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Vitamin B-6 Deficiency and Dermatitis

By Sharon Perkins

Vitamin B-6, one of the B-complex group of vitamins, helps control immune responses, assists in red blood cell formation and helps maintain blood glucose levels. Deficiency of B-6 rarely occurs in the United States, since many foods contain B-6, including meats, vegetables, fortified cereals and some fruits. Dermatitis, inflammatory changes in the skin, can occur with B-6 deficiency. Seborrheic dermatitis, which causes greasy scales to form on skin, is common with B-6 deficiency.

Causes

Vitamin B-6 deficiency causes skin rashes because the vitamin is important for new cell production. Since skin cells have a frequent turnover rate, they’re constantly being replaced. A disturbance in the cell’s abilities to regenerate and replace themselves can manifest itself as skin rashes.

Susceptibility

Vitamin B-6 deficiency can occur in older Americans who eat poorly or alcoholics, who often have nutritional deficiencies from poor dietary intake. Children with asthma who use theophylline inhalers may also develop B-6 deficiency because theophylline decreases B-6 levels. Oral contraceptives, anti-seizure medications, diuretics and barbiturates can also interfere with B-6 storage. Smokers may also have low B-6 levels.

Diagnosis

Dermatitis occurs in many conditions other than B-6 deficiency. Seborrheic dermatitis is best recognized in infants with cradle cap, which is not caused by B-6 deficiency. Dermatitis also isn’t the only skin condition that occurs in B-6 deficiency. Other skin symptoms that may occur include glossitis -- a red, swollen, shiny tongue; eczema; acne; and mouth sores or cracks in the corners of the mouth.

Treatment

Taking B-6 supplements in addition to increasing dietary intake will normally cure B-6 deficiency. The recommended daily intake for B-6 is 1.3 mg per day for men and women aged 19 to 51 and 1.7 mg for men and 1.5 mg for women over 51. Take only the amount of B-6 recommended by your doctor to treat B-6 deficiency. Overdoses of B-6 can cause nerve damage, which can occur if you ingest more than the upper tolerable intake level of 100 mg per day, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements. No studies have shown any therapeutic value to taking high doses of B-6, the Linus Pauling Institute states. Topical B-6 applications may help dermatitis caused by deficiency.

Prevention

Eating a diet high in B-6 will prevent B-6 deficiency in most cases. Like all vitamins, B-6 is considered essential, which means your body can’t manufacture it; you must consume vitamin B-6 daily in your diet. Since B-6 works in conjunction with the other B-complex vitamins, a multivitamin that contains all the B vitamins is more effective than taking individual B vitamins.

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