FAQCan Ayurveda help with vitiligo?

People have used herbs and natural remedies to treat skin conditions for centuries.

Vitiligo is an auto-immune condition that causes white patches of skin to develop and expand, often without clear cause. There is no cure for vitiligo, though medical treatments and complimentary medicine can help people to manage their symptoms. Most patients respond to one of form of the therapy or another, but there is no single therapy that works for everyone. The effectiveness of a treatment will depend on many factors, such as the extent of vitiligo or the time of diagnosis, and familial history of auto-immune conditions. Yet, it is not uncommon for vitiligo to stage a comeback even after successful treatment. 

In Ayurveda, life is the union of body, mind, senses and soul. The primary emphasis is on disease prevention and promoting longevity. It is helpful in chronic, metabolic, and stress-related conditions early in the disease manifestation, before extensive tissue and organ damage has occurred. Frankly, vitiligo is not high on this list.

Traditional treatment for vitiligo in India begins with calming the imbalanced body energies and restoring digestion. Psoralea corylifolia, Semicarpus anacardium or Ficus hispida are administered as photosensitizers, three hours before graded sun exposure. Curcuma longa, Eclipta alba or Acasia catachuare used to redress blood morbidity. In the case of fast-spreading disease, Ras Manikya, Taal Sindur or Sameer Pannag Ras are used as immunosuppressants to stop its progression. Stubborn patches are camouflaged with the paste made from mehndi leaves, or a lotion made from the root of Plumbago Zylanica.

Recent research has supported the idea that some of these herbal treatments may temporarily improve skin appearance and vitiligo symptoms. However, only for a very few natural remedies is there any proof of efficacy. None of them are completely free of risk. Side effects of these herbal preparations are rarely reported in full, if at all. Pharmacological evidence suggests there could be toxicity issues, and in rare cases the possibility of renal failure or cancer.

Ayurvedic medicine also acknowledges the risks involved in using arsenic and mercury – common ingredients in these preparations. One out of five Ayurvedic herbal medicine products found in Asian food stores in the USA reportedly contains harmful levels of heavy metals. Worse, some of them are specifically recommended for pediatric use. In England, a third of all Ayurvedic medicines sampled have dangerous amounts of heavy metal content, while in India the same is seen in two-thirds of products.

Also keep in mind that there is an almost total lack of agreement on vitiligo between Ayurveda in India and, for example, traditional Chinese medicine. And while physicians can distinguish fact from fiction, patients are not easily able to make sense of conflicting theories. 

It is sensible for people to always speak to a doctor before using any herbal remedies or natural treatments for vitiligo, as some ingredients can interact with other medications or affect existing medical conditions.