The precise cause of Vitiligo is not known and there are theories indicating it could be related to genetic and non-genetic factors, immunological disorders, substances toxic to Melanocytes, heredity or stress and trauma. It must be said none of these theories have been proven to have a caused Vitiligo conclusively. To understand what takes place when your skin loses its pigment first you should know the composition of the skin. Your skin is made up of three layers the epidermis, dermis and the deeper layer called the Hypodermis or subcutaneous layer. The damage caused by Vitiligo takes place in the epidermis:
- The Epidermis – melanin the product responsible for the color of your skin is produced in the epidermis. It provides the color as well as some level of protection from damage caused by ultraviolet light.
- Melanocytes – are the cells at the basal layer of the epidermis responsible for producing melanin. Everyone is born with almost the same number of melanocytes. The rate and concentration of melanin production are factors that determine skin color differences.
Doctors know when your melanocytes stop producing melanin you lose the pigment in your skin. One of the ways the process begins is when your immune system starts destroying the melanocytes, which is why it is labeled as an autoimmune disorder. The death of these cells is what causes Vitiligo but how it is activated is still a mystery.
The Koebner Effect
The Koebner effect is a clinical term that describes a physical external stimulus which affects a disease state. External stimuli such as a traumatic or stressful event, serious illness, death of a loved one, major accident and severe sunburn have been reported by Vitiligo patients as to when they noticed their first symptoms. Although there is not concrete proof indicating stressful events cause Vitiligo it possible for your body to trigger an autoimmune response.
Genetic research has given some indications some parts of the genome may be responsible for Vitiligo but definite markers have not been established or identified. The characterization of genetic variants or genotyping in studies with family members with Vitiligo is helping researchers look into particular genetic changes present in these patients. Even though the research is still underway the hope is the result will eventually help identify the cause and cure of Vitiligo.
Nutritional deficiencies are responsible for many disorders and some research has suggested patients with Vitiligo might be deficient in vitamins B12, C, copper, zinc and other antioxidants. These studies however have not proven conclusively the deficiencies in the vitamins and minerals are responsible for causing Vitiligo.
Since there is no irrefutable evidence as to what causes Vitiligo doctors use several hypothesis to determine what is responsible when you visit them for a diagnosis. The theories include:
- Autoimmune – this is when your immune system is not working correctly and produces antibodies to fight your own healthy cells and tissues. In the case of vitiligo it is your own melanocytes. Vitiligo can also be linked to other autoimmune disorders.
- Neural – some types of vitiligo are believed to be caused by neural chemicals such as norepinephrine which is released from nerve endings in your skin. Norepinephrine is toxic to melanocytes skin cells injuring them and decreasing or stopping their ability to produce melanin.
- Autocytoxic or Self-destruct – in this case it is believed in certain individuals the process of melanin biosynthesis produces toxic molecules which damages melanocytes.
Doctors and researchers don’t know what causes Vitiligo and why some people heal completely.
If you are diagnosed with Vitiligo you should know that it is possible to stop the spread of the disease and re-pigment areas that have lost all the melanin.