As Michael Jackson's skin color became paler and paler, it bewildered many of his fans. Turns out he had vitiligo, a pigmentation-destroying autoimmune condition affecting more than 2 million Americans, including Tempestt Bledsoe from "The Cosby Show" and Jon Hamm of "Mad Men." As the immune system mistakenly attacks and kills off melanocytes (the cells where skin color is produced), it leaves white patches on the skin that can be quite disfiguring. Sometimes patches even appear inside the mouth or nose, around the genitals and rectum, in the eyes or on hair. If you meet someone with vitiligo, remember: It's not contagious.
Fortunately, there doesn't seem to be any major health risks directly associated with vitiligo, as long as you are vigilant about using sunblock of 30 SPF or higher to prevent burning. However, research shows that many people with the condition are deficient in folic acid, vitamin B-12, vitamin C, copper, and zinc.
Our recommendation: Boost your immune system: Take in 25 micrograms a day of B-12 from food and supplements; 800 micrograms daily of folic acid — about half from food; 200 milligrams of vitamin C per day from food and supplements. Don't take a copper supplement, but you can get it from clams, oysters, and coffee. And get a total 15 milligrams of zinc daily (don't take more than 30 milligrams).
Treatment options: Makeup can cover some areas. Repigmentation therapy uses oral or topical corticosteroids. There are topical immunomodulators and light therapy that can stop progression. Occasionally, skin grafting is used. And depigmentation can be done to make surrounding skin equally pale.
© 2012 Michael Roizen, M.D. and Mehmet Oz, M.D.
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