What to Eat When You Have Vitiligo

Dietary recommendations for better management

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Living with the unknowns that come with a diagnosis of vitiligo can be socially and emotionally challenging. If you’ve been searching for ways to optimize your diet to help manage your condition or prevent progression, know that you’re not alone.

Vitiligo is a condition in which pigment-producing cells called melanocytes die, leaving you with patches of skin that lack coloring. While there isn’t one specific diet recommended for vitiligo, eating a nutrient-dense diet rich in antioxidants, beta-carotene, and phytochemicals can be beneficial because these components support a healthy immune system.

However, it’s important to note that clinical studies regarding specialized diets in people with vitiligo are lacking. Preliminary studies suggest that gluten in your diet may lead to the development of the condition, but no specific vitiligo diets have been reviewed.

Ultimately, it’s important to know that there isn’t one “vitiligo diet,” but taking a mindful, balanced approach to eating is a great place to start.

This article will discuss the research behind different diets for vitiligo, including recommended foods, what to limit, and why a nutrient-dense diet is important.

What to eat when you have vitiligo

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Benefits

Since vitiligo is an autoimmune disease, consuming a well-balanced, antioxidant-rich diet can promote a healthy immune system and complement your ongoing treatment.

Studies show that vitiligo is triggered by stress to the body’s melanin-producing cells, leading to depigmentation. Oxidative stress (a disruption in the balance between production and accumulation of oxygen-containing molecules) can further target these cells.

According to a review from 2021, researchers found that oral antioxidant therapy may be beneficial for skin conditions, including vitiligo.

The review concluded that antioxidants, particularly vitamin E, combined with phototherapy (use of ultraviolet light) may help those with vitiligo. Of note, this review also stressed the need for more extensive studies.

Other indirect benefits of following a nutrient-dense diet include a reduced risk of chronic disease, improved digestion, improved immunity, weight management, and longevity.

Addressing Nutrient Deficiencies

Nutrient deficiencies don't cause vitiligo. According to the Vitiligo Research Foundation, many people with the condition are more likely to be deficient in vitamin D, vitamin B12, folic acid, copper, and zinc.

The foundation acknowledges the lack of rigorous studies to support dietary recommendations or supplements for those with possible nutrient deficiencies. Instead, they encourage people with vitiligo to eat a nutrient-dense diet and avoid following a special diet that could worsen nutrient deficiencies.

Supplements

A recent review published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine looked at 26 studies to find any evidence surrounding dietary changes and the use of natural supplements to manage vitiligo.

Overall, the review didn't acknowledge any specific dietary recommendations but suggested that phenylalanine, Ginkgo biloba, and Polypodium leucotomos combined with traditional treatment may improve symptoms.

The Vitiligo Research Foundation also suggests that Ginkgo biloba and Polypodium leucotomos may be helpful when combined with ongoing therapy to prevent disease recurrence.

Another small study found that a high-dose vitamin D supplement may increase re-pigmentation in people with vitiligo who have a deficiency of this vitamin.

The effectiveness of long-term, high-dose supplementation remains unclear.

It's important to speak with your healthcare provider to address whether it's appropriate for you to use natural supplements to correct any nutrient deficiencies or complement your existing therapy.

How It Works

There's no specific diet plan recommended to treat vitiligo. Still, most research suggests eating a nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich diet filled with fruits and vegetables. 

It’s important to maintain a healthy diet throughout your life to reduce the risk of chronic disease and promote overall health and wellness.

What to Eat

Just as there isn’t any standard vitiligo diet, there are no medically recognized foods to eat or avoid for the condition. Dietary recommendations for those with vitiligo involve eating a nutrient-dense diet.

Since vitiligo is related to inflammation, many suggest avoiding pro-inflammatory foods. Following an overall healthy diet should limit foods that may trigger inflammation.

Recommended Foods
    • Whole grains
    • Lean poultry
    • Fatty fish (salmon, tuna)
    • Eggs
    • Nuts
    • Seeds
    • Beans, lentils, and legumes
    • Fresh fruits and vegetables
    • Healthy fats
    • Low-fat dairy or fortified dairy alternative



Foods to Limit
    • Refined carbohydrates
    • Sugar
    • Processed foods or fast food
    • Fried food
    • Candy and dessert
    • Processed meat
    • Alcohol
    • Margarine, butter, and lard
    • Red meat


Some experts suggest following a plant-based diet because it's rich in antioxidants.

While a plant-based diet can provide general health benefits, there's no strong evidence behind this diet to directly benefit a person with vitiligo. 

