Paavo Airola - Let's Live - December 1977Index

Vitiligo - And Other Skin Pigmentation Disorders: Nutritional Approach

I AM BESIEGED with readers of Let's LIVE magazine, pleading for information concerning vitiligo, a painless skin disorder characterized by patchy loss of color, or pigment, from the skin. Normally the skin of all individuals, even the fairest, has a certain amount of color, or tan, varying from dark, as in certain African races, to very light in Nordic races. In vitiligo, the skin loses all color and the patches of absolutely white skin are very definitely noticeable even in light-skinned individuals. Of course, the darker the skin, the move visible the problem. Lately, I have seen several black persons with vitiligo.

Vitiligo was a rare occurrence in the past. Now, it is becoming more and more common, which suggests that, perhaps, it is one of the so-called diseases of civilization - diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, which are caused by our increasingly anti-healthy chemicalized environment, denatured life style, and devitalized nutrition.

Although the condition is painless and there are no recorded cases where it has led to any more serious developments or complications, nevertheless, it is cosmetically and psychologically stressful to the patient and often affects his personality in a negative way, especially if the white patches appear on the face and other uncovered parts of the body.

In most cases of vitiligo, there are only a few small, isolated white patches. Sometime, however, discoloration can be extensive. I have just received a distress letter from a young lady who says: "almost one third of my body is covered with white patches."

What Causes Vitiligo

Many clinicians and researchers in the past have tried to decipher this mysterious condition, but so far, no one has been able to pinpoint the exact causes of it, although metabolic and biochemical disorders are becoming indicted more and more. It is generally believed that vitiligo is caused by a disorder in the pigmentation mechanism and deranged liver function. Most investigators have pointed to specific nutritional deficiencies as possible causes of vitiligo - possibly by first causing derangement in normal liver function. The deficiency of hydrochloric acid - the absence of free hydrochloric acid in the stomach - was one of the earliest assumptions as a possible cause. Vitamin C deficiencies are shown in some studies to be connected causatively. But most studies have shown that the chronic deficiency of specific B vitamins, especially para-amino-benzoic acid (PABA) is the most likely cause of vitiligo, as well as some other pigmentation disorders.

My own personal and clinical experience has convinced me that vitiligo is not caused by the deficiency of any one single nutrient, but that it is a complex metabolic and biochemical disorder connected with the general breakdown of the body's normal functions due to health-destroying environmental and nutritional factors. Vitiligo may be just a singular symptom of an extensive breakdown of the normal body functions, specifically malfunction of the liver, the assimilative organs and the enzymatic systems. Malfunction of the endocrine glandular system, with resultant hormonal imbalances, is also definitely of of the contributing causes. 1 In addition to physiological and nutritional factors, mental and emotional stresses are also causatively associated with vitiligo. It has been known that vitiligo often disappears almost spontaneously when the patient has suddenly changed their environment and lifestyle and when he was relieved of worries, fears, resentments, and other emotional stresses.

An interesting case of "unexplained" remission described in a medical paper in 1931 was that of a black male who suffered from vitiligo patches on his face. He was hospitalized for three months for treatment of a bone fracture. Though the patient was treated only for his fracture, and no specific remedy for vitiligo was attempted, the patches regained their natural coloring during this time. The doctors who reported the case assumed that the hospital diet was so superior to that which the patient usually ate that improved nutrition, along with rest, relaxation, and absence of direct sunlight, were responsible for the return of the proper color. 2

HCl Connection

One of the earliest discoveries of possible connection between a metabolic disorder and enzymatic malfunction and vitiligo was made by H.W. Francis, M.D., who suffered from vitiligo himself. He found that he was grossly deficient in free hydrochloric acid in his stomach. He took 15 cc (cubic centimeters) of hydrochloric acid with each meal for two years, and his vitiligo was completely cured - all white patches completely disappeared. Convinced that the cause of vitiligo was a severe deficiency of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, he treated several of his patients with the same therapy and reported similar excellent results. 1

Studying and analyzing Dr. Francis' cases, I can see that his discovery only supports the now more accepted B-vitamin deficiency theory. Hydrochloric acid is needed in the body's processing and absorption of necessary B-vitamin factors in the food. Chronic undersupply of hydrochloric acid may lead to a chronic B-vitamin deficiency in the body. And B Vitamins are absolutely essential for the healthy function of the liver and for the proper operation of the pigmentation mechanism.

