B6 for Acne
Vitamin B6 is effective in acne treatment. However, the use of large doses of the vitamin in acne treatment may have the opposite effect.
by Brad Chase
Vitamin B6 is a water-soluble vitamin and a member of the B vitamin complex.
Even though it is commonly called pyridoxine, there are really seven forms of the vitamin and pyridoxine is not the active form of Vitamin B6. Six of the seven forms of vitamin B6 including pyridoxine can be interconverted.
The active form of this vitamin is called PLP or pyridoxal phosphate.
Vitamin B6 is an important cofactor in the metabolism of amino acids and in the conversion of glycogen to glucose. Pyridoxal phosphate is also involved in the lipid metabolism as well gene expression, histamine production, neurotransmitter syntheses and hemoglobin function.
Recommended daily intake of vitamin B6 varies by age but is usually found between 1 mg and 2 mg per day for adults.
Dietary sources of vitamin B6 include meat, vegetables, whole grain and nuts.
Food processing, storage and cooking can reduce the available vitamin B6 content of these sources except where the form of the vitamin present is the stable pyridoxine.
While vitamin B6 deficiency is not common, it can be caused by age, lifestyle, diet, disease and drug interactions. Severe vitamin B6 deficiency produces neurological and dermatological symptoms.
The dermatological symptoms of this deficiency resemble acne outbreaks; it involves seborrhea, dermatitis and ulceration. The neurological symptoms, on the other hand, include drowsiness, mental confusion and neuropathy.
Since vitamin B6 is involved in the conversion of glycogen to glucose, low levels of the vitamin will result in impaired glucose tolerance.
Vitamin B6 toxicity has never been reported from dietary sources but it can be caused by supplements.
Its symptoms include pain, numbness in the fingers and toes and nerve damage. This toxicity occurs with doses of exceeding 200 mg/day taken for months and can be reversed by stopping the supplementation.
Vitamin B6 is used to treat morning sickness during pregnancy because it is a mild diuretic. It can also reduce the risk of heart disease and Parkinson’s disease.
The mechanism by which vitamin B6 protects against heart disease is by reducing the levels of homocysteine.
When the level of homocysteine rises in the body, it damages the walls of the blood vessels which leads to the development of plaque and obstruction of blood flow as the body tries to heal the wound.
Vitamin B6 is also an important supplement in the treatment of autism and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Different studies have shown that vitamin B6 is especially helpful for treating acne caused by hormonal changes during menstrual cycles. This vitamin is most effective if supplementation starts at least 10 days before the onset of the menstrual cycle.
Another study showed that supplementation with 50 – 250 mg/day of vitamin B6 was enough to significantly reduce sebum production and improve acne symptoms in 75% of the adolescents who took the vitamin.
These positive effects of vitamin B6 in acne treatment are attributed to the role of the vitamin in regulating hormone activity and prostaglandin action.
Vitamin B6 can reduce the effects of testosterone and its metabolites such as dihydrotestosterone. By regulating these male sex hormones, vitamin B6 prevents the hormonal imbalance that causes acne.
Male sex hormones or androgens are mostly produced during puberty. They are responsible for the high incidence of acne among teenagers. When these hormones are produced in excess to fuel sexual development, they change the nature of the skin.
Testosterone and DHT cause the enlargement of the sebaceous gland. In this way, they increase the production of sebum which is why the skin gets oilier during the teenage years.
With excess sebum covering the skin, the ideal environment for colonization by acne-causing bacteria is set.
When these bacteria attack the skin, the body responds to the injury by sending immune cells to the site of injury. These cells trigger all the reactions involved in the inflammatory cascade including the release of prostaglandin. Therefore, a cycle of inflammation begins and this causes acne lesions such as pimples and nodules.
Furthermore, the excess sebum produced mixes with bacteria and dead skin cells to plug skin pores. When these pores are blocked, acne lesions such as whiteheads and blackheads break out.
Because vitamin B6 regulates prostaglandin and hormones such as testosterone and DHT, it can stop the chain of reaction that leads to acne breakout.
In addition, vitamin B6 supplementation with magnesium increases the production of some female sex hormones such as progesterone. These hormones are known to be naturally anti-acne since they counter the effect of male sex hormones and restore hormonal balance.
Yet another way by which vitamin B6 is helpful in acne treatment is in acne treatment with isotretinoin or Accutane. This retinoid is commonly used in treating acne. However, it increases the level of homocysteine in the body.
To prevent the cardiovascular side effects of high levels of homocysteine, vitamin B6 is often prescribed along with Accutane.
There have been reports that vitamin B6 also causes acne. These reports are now founded because different studies support them. However, it is not a totally accurate statement.
Vitamin B6 does cause acne but only when taken in very high doses. All studies demonstrating that vitamin B6 causes acne used daily administration of megadoses of the vitamin. Also, this effect affects women more than men.
Clearly, high-doses of vitamin B6 have paradoxical effect on acne. While 50 – 100 mg/day of the vitamin is sufficient to treat acne, doses higher than 250 mg/day cause acne breakouts.
Acne caused by vitamin B6 supplementation is easily reversed simply by withdrawing the vitamin.
The nature of acne produced by high doses of vitamin B6 is usually described as papules and/or pimples. It is worth noting that the same acne-causing effect is observed with high doses of vitamin B12 too.
Since these acne lesions are caused by the clogging of the pores, it is quite possible that high doses of vitamin B6 significantly increased glucose production from glycogen. The sudden increase in glucose availability may be enough to cause high a glycemic load which is known to cause acne.
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