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What Is Vitiligo?'


Emily A. Kane, ND, LAc
A 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.
A: 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 tone.

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).

The 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 melanin production.

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 product).

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 stay healthy.

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, Calif.

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 Kane
Emily A. Kane, ND, LAc
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..