Vitiligo is a condition characterized by random spots of depigmentation of the skin. This depigmentation is caused by the death of epithelial cells called melanocytes. Melanocytes are the cells within the skin that produce the pigment known as melanin, which is mainly involved in protection against UV exposure
Vitiligo is uncommon, only affecting up to 2% of the global population. Though this condition is not fatal, vitiligo has been associated with increased risks of sunburn, skin cancer, social distress, hearing loss and inflammation. While the cause of vitiligo is generally unknown, it has been linked to autoimmune conditions, auto-inflammatory conditions and genetics.
Additionally, there has been some research that has linked vitiligo to vitamin D status, though this research is in its infancy. However, there has been past evidence that supports strong associations between vitamin D status and autoimmune conditions such as systemic lupus erythematosus, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. Due to the hypothesis that vitiligo a result of immune dysfunction, researchers decided to evaluate the role of vitamin D status on disease activity in individuals with this disease.
The researchers included a total of 70 participants from Cairo, Egypt. Of these individuals, 30 were diagnosed with vitiligo and the remaining 40 were matched controls without the condition. All participants were interviewed in order to determine medical history, sun exposure habits and dietary patterns.
For those with vitiligo, disease activity was determined by evaluating the changes of old skin lesions or the appearance of new lesions within the last 3 months. Additionally, blood draws were taken in order to determine vitamin D status and levels of pro-inflammatory cytokine interleukin-17 (IL-17), a common marker of vitiligo disease activity.
This is what the researchers found:
- Average vitamin D levels among vitiligo patients were significantly lower than the control group (p < 0.001).
- There was a significant positive correlation between vitamin D status and disease duration (p = 0.038).
- Vitiligo patients had significantly higher serum levels of IL-17 compared to controls (p = 0.001).
- There was no significant association between IL-17 and vitamin D levels (p = 0.597).
The researchers concluded:
“…Vitamin D represents a potential player in the complex pathogenesis of vitiligo. It’s possible regulatory relation with IL-17 as a pro-inflammatory cytokine involved in such disease, together with its real weight as a screening tool for susceptibility of vitiligo, is worthy of further analysis and evaluation.”
This study was limited by its small sample size and cross-sectional design. Research exploring the relationship between vitamin D status and vitiligo is limited, and the available evidence is conflicting. Further studies are needed in order to determine the pathological nature of vitamin D status in vitiligo patients.
Peterson, R. & Cannell, JJ. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with the pathogenesis of vitiligo, according to recent study. The Vitamin D Council Blog and Newsletter, 2017.