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“B” is for breakouts

B vitamins are commonly thought of as harmless, due to being water-soluble. As nutrition junkies know, that view lacks nuance, and B vitamins can indeed be harmful in certain situations. As an example, this elegant series of experiments sheds new light on the mechanism by which vitamin B12 may impact acne formation.

Study under review: Vitamin B12 modulates the transcriptome of the skin microbiota in acne pathogenesis

Introduction

The composition of bacteria in certain parts of the body, known as the microbiome, has been linked[1] to human health and disease over the past decade, and has been discussed quite a bit in several past issues of the NERD. One common thread of microbiome studies is that they tend to look at how changes in the composition of the microbiome correspond to changes in health. Some bacteria overgrow while some undergrow, which can be correlated with health and disease. But one relatively unexplored area is the specific molecular mechanisms through which the microbiome impacts health.

Acne is a good condition (as far as conditions can be “good”) to study changes in the microbiome and their role in disease for a few reasons. The skin microbiome’s contribution to acne has been studied for a relatively long time[2] compared to the microbiome residing in other areas of the body. Those studies have led researchers to suspect that one species of bacterium, Propionibacterium acnes, is one of the main contributors to acne, which further simplifies matters. It should be noted, though, that the exact role of P. acnes is not entirely clear.[3]

Indeed, P. acnes is found on both healthy human skin and in acne[4], so why do some people break out while others don’t? The authors of the current paper thought that modern molecular techniques had a decent chance of providing an answer to this question. While P. acnes is present on both healthy and acne-afflicted skin, there may be differences in the expression levels of the genes in bacteria living on the skin (known as “the metatranscriptome”, which is shown in Figure 1). Differences in expression by P. acnes in particular (its transcriptome) between different people could help explain the development of acne, given a seemingly similar microbiome composition. These differences in gene expression levels were what the authors set out to explore.

Figure 1: The Microbiome, Transcriptome, and Metatranscriptome
Acne is caused in part by the bacterium Propionibacterium acnes. However, this bacterium lives on both healthy and acne-prone skin. So why do some people break out and some don’t? The authors of this paper looked at what genes were expressed by skin bacteria in order to find out.

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Other Articles in Issue #10 (August 2015)

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    If you run, cycle, or do anything long and sweaty, then you already know that carb intake is especially important for endurance activity. But recommended intakes range from around 30-60 grams, which is pretty broad. This trial can help you get to a more specific number, and possibly perform better.
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    There are few conditions where carbs play as direct of a role as in type 2 diabetes. Yet the recommended carb intake levels for this condition aren’t so different than for the general population. That may change at some point, due to trials like this one, which is more highly controlled and thorough than previous lower-carb & diabetes studies.
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    Science and mystery often go hand in hand, and this is a perfect example: when you have a skin infection, you tend to have more salt in the infected skin. But why is that? Well, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. The salt is probably doing something in regards to immune response, and it’s possible that how much salt you eat could also play a role. Resist the urge to skip to the end of this mystery -- the buildup is worth it.
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