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Natural remedies are also effective for treating vitiligo. They are safer than conventional medications. Read on to find out the natural remedies that have been proven to be effective in the treatment of vitiligo.
by Brad Chase
Vitiligo affects 1 – 2% of the population. It is a skin pigmentation disorder that results when the falling population of melanocytes (the special skin cells found in the epidermis that produce the skin pigment, melanin) causes a reduction in melanin production.
The main presentation of vitiligo is the white patches that appear on the skin. These vitiligo lesions are not ulcerative or infectious. In fact, the only property of the skin changed by vitiligo is the color.
Vitiligo patches may stay localized or spread to different parts of the body.
The change in skin color may cause emotional distress. Therefore, the psychosocial impact of vitiligo is increasingly considered important.
Quite a number of factors may cause the progressive destruction of melanocytes. The most important ones are listed below.
Conventional medicine provides a number of treatment options for vitiligo. The first line of treatment is usually topical steroids. Due to the side effects of steroid creams and its moderate success, other topical products such as tacrolimus or calcipotriol can serve as alternatives.
Fast spreading vitiligo may require to be treated with ultraviolet irradiation.
PUVA was the first such light therapy to be used. It has now been mostly replaced by newer therapies such as narrow band UVB and excimer laser.
PUVA means psoralen and UVA therapy. Psoralen is a photosensitive drug that is taken or rubbed on the skin a few hours before UVA irradiation. When UVA is directed on vitiligo patches, it activates psoralen which darkens the skin.
Narrow band UVB, on the other hand, uses only a narrow range of UVB spectrum. Therefore, it is safe and does not have any of the side effects of psoralen.
Still, light therapies are expensive and time-consuming.
When light therapies fail to arrest depigmentation of the skin and achieve extensive repigmentation, surgical procedures such as autologous skin graft and autologous melanocyte transplants are used. These are even more expensive.
In contrast, natural remedies are safer and come with lesser side effects. Furthermore, quite a number of them have been investigated for and proven to be effective for treating vitiligo.
These natural vitiligo remedies include vitamins, amino acids and herbal extracts.
In fact, some conventional vitiligo medicine are actually derived from some of these remedies (examples are vitamin D analogs and psoralen derived from plants).
There is a common thread running through all of the natural remedies used in the treatment of vitiligo. This is the set of medicinal properties these remedies possess.
Generally, the natural remedies used in the treatment of vitiligo possess one or both antioxidant and immunomodulatory properties.
Antioxidants block the effects of oxidizing compounds such as reactive oxygen species and harmful free radicals.
Essentially, antioxidants prevent the oxidation of cellular structures.
This action protects cells from destruction. Therefore, in the case of vitiligo, antioxidants prevent melanocytes from being destroyed by harmful free radicals and reactive oxygen species produced from cellular metabolism in the skin.
Since oxidative stress is an important cause of vitiligo, this medicinal property is important. Therefore, remedies with antioxidant properties can contribute to the protection of melanocytes and ensure continual production of melanin.
Ideally, the skin contains natural antioxidants. One example is the antioxidant enzyme called catalase.
However, most vitiligo patients usually have low levels of catalase. Therefore, the melanocytes loses some of their antioxidant protections.
Another clinical evidence for the oxidative stress theory is the high level of oxidized compounds in the areas of the skin affected by vitiligo.
For example, the accumulation of 2 oxidized pteridines is taken as evidence of increased oxidative stress on the skin. These oxidized compounds give off blue or yellow-green glow when examined under special fluorescent lamps.
The immunomodulatory property is useful for preventing the autoimmune cause of vitiligo.
The autoimmune theory is the most popular proposed cause of vitiligo among clinicians, and it is backed by a number of clinical evidences.
According to this theory, the progressive destruction of melanocytes occurs when the body sees those melanocytes as foreign bodies and then dispatches immune cells to get rid of them. This theory is backed by the presence of circulating melanocyte-specific antibodies in vitiligo patients.
In addition, activated CD8+ T cells have been found in vitiligo lesions.
Therefore, the autoimmune attack on melanocytes involves both humoral and cellular immunity.
The autoimmune theory also accounts for the cases of vitiligo patients who also present with other autoimmune disorders such as thyroid dysfunction, alopecia areata and diabetes mellitus.
