Vitiligo and Vitamin B12 deficiency – What’s the connection?

Vitiligo and Vitamin B12 deficiency

Many sources can be listed to confirm that Vitamin B12 is needed to promote healthy hair, skin, and nails. It helps to regulate the production of pigment in the skin, which only illustrates its far-reaching effects. Keeping such a hypothesis in mind, researchers across the globe have attempted to evaluate the role of vitamin B12 status in vitiligo.

Over the years many studies have been administered that associated vitamin B12 status to vitiligo. It has been found that low vitamin B12 levels can cause a variety of dermatologic disturbances, including hyperpigmentation, nail discoloration, and the loss of skin color in the form of patches i.e. vitiligo.

Signs of vitamin B12 deficiency in people with vitiligo

As per an estimate, about 6% of people in the States and the United Kingdom aged 60 or older have a vitamin B12 deficiency. You might have a vitamin B12 deficiency along with vitiligo if:

    • You have been on a disciplined vegan diet.
    • You constantly feel tired, weak and lightheaded.
    • You have pale skin and smooth tongue.
    • You have constipation, diarrhea, loss of appetite, or gas.
    • You feel numbness or tingling, muscle weakness, and problems walking.
    • You have gastrointestinal disorders such as Crohn’s disease or celiac disease.
    • You had gastrointestinal surgeries (such as bowel resection surgery and bariatric surgery.
    • If you take proton pump inhibitors for chronic heartburn.
    • If you feel shortness of breath.

Does vitamin B12 deficiency cause vitiligo?

Vitamin B12, an essential hormone, regulates the production of pigment in the skin. This leads to the recognition of the fact that vitamin B12 could be very useful in finding the treatment of vitiligo if approached correctly. It can potentially prevent the death of melanocytes, thus preventing the loss of pigment in vitiligo.

A case control study (between July 2014 and December 2015) was conducted on Saudi Arab nationals to assess the association of vitiligo with thyroid dysfunction, vitamin B12 deficiency, diabetes mellitus, and anemia. Blood samples from both vitiligo patients and controls were collected and assayed for vitamin B12. Of the 115 vitiligo subjects, vitamin B12 deficiency was significantly more prevalent in the vitiligo group (16%) compared to control (2%). This hinted that high-dose vitamin B12 therapy may play an effective and safe role in the prevention of vitiligo.

So far, the exact cause and subsequent development of vitiligo are not fully understood. However, in many research studies, it has been found that Vitamin B12 and folic acid levels are decreased in vitiligo, which are important cofactors required for the metabolism of homocysteine. Therefore, it is possible that increased homocysteine plays a role in the destruction of melanocytes ( mature melanin-forming cells).

Looking Ahead: The usage of Vitamin B12 as an Adjunctive Therapy for Vitiligo

Although the relationship between vitamin B12 and pigmentation has been established in numerous studies, the association between vitiligo and vitamin B12 levels still needs to be investigated more thoroughly. So far, studies that establish a link between two have been limited by their sample size and cross-sectional design. Hence, further studies are needed to determine the pathological nature of vitamin B12 status in people in vitiligo.

Treatment of vitamin B12 deficiency in people with vitiligo

If vitamin B12 deficiency causes vitiligo, then its supplementation could help tame its aggression and even potentially reverse it. Since many research around vitamin B12 deficiency and vitiligo are underway, it’s recommended to go for Vitamin B12 supplementation only under the guidance of a licensed medical professional. It should be dosed according to lab levels, and ideally balanced with other water-soluble vitamins.

Since vitamin B12 is only found in animal products, one should eat a healthy, varied diet to prevent a vitamin B12 deficiency. Even though some grains and plant-based milk may have been fortified with vitamin B12, vegan diets are often limited in the vitamin, putting people at risk of deficiency. If your vitiligo treatment necessities you to go vegan, ask your doctor to prescribe you oral or intramuscular injections to challenge vitamin B12 deficiency.

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