That’s the million dollar question isn’t it?
Actually it’s more like the trillion dollar question 😉
If only there were a simple answer.
When I was in the very early stages of my research about vitiligo, I kept looking for ONE single cause that I could hang my hat on….one that I could understand and fix.
Looking back now, it’s obvious that I completely misunderstood what vitiligo actually is.
Vitiligo is largely *considered* to be an autoimmune disorder, although there are other theories worth considering as well. It often (although not always) occurs alongside other autoimmune disorders.
Vitiligo develops when genetic and environmental factors contribute to the autoimmune destruction of melanocytes (source).
This means that it’s not something you just *happen* to get…like the flu or something.
Instead, it’s something you have a genetic predisposition for, and it’s brought to life by a combination of factors.
Dr. Ben Kim, chiropractor and acupuncturist who also suffers from vitiligo himself, says this about genetic susceptibility:
…just because you have a genetic predisposition for an autoimmune illness does not mean that you are guaranteed to experience it sometime during your life, or that you cannot recover from it.
Genetic predispositions are largely triggered, maintained, and kept under control by environmental factors, namely, your diet, lifestyle, and how much stress you experience.
So, the good news:
Vitiligo can be prevented/controlled/reversed.
The bad news:
It can be difficult to figure out what your trigger is.
I know I don’t only speak for myself when I say that Vitiligo is very scary. And for many people, the fear is so overwhelming that they feel they are not able to cope with trying to figure anything out. They become depressed and end up doing nothing.
I know because I felt that way myself. I wanted so badly to just ignore the vitiligo. I wanted to believe it would just spontaneously disappear like the dermatologist said it could (which is quite rare). But I just couldn’t deal with the panic I felt when I saw my skin pigment continue to disappear. I had to do something.
And so I picked up a book…and another…and another….and I started reading….and reading…and reading.
And now here I am writing this blog for you :).
Waking the Sleeping Tiger
Vitiligo is like a sleeping tiger in that it stays hidden, away from sight until it is provoked.
Even if you didn’t have vitiligo as a kid, it’s likely you were born with the genetic susceptibility/predisposition for developing vitiligo. You just didn’t know it.
Something caused your vitiligo gene to be turned “on”.
As Dr. Kim mentioned above, each of us with vitiligo has his or her own “immune response trigger”, or something that causes our body to start attacking itself.
Here is what Rahim Habib ND says about the cause of vitiligo on his site:
Vitiligo is the result of a combination of factors including environmental, genetic, toxicity, and immunologic aspects. Some research shows that there is a genetic susceptibility, as vitiligo is also associated with other genetically-associated auto-immune illnesses affecting the thyroid, joints, stomach, etc. From my experience, genetics do not mean you are destined to get an illness, and often there is a trigger which sets the process in motion – such triggers can include toxic chemical exposures, mental-emotional stress, nutritional deficiency, oxidative/free radical stress, trauma/injury, or sunburn.
Dr. Habib goes on to say:
…I always search to find the underlying factors that cause the problem. By testing for nutritional deficiencies, toxic elements, the level of free radicals, and understanding the mental-emotional environment of when the vitiligo began, we can start to develop a targeted program to help address the cause. In some cases, poor digestion leading to malabsorption of nutrients is also a factor in the development of vitiligo. In my experience, common nutritional deficiencies with vitiligo sufferers have included vitamin B12, folic acid, zinc, copper, carnitine, vitamin C, vitamin D, sulphur, etc. Correcting the digestive and absorptive functions can make a significant difference…
Vitiligo – The Perfect Storm
I like to call vitiligo “The Perfect Storm”, because its manifestation is the result of a combination of things – toxic build-up, lack of rest, stress, etc.
Because vitiligo looks the same in each person, it is often assumed that it must have the same, single cause. But as we have seen in this article, it’s not that simple.
In reality, the only thing that is identical from person to person is the genetic predisposition to develop vitiligo.
Environmental factors are key regulators of the onset of vitiligo. (source)
The key to getting your vitiligo under control and overcoming it means looking at all of the surrounding environmental factors in your life, and making adjustments. It takes time, but it CAN be done.