Vitamin B12 caught aiding and abetting acne production?
Acne is generally associated with hormone changes and rapid growth in the teenage years, but it is not only a teenage problem. Many adults, especially women, suffer from acne right into their later years and in some it carries on until after the menopause. New research shows that vitamin B12 has a strong relationship with the most common bacteria that cause acne. Any patient with chronic acne should take a look at their vitamin B12 consumption.
Vitamin B12, the microbiota and acne
Acne is a result of overproduction of an oily substance called sebum which is released by the sebaceous glands in the skin. An excessive amount of oil in the skin makes the pores more receptive to dirt and bacteria, which get trapped inside along with the sebum. When the pores are plugged with sebum and skin pigments a blackhead is formed, whereas a whitehead forms when bacteria remain below the skin’s surface – in both cases, bacteria multiply and lead to inflammation.
Numerous studies show that excessive intake of vitamin B12, especially through supplementation is linked to the development of acne.
Why is vitamin B12 taken?
Vitamin B12 supplements are often recommended for people with anemia as it helps the folic acid in regulating red blood cell formation. It also aids in iron utilization in the body and the absorption of other nutrients obtained from food. Other uses of vitamin B12 in the body include DNA formation, prevention of nerve damage, maintaining fertility etc. Vegetarians are especially advised to take vitamin B12 supplements as it is almost exclusively available in animal sources.
Vitamin B12 and acne
Vitamin B12 stimulates bacteria normally present in the skin to produce chemicals that promote acne formation.
According to a research in the June 2015 issue of Science Translational Medicine, people with acne-prone skin and clear skin have something called Propionibacterium acne thriving on the skin however, people with acne-prone skin have bacteria with a metabolism that’s different from the bacteria in acne-free skin.
Acne-prone skin consists of microbes with 109 genes that are more active and 27 genes that are less active than they should be. Vitamin B12 supplements can cause the same change in the bacteria, leading to acne even in people with acne-free skin.
A study found that the bacteria in people who took vitamin B12 supplements stopped producing the amount of vitamin B12 they normally produced because they were getting them from their hosts. This drop in the production of vitamin B12 shifts the bacteria’s metabolism and allows them to help form porphyrins, which cause pimples.
The University of Maryland states that vitamin B12 supplements are safe and non-toxic as long as users take them in the recommended amounts. It’s unclear at what dose vitamin B12 causes acne but the recommended dosage of healthy adults is 2.4 mcg per day and 2.6 mcg and 2.8 mcg per day for pregnant and lactating women respectively.
Note that this number includes the vitamin B12 you obtain from your diet and supplementation so if you regularly consume meat, milk and other dairy products, you may not need vitamin B12 supplements to meet your daily requirements.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Vitamin B12 (cobalamin)
- Kang et al.Vitamin B12 modulates the transcriptome of the skin microbiota in acne pathogenesis. Science Translational Medicine. June 2015,
- Christensen GJ & Brüggemann H Bacterial skin commensals and their role as host guardians. Benef Microbes.2014 Jun