m starving, I will eat the French fries and I won’t kill myself over it. Instead, I will meditate afterwards, take a deep breath, and trust that my body will be able to balance itself out when I feed it nourishing greens the next day.
I’ve slowly learned that emotional well-being is as important, if not more important, than food. For me, this meant taking a step back from writing in legallyvegan (because writing about food only fueled my rigid food rules). It also meant I needed to stop trying to force myself to fit into the world of big law and pursue my real dream of working as a public interest lawyer (I will begin a new job as a public defender in the fall!) I began meditating daily. I traveled to Austria, Ireland, Morocco, and Costa Rica, and learned to let go of the various expectations I had set for myself in health, love, and my career.
If I’m being truly honest with my readers, I have not entirely stayed true to being vegan. I have eaten eggs three times within the past 5 months. I hate to admit this because I still advocate veganism. It is the moral choice. If we can avoid causing suffering to animals, we should. Even if we are “meant” to eat meat, we are also “meant” to live in caves, to walk around naked, etc., yet we don’t do any of these things. If we can practice compassion, we should. So in making this confession, I do not do so to say that you should stop being vegan. If you can be vegan, you should be. I admit weakness here, and I am still attempting to resolve the cognitive dissonance between my actions and beliefs.
For those of you who have emailed, I apologize for not being more responsive. The truth is I didn’t feel right giving advice about food when I was still figuring things out on my own. I debated canceling my blog altogether, and also debated turning it into a “mostly vegan” blog, and have decided against both. Ultimately, my blog has been about using food to enhance health. However, I’ve since learned that health is about so much more than food – it’s about being in touch with all our physical, mental, and- if you’re into it- spiritual selves. So I plan to write about health in all its aspects – not just food – and I invite my readers to focus on health in this holistic manner as well. I will be writing on meditation, food, sleep, and everything else that plays a role in health.
Thank you to those who have continued to follow and read, despite my inactivity I truly appreciate your comments!.<3
Lately I’ve been getting a lot of questions on how I healed my vitiligo and I am so happy that you are reaching out! Vitiligo is a difficult condition to deal with, and I am happy to act as a support for those who also suffer from it. Here is some more information on the topic that might help you.
What dosage of probiotics/glutamine/NAC did you use?
I started out with 1/4 teaspoon of probiotic powder and 1/4 teaspoon of glutamine powder in the morning and night with a tall glass of water. After a week or so, I increased the dosage to 1/2 teaspoon. I took 1 500mg capsule of NAC in the morning and 1 500 mg capsule at night.
What brands did you use?
For probiotics, I used metagenics ultra flora plus DF powder. For glutamine, I used jarrow formulas. For NAC, I either used bluebonnet, jarrow formulas, or NOW–depending on what was cheapest at the time.
Do you have any other advice for me besides what you’ve talked about in your last vitiligo post?
Yes! My first piece of advice is to JUICE YOUR GREENS. Most of us that suffer from vitiligo also are suffering from digestion. I believe that there is a connection between the two. Because we have problems digesting our food, our skin is not absorbing all the necessary nutrients it needs to heal. If we juice, we can bypass the digestion process and work our way to glowing skin. My second piece of advice is to seek out a holistic nutritionist or naturopathic doctor in your area. They can do a good job of getting down to the root of the issue.
Will you help me?
Of course! But remember, I am not a doctor, nutritionist, scientist, or anyone who has any official qualifications. Vitiligo also works in unexpected ways, so I can’t make any guarantees. I even still have a few spots left that I am working to eliminate. But if you send me a list of the things you’re eating and the supplements you are taking, I can work with you to improve your diet in a way that will improve your digestion and overall health. If your body responds the way that mine did, your skin will likely heal as well.
Feel free to contact me with any further questions by clicking on the link on my about page.
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.