Vitamin C Connection

Several studies and observations suggest that vitamin C is also connected with skin pigmentation disorders. An American medical journal, The Archives of Dermatology and Syphilology, reported that vitamin C was found to be effective in restoring skin color. 3 Also, German medical journals Carried an article that recommended vitamin C as a treatment for vitiligo.

Of course, we now know that vitamin C is such a versatile health-normalizing and healing agent that it would have an effect on any condition of ill health, without having to be a specific for vitiligo. Vitamin C is essential for the healthy condition of collagen; and skin is largely made of collagenous tissue. Vitamin C is also a strong detoxifier. It improves the functioning of all glands, including the liver, and, generally, promotes healing in every condition of ill health. It also helps in assimilation and proper metabolism of B vitamins.

Pantothenic Acid Connection

Large doses of pantothenic acid have been known-to correct vitiligo. Doses up to 300 mg. daily have been usual. Pantothenic acid is a powerful anti-stress vitamin. It also stimulates and improves the function of the adrenal glands, increases vitality, and, thus, promotes healing. It has been shown that pantothenic acid has a specific healing and aging -preventive effect on the skin. In biological medicine, pantothenic acid, together with vitamins C and B complex, is a standard nonspecific supplement in treatment of virtually every condition of ill health. All three vitamins stimulate and assist the body's own healing activity and speed up restoration of health.

PABA Connection

More than any other vitamin, para-amino-benzoic acid (PABA), one of the B-complex vitamins, has been connected causatively and therapeutically with vitiligo. Several investigators have reported excellent results in treating vitiligo patients with PABA.

Dr. M.D. Costello reported in a medical journal that he had successfully treated a 2-year-old child with vitiligo, giving him daily doses of 100 mg. of PABA. (5) Several other doctors tried this treatment, but did not find it effective. Most likely, the dosage of PABA was too low; 100 mg. may have been sufficient for a 2-year-old child, but older patients apparently needed much larger doses, as was indicated by the experience of another major investigator into the problem of vitiligo, Benjamin Sieve, MD.

Dr. Sieve, impressed with the potential of PABA, set up an experimental study using PABA on 48 cases of vitiligo. The group consisted of 25 females and 23 males, ranging in age from 10 to 70. Although the progress was slow, after 6 or 7 months, all 48 patients showed "striking progress." (1) In most cases, the white spots disappeared completely. But Dr. Sieve observed that oral administration of 100 mg. of PABA twice daily was not enough. The healing speeded up sharply when he instituted intramuscular injections of 144 mg. per cc. of monoethanolamine para-amino-benzoic acid every day in addition to the oral doses. In some cases, he also administered the whole spectrum of B-complex vitamins. Dr. Sieve felt that intramuscular injections were imperative to help the vitamin remain in the blood longer, also to offset any possibility of poor assimilation of oral doses.

In later studies, oral mega-doses of PABA (up to 1,000 mg. per day or more) were found to be more effective.

Although it has been clinically observed that PABA has a curative effect on vitiligo, it is not known in exact detail how PABA works. It is possible that vitiligo patients have an unusually high requirement for this specific vitamin. It is also possible that defective assimilation organs are not able to assimilate the vitamin from the foods in which it is normally present, and, therefore, large supplementary doses are needed.

It has also been noted by virtually all practitioners who have used PABA in treatment of vitiligo that this vitamin alone is very slow in obtaining results. They stress that the total B complex, especially pantothenic acid, niacin, and biotin, must accompany PABA therapy for maximum effect.

General Health And Vitiligo

It has been my own observation as well as that of many other investigators involved with treatment of vitiligo, that a general deterioration of health or some traumatic physical experience or emotional upset precedes the onset of the skin condition. General physical rundown could almost always be observed.

One young lady recently wrote to me: "When younger, I remember I was always tired. Also, I had raw cracks in the corners of my mouth, and along the bottom of my ear lobes. I also suffer from hypoglycemia, and I get very weak about 2-3 hours after a meal."

One of Dr. Sieve's patients, a young woman of 26 years, revealed that her general health deterioration, as well as the first patches of vitiligo, began at the age of 13, after a serious accident. She complained of irregular menstrual periods, lack of appetite, dry skin, and brittle nails. Her hair was graying prematurely. She also had had typhoid fever at age 17.

