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Vitiligo - Causes

The underlying mechanism which causes vitiligo is loss of melanin. This occurs due to the destruction of existing melanocytes and defective formation of new melanocytes. However, the precise reason for white spots on the skin is the loss of melanin, but the reason behind the destruction of these pigment-forming cells is not completely understood.

In most cases, a combination of auto-immune, genetic and environmental factors have been seen as the causes of vitiligo. Recent studies have demonstrated that vitiligo may also be caused by stress, which affects the immune system, causing the body to react and mistakenly destroy the melanocytes by releasing antibodies against them.

Heredity has been strongly proposed as one of the vitiligo causes, as many cases of vitiligo do report incidence of this condition (or other auto-immune disorders) in their family. Research has also shown that NALP1 gene is the trigger in predisposing people to vitiligo.

Additionally, vitiligo is said to be associated with (and affecting people with) certain auto-immune and inflammatory diseases, namely:

  • hypothyroidism — under-functioning of the thyroid gland;
  • hyperthyroidism — over-functioning of the thyroid gland;
  • diabetes mellitus;
  • Addison's disease;
  • alopecia areata;
  • psoriasis; and
  • pernicious anaemia.


A list of things that can trigger vitiligo in an individual genetically predisposed for vitiligo are as follows:


All said and done, the exact reason why vitiligo affects some people and not others, that too with such unpredictability, still remains unexplored.

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