Vitamin B12: A New Treatment for Eczema
Applying a topical cream containing vitamin B12 significantly improves eczema (atopic dermatitis), according to the British Journal of Dermatology (2004;150:977–83).
Eczema is an inflammatory condition of the skin characterized by rashes and intense itching that may be accompanied by swelling, redness, blistering, oozing, and crusting. With repeated scratching, the skin becomes thickened and may darken in color. Malfunctions of the immune system may contribute to the development of eczema, which occurs most frequently on the face, neck, hands, feet, insides of the elbows, and backs of the knees. Specifically, T-cells (one of the types of white blood cells) become activated, causing inflammatory substances called cytokines to be produced. Cytokines stimulate certain cells in the body to make nitric oxide, which contributes to the redness and swelling associated with eczema. Previous studies have reported that nitric oxide inhibitors can decrease the itching and redness of eczema.
Treatments for eczema aim to control inflammation, decrease itching, and manage infections that may occur as a result of repeated skin irritation. Commonly used treatments are not without side effects, however. For example, topical corticosteroids used to decrease inflammation and control itching may cause skin thinning and prolong the healing time of damaged skin. And tacrolimus (Protopic™), a newer drug that targets the immune system to control eczema, can cause a burning sensation or itching of the skin.
Vitamin B12 inhibits production of inflammatory cytokines and can trap nitric oxide, making it less harmful. The new study investigated the effect of a topical application of a vitamin B12–containing cream on eczema severity in 41 people aged 18 to 70 years. The participants were randomly assigned to apply a vitamin B12 cream (containing 0.07% cyanocobalamin, a form of vitamin B12) to affected areas on one side of the body, and a placebo cream to affected areas on the other side of the body two times per day for eight weeks. The severity and extent of eczema was rated at the beginning of the study and at two, four, six, and eight week intervals thereafter. The participants and doctors also assessed each treatment’s effectiveness and how well it was tolerated.
For all participants, the extent and severity of eczema were significantly less on the side of the body treated with the vitamin B12 cream than on the side treated with the placebo cream. Both the doctors and the study participants rated the vitamin B12 cream as superior to the placebo cream in effectiveness and tolerability. Only a few mild adverse reactions (local skin irritation) were associated with use of the vitamin cream.
The results of this study suggest that topical application of vitamin B12 is a safe and effective eczema treatment.
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She is a co-founder and practicing physician at South County Naturopaths, Inc., in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp teaches holistic medicine classes and provides consultations focusing on detoxification and whole-foods nutrition.
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