In his study of 48 cases of vitiligo, Dr. Sieve found that most patients showed evidence of a poor diet for months, or even years, preceding the onset of vitiligo. Fatigue, irritability, emotional instability, constipation, weight gain, and constant headaches were among the symptoms shared by almost all vitiligo patients. Arthritis was not uncommon. Thyroid insufficiency, varying degrees of hypertension, brittle nails, and coarse and thickened skin were other common occurrences. Multiple nutritional deficiencies were evident.

It is clear that vitiligo is not an isolated phenomenon, unrelated to the general health of the patient, but a systemic disorder, the symptom of malnutrition and a sick organism, the expression of a general metabolic and biochemical derangement.

Consequently, the correct biological approach to successful treatment of vitiligo, is not to treat the symptom as if it were an isolated phenomenon, but to treat the whole body. When all the body's vital functions are normalized; when digestive, assimilative, and eliminative systems are working properly; when glandular and hormonal balance is achieved; when all the organs, particularly the liver and adrenals, function efficiently; when the body's chemistry is balanced; when mental and emotional equilibrium is achieved - in short, when the health of the whole body is restored - vitiligo will disappear of its own accord.

Diet And Vitiligo

The diet should be the Optimum Diet as recommended in this column and in my books, with emphasis on whole, cooked or sprouted grains, and an abundance of raw vegetables and fruits, preferably eaten in season. The best grains are millet, buckwheat, oats, rye, corn, and rice. Nuts, seeds, and beans are very beneficial. Nuts and seeds should be eaten raw, but beans cooked. Sprouted seeds and grains are especially useful.

The emphasis should be on B-vitamin rich foods, such as brewer's yeast; whole grains, nuts, and seeds; desiccated liver, and fresh wheat germ.

The patient must make sure that he is not allergic to any foods, as allergies may also possibly contribute to the development of vitiligo. All suspected allergens (foods that patient is allergic to) must be eliminated from the diet. The most common allergens are wheat in all forms, milk, cheese, chocolate, corn, citrus fruits, and citrus juices.

If a person is overweight, a ten-day to two-week cleansing juice fast may be advisable before beginning the therapeutic diet. (Fasting guidance is continued in my articles on fasting in the August and September, 1977, issues of Let's LIVE, and in my books sold in health food stores).

Recommended Vitamins And Supplements

The following supplements should be added to the Optimum Diet daily:

PABA - 1,000 mg. for two weeks, then reduce to 400 mg. for the next three months, and 200 mg. thereafter. Intramuscular PABA injections should also be considered for a few weeks, especially in extreme cases. Consult your doctor for the advisability of injections in your case.
Pantothenic acid - 400 mg. for one month, reduce to 200 mg. thereafter.
B-complex - high potency (100 mg. and 100 mcg. of all major B's) - one tablet for first three months.
B-complex, 100% natural, from yeast - 6 tablets.
Brewer's yeast powder or flakes - 3 tablespoons a day, take 1 1/2 tablespoons in 1/2 glass of pineapple juice one hour before meals, twice a day.
Niacin - 100 mg.
C - 5,000 mg. for one month, then reduce to 3,000 mg.
E - 1,200 I.U. mixed tocopherols.
A&D (10,000 units A and 400 units D per capsule) - 2 capsules.
Kelp - 3 to 5 tablets.
Bonemeal, raw - 3 tablets.
Zinc - 15 mg., possibly up to 30 mg. for a short period.
Lecithin - 2 teaspoons of granules.
Betain Hydrochloride (Hydrochloric Acid) - 1 or 2 tablets with each meal, with 1/2 glass of water.

The above doses are for adults. Children between 8 and 16 years - 1/2 dose, children under 8 - 1/4 dose. No vitamin E, hydrochloric acid, or zinc for children under twelve. If, as is often the case, one is suffering from other ailments in addition to vitiligo, it would be wise to check the above supplemental list with a doctor (nutritionally oriented, of course) who - can modify and adjust it to fit specific personal needs. (For the name of a nutritionally oriented doctor, write to International Academy of Biological Medicine, PO. Box 31313, Phoenix, AZ 46. They will send you a Doctors Directory without charge if your request is accompanied by a stamped, self-addressed long envelope.)

Other Skin Pigmentation Disorders

In addition to vitiligo, there are other, less conspicuous pigmentation disorders such as "pregnancy cap," when darkly pigmented areas appear across the forehead, usually during pregnancy. Such pigmentation is also common among severely undernourished persons, or persons under severe stress of a serious disease. It is usually associated with the deficiency of panthothenic acid and B-complex vitamins.

