Can a gluten-free diet help with vitiligo?

Gluten is the spongy complex of proteins found in wheat, rye and barley, which puffs up when baked with yeast.

It is important to realize there are three different clinical problems worsened by gluten: celiac disease, wheat allergy and gluten intolerance. Celiac disease is an autoimmune problem where gluten hurts the small intestine, causing pain, diarrhea, severe rashes, and other problems. Only about 1 in 100 people have celiac disease.

The second issue is true wheat allergy, which resembles allergies to peanuts or cats, and can result in sneezing, wheezing, hives, and in rare cases, anaphylaxis. This condition is rare. The third problem attributed to gluten is gluten-intolerance, sometimes called wheat (or gluten) sensitivity. This is neither an autoimmune disease nor a true allergy.

Contrary to many beliefs, gluten-free diets often aren’t very healthy. For example, when teens go gluten-free, they are much more likely to become overweight and to eat less fiber, calcium and iron but consume more fat.

We have specifically looked into claims that gluten-free diet may ease symptoms of vitiligo, or completely reverse it, and found no firm scientific evidence to support this theory. Only one case was recently reported (PubMed) of a rapid partial repigmentation of vitiligo in a young female adult with a gluten-free diet. It should be noted that the patient was maintained on the previously prescribed Dapsone therapy, a potent antibiotic commonly used to treat leprosy. A combination of gluten-free diet and Dapsone was known to treat  dermatitis herpetiformis (Wikipedia). However, a number of deaths attributable to Dapsone therapy were reported. 

A recent article in the New York Times by Dr. Darshak Sanghavi, a managing director at the Brookings Institution, provides a deeper analysis of this gluten-free hype.

So think carefully before going gluten-free for vitiligo, or else make sure you really must do so.

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