We know that stress deprives us of sleep, puts us in a bad mood, and makes us lose concentration. It impairs digestion and even promotes weight loss or exaggerated weight gain. We have even learned that it is the fuse that ignites numerous and more complex illnesses. But what few know is that problems such as melanin loss or skin discoloration, known as vitiligo, can be accelerated, or triggered, by stress.
The universe behind our color
The color of our hair and skin depends largely on melanin, a pigment found in certain cells called melanocytes, which we have in our epidermis and scalp. In addition to determining our color, its main responsibility is to protect us from the sun. With time, the number of melanocytes decreases as a normal process of aging. However, there are times melanocytes fail to perform their functions, and this can occur at any age but is much more common after 30, during a person's reproductive stage.
What causes this?
Although there are no exact causes, vitiligo has been linked to other immune diseases such as Addison's disease which affects the adrenal glands, thyroid issues, anemia, and diabetes. Genetic predisposition also plays a part. However, in a recent study (2020), there is evidence that a fundamental trigger of vitiligo, and perhaps the main one, is stress. (1)
The link to the disease of the century
The study, conducted in Chicago by entities such as Loyola and Northwestern Universities, proved that stressful events can play a major role in the development of this skin issue. The researchers used several forms of measurement to test the outcome, such as specific software and a perceived stress scale, to compare people with vitiligo to those without it. The results demonstrated a clearly higher level of stress among those with this skin depigmentation. Stress was also found to be higher in women over men.
Apparently, stress triggers physiological changes that lead to an immunity imbalance. The T-cells of defense interpret stress as an attack on the body. In trying to protect it, they will attack healthy cells, among which are the pigmenting melanocytes. This generates or increases white spots in different parts of the body, marking them devoid of protection and color.
This does not mean that stress will always cause vitiligo, but according to this study, people who have a certain predisposition can be affected if they experience high stress.
Can vitiligo be cured?
So far there is no cure that can definitively improve vitiligo. There are some treatments available that can restore at least some of the skin color, although vitiligo may recur.
There are corticosteroid and other immunosuppressive creams that can halt the progression of vitiligo. (3)
Diet is also very important for slowing progression or development, especially in individuals prone to vitiligo. Eating foods rich in antioxidants that collaborate in the production of melanin, such as deep green leafy vegetables that provide lycopene and beta-carotene, are essential to the process of skin pigmentation. You can also try grapes, watermelon, and tomato. (4) (5)
Another complementary treatment option is bergamot extract. In animals, this fruit has been proven to have a positive effect on skin health, especially by increasing collagen and combating cytokines that promote inflammation (6). In other research, bergamot showed promising clinical effects for repigmentation in patients with vitiligo. (7)
Dermatologists usually refer their patients to behavioral therapies that support self-esteem and help with the management of family, personal, or work situations that can influence mood and stress control. (2)
Exercising (8) and learning relaxation techniques, as well as taking personal self-care time, is essential to stress control management. At the very least, do not allow stress to control you. Check our previous articles on the subject for some more suggestions.
If your skin does not return to its original color, this is not the end of your story. Today, many models and celebrities with vitiligo have found their spotlights in a universe of new possibilities. If this is your case, take charge of your new look and make the most of what makes you special.
Let's be healthier, different, and happier, together!
Your Santo Remedio team