In those suffering from Addison's disease, which is associated with severe adrenal exhaustion, the skin often becomes so deeply pigmented that formerly fair-skinned individuals are thought to be of a darker race. In mild cases of adrenal exhaustion, dark areas appear around the temples and on the neck below the ears, sometimes on the hands. Heavy supplementation with B-complex vitamins, especially niacin, pantothenic acid, and folic acid, has often cleared up the condition.

One of the most common skin pigmentation disorders is brown spots, commonly referred to as "liver spots" or "age spots," which can be anywhere on the body, but appear mostly on the hands, face, neck, shoulders and back. Usually, they appear in older people, from middle age and up, but occasionally, have been noted on even younger persons. Although I am painfully aware that those of you who read this article and are plagued by this condition are hoping that I will let you know the cure for it, I must inform you that this is one of the conditions which is still considered a mystery by modern medical science.

There are numerous theories, of course. Some scientists believe that it is a breakdown in the cell-building process. Another theory is that the spots are caused by a breakdown of normal liver function, and particularly the pigmentation mechanism, possibly by over-production of dark skin pigment. One thing is for sure - completely healthy individuals do not get age spots or liver spots even when they reach old age. But, such healthy older individuals I have observed only in Abkhasia in Russia, or among some Mexican Indian tribes. I don't know if anything can be done to eliminate existing brown spots, but by adhering to optimum nutrition, and always making sure that the body is saturated with large amounts of B-vitamins (brewer's yeast in the daily diet would supply such an assurance), the further appearance of brown spots may be prevented, or totally avoided by younger persons.

PABA Ointment

In addition to oral doses of PABA (and possibly intramuscular injections), PABA ointment could be tried on a depigmented area. In some cases, this has brought marked improvement.

PABA ointment is also good to protect the skin from sunburn. It can be used instead of regular suntan oils. Overexposure to the sun should be avoided by all those who suffer from vitiligo. Used as a cold cream, PABA ointment may delay changes associated with aging skin, such as brown spots or uneven pigmentation.


Vitiligo is not one of our major killers or cripplers, as are cancer, heart disease, or arthritis, which may be responsible for the fact that so little research and effort is spent on deciphering its mysteries and developing effective treatments.

All the existing studies and clinical observations point out, however, that vitiligo is a systemic, metabolic disease, closely tied to environmental and emotional stresses and dietary nutritional deficiencies, or the body's inability to assimilate and properly use certain nutrients.

The nutritional approach seems to be the only one at present which can give any promise of correcting this condition. PABA, pantothenic acid, vitamin C, B complex, and hydrochloric acid are specific supplements that have been shown in several studies, and in actual work with patients in biological and nutritionally oriented clinics, to help normalize the body's functions and correct vitiligo. Vitiligo is not an isolated disease, but a symptom of a systemic disorder, and, therefore, the treatment should be directed toward improving the patient's total health with adequate nutrition, rest, exercises, specific supplements as outlined in this article, relaxation, health-oriented state of mind. When vitiligo patients suffer from other ailments concurrently, they should also be treated and corrected. Specifically, chronic infections, obesity, severe emotional stresses, hormonal imbalances, hypoglycemia, and allergies should be corrected.

The problem of Vitiligo is more complex than a simple deficiency of PABA and B vitamins. The body's own protective and healing mechanism is broken down and health-restoring capacity is diminished before vitiligo can develop. Vitiligo simply cannot develop in a healthy body. Therefore, improved nutrition and the general health building measures, as promulgated by this magazine, would be a good way to start building a healthier and stronger body - free from vitiligo.


  1. Sieve, B.F., Virginia Medical Monthly, January, 1945.
  2. Rodale, J.I., The Encyclopedia of Common Diseases, Rodale Press, Emmaus, PA.
  3. Archives of Dermatology and Syphilology, March,1937.
  4. Field, H., et. al, American Journal of Digestive Disorders, 12, 246, 1945.
  5. Costello, M.J., Archives of Dermatology and Syphilology, February, 1943.
  6. Zaraponetis, C.J.D., Journal of Invest. Dermatology, 15, 399, 1950.
  7. Zubiran S., et. al, Vitamins and Hormones, Academic Press, New York, 1953.
  8. Davis, Adelle, Let's Get Well, New American Library, New York, 1972.