People with vitiligo may be interested in vitamin supplements for various reasons, such as correcting a deficiency, slowing the spread of vitiligo, improving their general health, or treating anxiety. One member of MyVitiligoTeam reported taking an “anxiety vitamin” every morning after noticing that stress from the pandemic, a recent hurricane, and a death in the family was negatively affecting their skin. Others have discussed experimenting with herbal supplements in an attempt to stop vitiligo from spreading.
Because of deficiencies found in some people with vitiligo, they may be interested in:
Supplements can be beneficial, but when used inappropriately, they do more harm than good. MyVitiligoTeam spoke with Dr. Pearl Grimes, director of the Vitiligo and Pigmentation Institute of Southern California and clinical professor of dermatology at the University of California, Los Angeles to learn more. Here’s what the experts and other people with vitiligo have to say about vitamin supplements.
Vitamin D is of particular interest for people with autoimmune diseases like vitiligo. Dr. Grimes said she always checks vitamin D levels for people with vitiligo because it’s “such a major player in a healthy immune response.” Vitamin D is known for keeping bones and teeth healthy but may also be important in protecting against certain types of cancer. Recent data from a study of more than 25,000 people showed that vitamin D can decrease the likelihood of developing autoimmune disorders.
She explained, “I like healthy vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is so basic, and there are some studies in the literature now showing that vitamin D can impact therapeutic outcomes for vitiligo.”
Sun exposure contributes to the skin’s production of vitamin D. However, getting enough vitamin D from sun exposure may not be possible due to the increased risk of sun damage and skin cancer. Therefore, you can have your vitamin D level checked with your physician and learn about the appropriate supplementation dosing to take daily to maintain normal vitamin D levels. Additionally, if you’re undergoing ultraviolet B phototherapy for vitiligo, the light exposure may increase your vitamin D levels.
Studies on vitamin D and vitiligo suggest the possible prevention of skin depigmentation by reducing cell death in skin cells called keratinocytes and melanocytes, the latter of which produce skin pigment (melanin). More research is needed to determine if vitamin D is beneficial for everyone with vitiligo or just those who have a deficiency.
Several members of MyVitiligoTeam have reported taking vitamin D to correct a deficiency.
One member shared, “Had my blood work done last week for my annual checkup, and my new doc actually called me to tell me that my vitamin D is low. It’s standard to check it now in the days of COVID. She wants me to take 2,000 IUs [international units] a day. As with many of us with vitiligo, I hardly sit in the sun at all, and if I do, it’s with my back to the sun since it’s mostly my face that is affected by vitiligo.”
Your doctor can check your vitamin D status through a routine blood test to determine whether you’d benefit from supplementation.
Several studies have looked at vitamin B12 and folic acid in supplements concerning vitiligo. For example, researchers have identified a significantly higher rate of B12 deficiency in some people with vitiligo, along with thyroid dysfunction and diabetes. It can be challenging to identify a direct cause-and-effect relationship. Currently, no vitamin deficiencies are known to be the sole cause of vitiligo. Despite this finding, studies have not consistently found a benefit of taking B12 or folic acid in those who do not have a deficiency.
Many people with vitiligo experiment with vitamins and herbal supplements that they believe will benefit their skin and immune system. However, the lack of regulation in the supplement industry and the potential for some vitamins to be toxic when overused, should be enough to give you pause before adding expensive products to your care plan for vitiligo.
Dr. Grimes said she usually recommends a few basic supplements for people with vitiligo, including “a good multivitamin from a reputable brand” and “fish oil fatty acids because they are antioxidants and they’re photoprotective.”
Never assume that something is safe just because the label says it’s “natural.” Dr. Grimes described how she handles supplements in her practice: “We don’t do exotic supplements. They’re pretty basic. I have patients who come in, and they’re on all of these weird things that I just cannot rationalize. So, we work to get them out of the weeds and on a regimen where there’s data to support everything that we’re recommending.”
When asked about supplement risks, Dr. Grimes shared, “Some supplements put the immune system in overdrive, and it is already in overdrive. Supplements such as echinacea, goldenseal, and astragalus are three that I’ll just throw out. They’re not meant to be taken long-term. If you’ve got a cold or the flu, and you want to take it for a week, they probably do no harm. But if you stay on supplements that put the immune system in overdrive long term, that’s probably not good for vitiligo.”
If certain supplements seem promising to you, or if you’ve been taking supplements on your own, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor. They may know other people with vitiligo who have had experience with the supplement. Or, your doctor might be able to share insight with you that you wouldn’t have known by doing your research. A good health care provider will listen to your reasoning and provide facts to help you make the right decision about supplements.
Eating a varied and nutritious diet can give your body the vitamins it needs — except perhaps vitamin D — without the risk of negative side effects from certain supplements. Consuming adequate calories from nutrient-dense food groups including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, lean meats, seafood, and low-fat dairy products should cover your nutritional bases.
Dr. Grimes noted the importance of a nutritious diet to promote a healthy immune system for people with vitiligo. “We know that a healthy diet can modulate the immune system,” she said. “There’s a ton of data on micronutrients if you really go into the literature — that data is there.”
Here are some examples of where to find key vitamins and minerals from food:
If you have food restrictions or follow an eating pattern that omits certain food groups (such as veganism or a gluten-free diet), you could consider meeting with a registered dietitian to assess your intake and screen for deficiencies that may be affecting your skin or overall health. You may also consider taking a basic multivitamin to help fill in the gaps in your diet.
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In partnership with the Global Vitiligo Foundation, which strives to improve the quality of life for individuals with vitiligo through education, research, clinical care, and community support