Ginkgo Extract Effective Treatment for Vitiligo
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, according to a study in Clinical and Experimental Dematology (2003;28:285–7). This is encouraging news for the millions of adults that have to deal with this often difficult to treat condition.
Vitiligo is a genetic skin disorder in which patches of skin lose pigment and appear lighter than the surrounding skin. Hair in these areas may turn white and the skin tends to sunburn more easily. Some studies suggest up to 4% of the world’s adult population is afflicted with this condition. Vitiligo was most recently brought to the public’s attention when pop star Michael Jackson claimed the lightening of his skin was a result of vitiligo. 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 often includes using topical steroid creams, but the success rate is low and it may take months or years to regain full pigmentation.
In the new study, 47 adults with slow-spreading vitiligo were assigned to receive 120 mg per day of a standardized extract of ginkgo (containing 9.6 mg of ginkgo flavonglycosides per day or a similar looking placebo for six months. Photographs of the affected areas were taken every six weeks to monitor the changes in size and pigmentation. No serious side effects were reported by the participants taking ginkgo.
Disease progression was arrested in 80% of all people taking ginkgo, compared with only 36% of those taking a placebo. Individuals with vitiligo restricted to the face who took ginkgo all experienced a halt in the progression of their vitiligo, whereas no person with this form of vitiligo in the placebo group had any signs of the disease arresting. In the ginkgo group, marked or complete repigmentation occurred in 40% of the participants, but less than 10% of the placebo group had similar results.
This is the first study to show that ginkgo is an effective, safe treatment for vitiligo. 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.
Other nutrients that may be useful in treating vitiligo include L-phenylalanine, folic acid with vitamin B12, PABA, and vitamin C. Preliminary studies suggest picrorhiza (Picrorhiza kurroa), a traditional Indian herb, may also stimulate repigmentation of skin in people with vitiligo.
Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of The Natural Pharmacist: Lowering Cholesterol (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice at New England Family Health Associates located in Southport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
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