Vitiligo is a skin problem where the melanocytes or the cells that produce the skin pigment melanin, stop producing pigment which causes white patches on the skin and though a lot of theories are postulated as to what causes this disease still, very little is known about the exact cause. It can be hereditary and a few nutritional deficiencies or stress and chronic conditions like diabetes and hypothyroidism can aggravate this problem and cause further mental distress but there are several myths associated with vitiligo that contribute to the social stigma which has restricted and hindered an individual’s usual style of living as well as his or her involvement into society.
Vitiligo is a skin disorder which causes de-pigmentation of the skin. It is not life-threatening or fatal. It affects about 0.5-1% of the population of the world, and unfortunately has unwarranted social stigma attached to it and health experts have debunked myths including that vitiligo is caused by eating the incorrect foods at the wrong times, such as drinking milk right after eating fish or that persons with vitiligo are mentally impaired or vitiligo is contagious and incurable.
In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Purvi Shah, Consultant, Dermatology at Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital, debunked some common myths that include:
1. Vitiligo is related to leprosy or skin cancer.
This is a myth. Vitiligo is in-fact an auto-immune disease wherein our own immune system attacks the pigment forming cells (melanocytes), which get destroyed and hence lesser or no pigment is produced.
2. Vitiligo affects only the visible area of the skin
No, Vitiligo also affects the underarms, genitals, palms, sole and mouth.
3. Vitiligo is seen in mixed race parents
No, it can affect any individual but is more commonly seen if there is family history (30% inheritance)
4. Vitiligo is caused by eating a certain combination of food such as milk and onion etc.
No, Vitiligo is unaffected by food choice but however it is recommended for people with Vitiligo to avoid food with food colour.
5. Vitiligo is contagious
No, Vitiligo is not infectious. There is no reason to maintain distance from people with Vitiligo, they are quite normal. Vitiligo is more commonly seen with other auto-immune diseases like Hypothyroidism, Alopecia areata, patchy hair loss.
6. Vitiligo can be cured by applying certain oils/ eating specific foods
No. Vitiligo cannot be easily cured. It can however be controlled. A person with Vitiligo can get re-pigmentation with certain modalities of treatment such as steroids, immunomodulator drugs, Excimer laser, narrow band light, surgical skin grafting and melanocyte transplant.
7. It is easy to predict who will get Vitiligo and how extensive it will be
No. Vitiligo cannot be predicted. It can only be diagnosed by Woods Lamp, biopsy, detailed history taking and examination. It is a disease that can gradually spread to other parts of your body.
Adding to the list of facts, Dr Raashi Mehta, Consultant Dermatologist at Mumbai’s Masina Hospital, shared:
1. Some lifestyle changes can improve this condition or decrease the progression.
2. Consume a balanced diet rich in micronutrients, omega 3 and 6 fatty acids and antioxidants like green leafy vegetables, fruits, fish, legumes, eggs, sprouts and tofu, nuts.
3. Restrict use of sugar, processed foods and red meat since this increases the oxidative stress in the body and can aggravate vitiligo.
4. Stress relieving methods like practising yoga, meditation, music, reading.
5. Change occupations which have a lot of chemical usage like mechanic or beautician.
6. Use a good SPF sunscreen and protective clothing over the vitiligo patches as these are more prone to skin burns
7. Regular blood check-ups to rule out anaemia, vitamin deficiencies and undetected diabetes and thyroid disorders which can all increase vitiligo.