Instead, focus on a balanced diet that includes antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fat to support a healthy immune system. Options include:

  • Fruits and vegetables: Focus on eating antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables. Choose non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, beets, carrots, cauliflower, green beans, and spinach. Eat more fruits like berries, oranges, melon, and apples. (Deeper, darker-colored fruits and vegetables usually contain more antioxidants.)
  • Whole grains: Try to limit or avoid refined grains as these are usually stripped of key nutrients found in whole grains. Consume grains and foods like brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, oats, and quinoa.
  • Protein: The best protein sources are lean cuts of meat, including skinless chicken and turkey, eggs, and legumes such as lentils, peas, and beans. Fatty fish like salmon and tuna are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids that work to protect your heart and lower inflammation. Limit processed meat like hot dogs, salami, and lunch meat. Try to limit your red meat consumption to no more than twice per week and try to include more plant-based protein like legumes.
  • Processed foods: Eating too many processed foods can cause inflammation and usually have little to no nutritional value. Focus on enjoying desserts, sugary beverages, and pre-packaged foods in small quantities.
  • Beverages: The best beverage to drink is plain water. If you choose to drink other beverages, avoid alcohol and those with added sugars like juice, sports drinks, and soda. Opt for unsweet tea, seltzer water, and coffee without sugar.
  • Healthy fats: It’s important to get enough healthy fats in as part of a balanced diet. Foods like avocado, chia seeds, and nut butter are all great sources of healthy fat.

Recommended Timing

Eating regular meals and snacks throughout the day can help nourish your body and keep you full throughout the day. Consider having three meals and two snacks each day. If you prefer smaller meals, this can be broken down into five to six small meals each day.

Cooking Tips

Whole foods are the foundation of a healthy diet. Choose fresh fruits and vegetables when possible and opt for baking, grilling, or broiling your meals instead of frying them.

Limit using excessive amounts of oil when cooking, and avoid using heavy creams and butter in your recipes.

Use fresh herbs and spices to add flavor and antioxidants to your meals instead of cooking with salt. You can also use a low-fat marinade before broiling, grilling, or roasting your food.

Considerations

Changing your diet can be scary. Especially when so many events in life are food focused. It’s important to give yourself grace throughout the process and know that change takes time. 

Taking a whole foods approach while limiting fried or processed foods will improve your overall health.

General Nutrition

Based on the latest research, you can rest assured knowing that you don't have to remove any food groups or restrict certain foods from your diet to optimize the management of vitiligo.  

Research shows that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, healthy fats, and dairy will benefit your overall health regardless of age, sex, ethnicity, or current health status. It will also provide fiber and antioxidants to give additional benefits.

According to the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA), a healthy, balanced meal should consist of:

  • Fruits and vegetables: Half of your plate
  • Carbohydrates: One-fourth of your plate
  • Protein: One-fourth of your plate
  • Dairy or fortified soy alternative: 1 cup with meals

Find Out Your Recommended Dietary Needs

You can design a custom MyPlate meal plan to show your daily calorie allowance and how much you should eat from each food group.

Support and Community

Living with vitiligo can be frustrating. You may find yourself needing support outside of your normal team of healthcare providers. In addition to your family and friends, joining a support group is another great way to cope. 

You can find vitiligo support groups through your healthcare provider or nonprofit organizations like Vitiligo Support International. There are also online community support groups on Facebook and other social platforms.

Vitiligo Diet vs. Other Diets

Since there isn’t a set diet for vitiligo, many people will, understandably, try other diets to see if their symptoms improve. According to the Vitiligo Society, a gluten-free diet may be beneficial because it cuts out foods that may cause inflammation. Additionally, some people report a temporary reduction in symptoms after removing gluten from their diet.

Gluten-Free Diet

Vitiligo and celiac disease are both considered autoimmune diseases. People with celiac disease have an intolerance to gluten and must choose a diet that strictly excludes gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye.

One study suggests that those who have vitiligo may be at a greater risk for developing celiac disease. Researchers believe this may be why a few individuals with vitiligo have found improvement with a gluten-free diet.

Additionally, one study looked at a young woman with vitiligo who removed gluten from her diet and saw early and extensive re-pigmentation of facial lesions.

She experienced most benefits within the first month and noticed stabilization by month four.

Although it's reasonable to try removing gluten from your diet, research doesn't prove it to be necessary. In addition to gluten-free products being expensive, it can be very challenging to completely eliminate gluten from your diet.

Summary

At this time, there isn't a vitiligo-specific diet. Since there's no strong evidence to support major dietary changes, it's likely unnecessary to eliminate any specific foods or food groups. Instead, focus on eating a well-balanced, antioxidant-rich diet filled with fruits and vegetables to support your overall health and wellness.

If you have any questions about the type of diet to follow or whether starting a supplement may be beneficial, speak with your healthcare team.

A Word From Verywell

Treating vitiligo is difficult because so much about the condition remains uncertain. At this time, there isn't enough evidence to link a certain diet to improvement in vitiligo symptoms. A healthy diet, as recommended for the general population, will likely give you the most benefit and complement your ongoing therapy. 

Be sure to meet with your healthcare provider before making any significant changes to your diet or starting a supplement.

If you have any questions about an individualized diet plan for you, consider speaking with a registered dietitian. To find a dietitian in your area, you can visit The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website and search under Find a Nutrition Expert.

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14 Sources
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