I first paid attention to vitamin B12 when my friend was touting it as a hangover cure. As it turns out, vitamin B12 is a bit more important than just stopping a headache after drinking alcohol. This vitamin is important for proper functioning of the brain, the formation of blood, among many other functions. A recent study also found that when we have too much vitamin B12, it may be affecting our skin microbiome in a negative way causing acne. Many people have said that taking B12 has given them acne; however, there had been little research into why this happened. Scientists at UCLA investigated this and published their results in Science Translational Medicine.
The team of investigators studied the skin bacteria of individuals with severe acne and those without and looked at the gene expression patterns. They found that people taking B12 supplements ended up with higher levels of the vitamin in their skin. They found that this resulted in Propionibacterium acnes, the bacteria implicated in acne, to lower its own production of B12, which is important for performing normal functions. This imbalance resulted in the production of porphyrins, a molecule that is implicated in inflammation and possibly resulting in acne formation.
As with all things microbiome and the human body, it’s important to have a positive equilibrium. Just last night I was speaking with a friend who is undergoing significant microbiome troubles since travelling to Africa in March. When she returned she had major stomach problems and was told to take a course of ciprofloxacin that only worsened her symptoms. She now finds herself with severe vitamin B12 deficiency and anecdotally she mentions slight memory loss, a common symptom of B12 deficiency. Like everything in our body, it’s important to find that middle ground and those with acne shouldn’t yet be starving themselves of vitamin B12. This study did not prove that too much B12 causes acne and in fact other studies have shown that the vitamin has anti-inflammatory effects. More work will be needed to show if this is in fact causal and if new treatments for acne can be designed using this new information about vitamin B12.