Therefore, remedies with the ability to suppress and/or modulate the immune system are effective for stopping the autoimmune destruction of melanocytes.
Vitamin B6 or pyridoxine is a member of the B complex family. It is an important cofactor in a number of biochemical processes including the syntheses of amino acids, glucose and neurotransmitters.
Vitamin B6 deficiency causes several skin diseases including seborrheic dermatitis and ulceration.
However, vitamin B6 is useful in vitiligo treatment for 2 reasons: it modulates the expression of certain genes and it reduces the level of homocysteine by converting it to cysteine.
By modulating the immune system, it may be possible for vitamin B6 to prevent the autoimmune attack on melanocytes or correcting the genetic defects that contribute to the development of vitiligo.
By converting homocysteine to cysteine, vitamin B6 may prevent the breakdown of homocysteine to reactive free radicals that can damage melanocytes.
Vitamin B12 is also called cobalamin. It is also a member of the B complex family and, like vitamin B6, it is involved in a lot of biochemical processes in the body.
Like vitamin B6, vitamin B12 prevents the accumulation of homocysteine and its release of harmful free radical. Instead, vitamin B12 catalyzes the conversion of homocysteine to methionine.
Therefore, vitamin B12 reduces the oxidative stress in the skin and protect melanocytes from oxidative damage from reactive oxygen species and free radicals.
Folic acid is also called vitamin B9. Like for vitamin B12, vitiligo patients usually have low levels of this B vitamin.
By a similar mechanism, folic acid prevents the accumulation of homocysteine and the harmful breakdown production released from it. However, this B vitamin is also needed to supply certain chemical groups to the precursors used in the production of tyrosine and then melanin.
L-phenylalanine is the amino acid used for synthesizing neurotransmitters such as dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine. However, more importantly, L-phenylalanine is the direct precursor of tyrosine which is then used for synthesizing melanin in the skin.
L-phenylalanine produces better results in vitiligo treatment when combined with UV radiation either from exposure to sunlight or special UV lamps.
Alpha lipoic acid is an organosulfur compound reputed to have antioxidant properties. It antioxidant properties was shown to be strong enough to prevent the symptoms of vitamins A and E deficiencies.
Alpha lipoic acid mops up reactive oxygen and nitrogen species. A more active form of this compound is actually the reduced form, dihydrolipoic acid or DHLA. However both lipoic acid and DHLA are absorbed into cells
Therefore, alpha lipoic acid is an excellent compound to help reduce the oxidative stress in the skin and prevent the destruction of melanocytes by harmful free radicals.
Ginkgo is a well-studied herbal extract in the treatment of vitiligo. It possesses both antioxidant and immunomodulatory properties.
A number of clinical trials of ginkgo extracts have shown that this plant can stop further depigmentation of the skin and promote extensive repigmentation too.
Ammi visnaga is also called khella or bisnaga. It belongs in the carrot family and is part of a wide group of plants containing the coumarin compound called psoralen.
Psoralen is the photosensitizing compound used in PUVA vitiligo therapy along with ultraviolet A radiation. It darkens the skin upon ultraviolet irradiation and even the ancients used psoralen-containing plants to treat vitiligo in this way.
Other herbal remedies containing psoralen are obtained from fennel, carrot, parsnip, celery and Psoralea corylifolia. All of these plants are used as home remedies for treating vitiligo.
This is a perennial medicinal plant commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine for its ability to treat immune dysfunction.
It has an immunomodulatory properties and has been demonstrated to be effective in vitiligo treatment when combined with psoralen compounds.
Besides these natural remedies used in traditional medicine, there are other vitiligo remedies used by homeopaths to treat vitiligo.
Homeopaths access the constitution of each patients and not only the physical symptoms of a disease.
Therefore, vitiligo is believed to be a deep-seated disorder in homeopathy. Other factors such as emotions, behavior, personality and psychosocial response carry equal weight as the symptoms when homeopaths prescribe remedies for diseases.
Since homeopathic remedies are never general for any disease but rather individualized for each patients, a definitive list of homeopathic remedies for vitiligo cannot be compiled. However, it is possible to draw up a list of commonly used homeopathic remedies in vitiligo treatment.
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Callumae is a Vitiligo Remedy designed to help get rid of white spots on your skin. Use in conjuction with light therapy (or natural sun light) to help get the most repigmentation to your skin.