Vitiligo is a skin condition in which there is a loss of brown color (pigment) from areas of skin, resulting in irregular white patches that feel like normal skin.
Vitiligo was brought to world attention when pop star Michael Jackson claimed the lightening of his skin was a result of vitiligo.
Vitiligo appears to occur when immune cells destroy the cells that produce brown pigment (melanocytes). This destruction is thought to be due to an autoimmune problem, but the cause is unknown.
Vitiligo affects 1% of the world population, but the prevalence has been reported as high as 4% in some South Asian, Mexican and American populations. Vitiligo can develop at any age, but several studies report that 50% of cases appear before the age of 20.
The cause of vitiligo is unknown. Although no serious consequences arise from having vitiligo, the changes in skin color can be distressing for some individuals. Treatment options are few and often include using topical steroid creams which are known to cause significant side effects with long term use.
A new study published in the BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine Journal has shown that supplementation with a standardized extract of ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) may help slow the progression of skin depigmentation and actually increase pigmentation in adults suffering from vitiligo.
Orest Szczurko, Neil Shear, Anna Taddio and Heather Boon at the University of Toronto assigned 47 adults with slow-spreading vitiligo to receive 120 mg per day of a standardized extract of ginkgo (standardized to 30 mg ginkgoflavonglycosides and 8 mg terpene lactones) per day or a similar looking placebo for six months.
This is the first study to show that ginkgo is an effective, safe treatment for vitiligo.
Effectiveness was assessed using the Vitiligo Area Scoring Index (VASI) and the Vitiligo European Task Force (VETF), which are validated outcome measures evaluating the area and intensity of depigmentation of vitiligo lesions. Other outcomes included photographs and adverse reactions.
Ingestion of 120 mg of Ginkgo biloba was associated with a significant improvement in total VASI vitiligo measures and VETF spread, and a trend towards improvement on VETF measures of vitiligo lesion area and staging. Larger, randomized double-blind clinical studies are warranted and appear feasible.
It is noteworthy that over the short three month duration of this study, two participants improved over 30%, one over 20%, three over 10% and two more by 2 and 5% on their VASI scores. Thus in 3 months, 8 out of 11 participants started to improve. Given more time, it is possible that participants could have achieved more significant repigmentation.
Ginkgo is a potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immune-modulating herb. Some researchers believe vitiligo is the result of free-radical damage to the skin and that ginkgo prevents these free radicals from doing further harm. Ginkgo has been shown to cause a blood-thinning effect in some individuals, so people taking blood-thinning medication should avoid taking ginkgo, unless under the supervision of a physician.
The study was open labeled, not controlled, and not randomized. As such, a placebo effect is possible. Larger, randomized double-blind clinical studies are warranted and appear feasible.
Szczurko O, Shear N, Taddio A, Boon H. Ginkgo biloba for the treatment of Vitiligo vulgaris: an Open Label Pilot Clinical Trial. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2011, 11:21doi:10.1186/1472-6882-11-
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