Special GoogleHealth Search
What Is Vitiligo?'
Emily A. Kane, ND, LAc
graduate of Bastyr University in Seattle, Emily Kane, ND,
LAc, is a naturopathic physician and acupuncturist
specializing in gynecology,
Vitiligo (vit-ill-EYE-go) is
a pigmentation disorder in which melanocytes (the cells that
make pigment) in the skin are destroyed. As a result, white
patches appear on the skin in different parts of the body.
Similar patches also appear on both the mucous membranes
(tissues that line the inside of the mouth and nose), and
the retina (inner layer of the eyeball). The hair that grows
on areas affected by vitiligo sometimes turns white.
Vitiligo is considered an autoimmune disease, in which for
some unknown reason, your immune system “attacks” the
melanin-producing cells in the skin and inhibits pigment
production. This leaves blotchy white patches on the surface
of the body, unfortunately often on the face. Vitiligo is
more disfiguring for dark-skinned people, some of whom
resort to lightening the surrounding skin with harsh
bleaching agents to attempt to restore a homogenous skin
On the bright side, vitiligo is not contagious, nor will it
shorten your life. Some people with vitiligo also have a
thyroid problem, and if addressed, the vitiligo improves. To
figure out if autoimmune low thyroid status (Hashimoto’s
thyroiditis) is the problem, have your doctor check the
thyroid antibodies (a test abbreviated TPO).
amino acid precursor to melanin is tyrosine, and some people
find their skin tone evens out after several months of daily
doses of about 2 to 3 g of L-tyrosine, along with a
high-potency B-multi. The B vitamins are cofactors in
Some doctors use phenylalanine to
treat vitiligo. The L-form phenylalanine can be taken
internally, 50 mg per 1 kg of body weight daily, or look for
a compounding pharmacist who can create a cream from this
amino acid: some patients report success with topical
applications of 10 percent L-phenylalanine after several
weeks, especially with sunlight exposure soon after applying
the gel. The tanning prescription is 20 minutes of midday
sun exposure three times weekly.
Copper is another cofactor in melanin production, and some
folks with vitiligo are low in copper. This is worth
checking through a blood test, and supplementing with the
mineral if you are low in it.
Sometimes vitiligo is
associated with celiac disease and pernicious anemia. Ask
your naturopathic physician to check for these conditions,
and treat accordingly. You can also try supplementing with
ginkgo biloba (120 mg daily of a 24 percent standardized
Since vitiligo is affiliated with low
vitamin D status, you should have your vitamin D levels
evaluated. Almost any lab can provide this test now. Don’t
assume your blood levels of vitamin D3 are adequate just
because you live in a sunny climate. Studies have shown that
folks in Texas and Arizona are just as likely to be
D-deficient as folks in the Pacific Northwest, as many of us
now live mostly indoors. Your blood (serum) vitamin D levels
should be between 60 and 90 ng/mL.
If indeed your
vitiligo turns out to be caused by an autoimmune problem,
avoid stimulating the immune system. This is admittedly
easier said than done, but the idea is to minimize risk of
being exposed to a bunch of bad bugs. Make sure to be extra
well rested and hydrated, and maintain a high vitamin C diet
one to two weeks before travel, for example. Wash your hands
frequently. Use a food-based anti-inflammatory on a regular
basis. My favorite is turmeric, 1/4 teaspoon of the powdered
spice daily, in water or a smoothie, or sprinkled on steamed
veggies. Green tea also has anti-inflammatory properties.
You can blend the powdered concentrate (matcha) into a
morning smoothie if you prefer not to drink multiple cups of
hot green tea daily. Fish or flax oil (with at least 1,500
mg of omega-3 content) daily will go a long way to help you
Q: I have thick yellow nails and can’t
figure out how to get the antifungal medicine to penetrate
through the nail bed. Any ideas?
—Mike B., Hollywood,
A: Take any strong antifungal oil (thyme,
oregano, or tea tree) and place a few drops around and under
the edges of the nail. Then drop a few more drops of DMSO (dimethyl
sulfoxide) onto the nail, and it will drive the volatile
oils right through the nail and into the nail bed. DMSO used
to be a bit hard to find, but most pharmacies and online
drug stores now carry it.
Emily A. Kane,
A graduate of Bastyr University in Seattle, Emily
Kane, ND, LAc, is a naturopathic physician and acupuncturist
specializing in gynecology, counseling, herbal medicine, and
naturopathic manipulation (body work). She worked as a
Licensed Massage Therapist in Seattle during her medical
training for 7 years. She regularly leads retreats and
therapeutic fasts, and teaches health classes through her
local community college. Kane maintains an active clinical
practice in Juneau, Alaska, where she sees patients of all
ages. She is the author of Managing Menopause Naturally.
Visit her online at dremilykane.com..