In this article I will explain the causes of vitiligo, Traditional Chinese medicine treatment of vitiligo, as well as share the research on Chinese medicine for vitiligo.
Vitiligo is a condition that causes white patches to develop on the skin. It can occur due to multiple factors, including genetics, exposure to chemicals, and viral infections. Stress and trauma also can cause oxidative stress which leads to the inflammation causing the condition.
Vitiligo, called bai dian feng in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) was first discussed in the ancient Chinese medicine text called the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic, dating to 2500 years ago. In TCM, vitiligo is caused by an imbalance of the internal imbalances related to the circulation of Qi (life energy) and blood stasis. Chinese medicine works by targeting these underlying imbalances in the body to decrease inflammation, improve circulation, and stimulating the development of pigment cells (melanocytes).
I have been a doctor of acupuncture and Chinese medicine herbalist for 18 years with a focus on skin conditions. Vitiligo is a challenging condition for patients because it not only affects your skin but also imposes significant stress. Our therapies benefit both the mind and the body to heal many levels of the disease. In my clinic I combine many types of acupuncture and customized Chinese herbal medicine, both topically and as a tea, to help stimulate the whole body to heal.
Causes of Vitiligo
Vitiligo as a disorder caused by an autoimmune reaction causes the body to attack the melanocytes, which are the cells responsible for providing pigment to the skin. This may be triggered by a variety of factors, such as a viral infection, stress, or exposure to certain chemicals. Genetics is a factor as vitiligo often runs in families.
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Chinese Medicine Diagnosis
During our initial visit we will review your medical history, take your tongue and pulse, and examine the skin. My holistic approach to vitiligo will consider your whole a state of health including your skin, digestion, sleep, and stress levels. My goal is to bring the body back to a state of balance, when you are in balance you are healthy.
This information provides a path to identifying the underlying imbalance and then to create a customized treatment including acupuncture, herbal medicine, and other therapies for you.
In Chinese Medicine, Vitiligo is most often caused by Qi and blood Stagnation or vacuity of kidney and liver qi. If it is spreading rapidly, there may be the presence of toxic heat. The herbs and acupuncture are chosen specifically to correct these imbalances.
Chinese Herbal Medicine
Chinese herbs for vitiligo will focus on the specific imbalance underlying your condition. The specific herbs may nourish the liver and kidney Qi, promote blood circulation, and dispel pathogenic wind. In addition, research has shown that specific herbs have shown anti-vitiligo effects.
When the vitiligo is actively spreading it is considered that there is more toxicity in the body. The herbal medicine will focus on removing the heat and toxins. If the condition is mostly stable and not spreading the herbs are focused on stimulating the movement of qi and blood to encourage the repigmentation of the skin.
Herbal teas are customized to the specific imbalance with specific herbs for your symptoms. Herbal medicines are given as a mixture of 10 to 15 herbs to drink twice a day. We also use topical treatments which typically contain ingredients to reduce inflammation and circulation in the skin.
Acupuncture works by correcting the imbalances in the flow of qi in the body and the underlying imbalances leading to Vitiligo. It also improves the immune system. Acupuncture works by decreasing inflammation, promoting metabolism of the lesion locations in order to foster melanocyte synthesis.
If the vitiligo progressing, the treatment will first work to slow its progression and stop the inflammation. If the condition is stable, acupuncture works to stimulate the regrowth of the melanocytes to repigment the skin.
The acupuncture treatment will include points to correct the underlying imbalance as well as acupuncture close to the vitiligo that get more Qi and Blood to circulate in the area. Points such as KI 3, Liv 3, Ren 4, Ren 6 boost the kidneys and liver. Surface needling with a plum blossom needle close to or over the depigmented areas can be a helpful tool for increasing the circulation and stimulation of the skin.
Chinese medicine and acupuncture goal is to correct the underlying imbalance causing the vitiligo. Generally, a course of treatment may involve acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine for a number of months.
Vitiligo is a condition that is slow to change and Chinese medicine is not a quick fix for vitiligo. The treatment course with acupuncture and herbal medicine is generally about 3-6 months. Some cases may be longer. During the treatment course the skin gradually improves.
Free radicals are unstable molecules that can damage cells and tissues in the body. They are produced as a result of normal metabolic processes, as well as by exposure to environmental factors such as pollution, stress, radiation, and tobacco smoke. In the case of vitiligo, it is believed that free radicals play a role in the destruction of melanocytes. This has led to the hypothesis that antioxidants, which can neutralize free radicals and protect cells from damage, may be beneficial in managing vitiligo.
There is evidence to suggest that antioxidants may be helpful in managing the symptoms of vitiligo. Chinese herbal medicine contains many herbal ingredients that are powerful antioxidants. This may be one reason why the treatment is effective.
Some foods that are high in antioxidants include berries, nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables, and dark chocolate.
Mind Body connection
The mind-body connection refers to the link between the thoughts, emotions, and physical health of an individual. The idea is that our thoughts and emotions can have a powerful impact on our physical health, and vice versa.
Vitiligo development is often linked to a stressful event the sparked the development of the diseases. The condition itself is also stressful. Studies have shown that stress and emotional trauma can trigger or exacerbate the symptoms of vitiligo. This is believed to be due to the release of stress hormones such as cortisol, which can suppress the immune system and trigger an autoimmune response.
There are many things that help with stress. Regular exercise is a wonderful way to manage stress. Engaging in mind body exercises such as breathing techniques or mindfulness.
By targeting specific points on the body, acupuncture and Chinese medicine restore the balance to the body and address the root causes of vitiligo. Many patients have experienced noticeable improvement in their skin’s appearance and a reduction in the progression of the condition after acupuncture and herbal medicine treatments. Chinese medicine therapies are a natural, non-invasive option worth considering for those seeking to manage vitiligo symptoms. Please call us at 212-319-5757 or schedule your appointment online.