Vitiligo is an autoimmune condition that presents with patches of skin depigmentation. Normally, the immune system functions to attack and destroy foreign antigens or diseased tissues in our bodies. In autoimmunity, the immune system fails to make a clear distinction between self and non-self. This leads to the destruction of one’s own cells. When an individual develops vitiligo, their immune system targets melanocytes in the epidermal layer of their skin. These cells are responsible for the production of melanin. Melanin protects our tissues from the damaging effects of UV radiation.
As one would expect, a reduction in the amount of melanin in our skin would leave us vulnerable to harmful UV radiation. As a result, people suffering from vitiligo experience frequent sunburns, premature skin aging and have a higher likelihood of developing skin cancer.
Genetically modified foods were introduced into markets in the early 1990s. By 2010, a large fraction of food in the US was genetically modified. This mainly includes corn, soybean, papaya, potatoes, and zucchini, among others. Due to their brief history, the long-term health effects of these foods have not been adequately assessed. Scientists have attempted to identify links between these foods and the increasing incidence of autoimmune diseases, among them vitiligo. So far, the following is known concerning GMO foods and vitiligo.
1. GMOs increase bacterial transmigration in the gut
Bacterial proteins have been hypothesized to contribute towards dysregulation of the immune system. They tend to mimic our bodies’ natural proteins making it difficult for our immune cells to be self-tolerant. Genetically modified plants produce specific chemicals that protect them from infestation by pests. When these chemicals come into contact with the gut lining, they ‘poke holes’ and allow harmful bacteria to enter the circulation and interact with our immune cells. This lays down the framework for self-attack. It is not uncommon for different types of cells to be involved in this destructive process. This explains the coexistence of vitiligo and Type 1 diabetes or vitiligo and autoimmune hepatitis in some patients.
2. Alteration in the balance between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria in the gut
GMO foods contain ‘Glyphosate’, a chemical that has the ability to markedly reduce the amounts of ‘good’ bacteria. In contrast, ‘bad’ bacteria are relatively resistant to this compound. This allows them to proliferate unchecked and eventually activate the immune system. This results in an attack to both the invading bacteria and normal body cells resulting in an autoimmune process. If melanocytes are targetted in this destruction, vitiligo results.
3. High toxic load
GMO foods are engineered to be more resistant to pests than conventional foods. They tend high levels of pesticides. Long-term exposure to such toxins is thought to contribute towards the development of autoimmunity.
In conclusion, there is a need for further research work to be done to more clearly delineate the relationship between GMOs and vitiligo. In the mean time, one would recommend choosing organic non-GMO foods.
For patients already suffering from Vitiligo or other autoimmune conditions, avoiding GMO foods may help restore the balance of gut flora. Some patients have reported experiencing repigmentation after making dietary changes and trying different vitiligo home treatments, although the accuracy of these claims is yet to be verified.