What are the causes of vitiligo?
Where do these visible white patches on the skin come from? It’s all down to the cells that determine the colour of the skin (melanocytes). Vitiligo involves the disappearance of melanocytes, which leads depigmented areas to develop. There are some people who are more at risk of developing vitiligo. While we know that the appearance of white patches is caused by the loss of melanocytes, there are a number of theories that may explain the abnormal destruction of these cells:
- Genetic causes: People who have a family member with vitiligo are more likely to be affected, and this applies to 30 % of cases;
- Auto-immune causes: People with vitiligo produce abnormal antibodies, which target the melanocytes and destroy them. In some cases, it has been observed that people with this condition also have another auto-immune disease at the same time, such as Addison’s disease or type 1 diabetes. Around 30 %* of cases are associated with an auto-immune thyroid disorder;
- A build-up of free radicals: Studies have shown that people with vitiligo may have abnormally high levels of free radicals. When there are excessive amounts of these natural by-products produced by the body, this is thought to lead to self-destruction of melanocytes.
In people predisposed to vitiligo, there are certain factors that can trigger the onset of this pigmentation loss. Extreme stress, emotional shock, or skin damage such as an injury, cut or sunburn can cause vitiligo patches to appear.
The signs of vitiligo
The first vitiligo patches often appear on the hands, face, arms or feet. The patches are white and the edges are sharp. These depigmented patches can appear anywhere on the body, and even on the mucous membranes. Body and head hair in the area of a white patch can also lose its colour because of a lack of melanin in the hair follicles. The patches can vary in size. While they aren’t painful, some people may feel a burning sensation or itching when the patches appear. There are two types of vitiligo. The segmental type is defined by localised patches of vitiligo. The second type is known as non-segmental, and it develops across a more widespread area, potentially covering the majority of the body. These white patches are more visible on black and dark skin. Consequently, people with darker phototypes are the group most affected by the psychological impact and most likely to need treatment from a dermatologist.
Vitiligo will be diagnosed by a doctor through a simple examination of the skin. Blood tests may sometimes be done to check that the patient does not have other auto-immune disorders that could be causing the symptom of pigmentation loss.
There is no treatment that can cure vitiligo with symptoms disappearing fully.
However, solutions do exist that can reduce the visibility of the white patches:
- Topical treatments and steroids: These are different types of creams that help the skin to restore its colour. Topical treatments contain immunomodulators that contribute to restoring pigment to the white patches.
- Phototherapy is the key treatment for restoring pigmentation in vitiligo. People who have white patches are exposed to light from UVB lamps. The rays stimulate pigment restoration in affected areas of skin. Two to three phototherapy sessions per week for at least 6 months are needed to potentially obtain results. Patients should not have more than 400 sessions of treatment.
- Melanocyte transfer grafting is a surgical intervention. This technique involves harvesting melanocytes from areas of the patient’s healthy skin and grafting them to white patches and depigmented areas. This solution can only be used in stable vitiligo that affects only a small area.
Reducing the visibility of white patches
GliSODin has developed the food supplement V-SOD to support depigmented skin and reduce the visibility of white patches. The patented formula contains SOD from melons plus a wheat protein. For greater efficacy, food supplements taken regularly should be accompanied by a healthy lifestyle and balanced diet.
V-SOD capsules provide the body with antioxidants that play a role in reducing the harms of oxidative stress (which in part causes vitiligo). A 2021 clinical study demonstrated the efficacy of SOD-gliadin complex when it is combined with sessions of phototherapy targeting reduction of white patches on the skin. 80 % of GliSODin users saw positive results in terms of changes in their vitiligo. V-SOD led to over 20% repigmentation of depigmented areas after 6 months of supplementation and in combination with UVB phototherapy, as against only 9 % without combination with food supplements.
*Dr M. Ben Salem, Dr I. Oueslati, Dr M. Yazidi, Dr F. Chaker, Prof. M. Chihaoui. Les maladies auto-immunes associées au diabète type 1 (Autoimmune diseases associated with type 1 diabetes).