Something we don’t hear often from dermatologists is how our intestinal tract, or gut, plays a key role in our skin’s health. This is especially the case for acne vulgaris - an inflammatory condition notable for its raised red bumps.
Acne-sufferers are often put on topical creams to treat the condition, and when that doesn’t work, accutane (isotretinoin) tends to be the prescribed drug of choice.
Why? Because most of the time accutane works.
Acne.org claims that nearly all patients see a clearance or visible reduction after a completed cycle (15-20 weeks), while acne symptoms return in about 30% of all patients, and another round is often given.
Don’t get too excited, however, as accutane can come along with serious, sometimes even permanent, implications.
The side effects of Accutane aren't worth it
Hoffman-La Roche, the company that first brought Accutane to the market, has been hit with numerous lawsuits over the years for the serious health issues it has caused some people.
Accutane is a synthetic vitamin A derviative (13-cis-retinoic acid), which may seem safe in theory. But, most people who take a round of Accutane almost always end up with a side effect. Sometimes they're reversible, and other times they're long-term.
Side effects can include:
- Dry skin, eyes, lips, and nose with possible nosebleeds
- Joint and muscle problems
- Nausea and vomiting
- Blurry vision
- Allergic reaction
- Organ damage
- Hearing problems
Most of these are rare, but obviously, the risk is still there. These side effects are just scratching the surface, and a more extensive list can be seen here.
A pharmaceutical drug with a laundry list of potential health implications isn't needed when you can treat the actual root cause of acne.
The gut - skin connection is key to understanding the cause of acne
What you'll most likely never hear from a conventional doctor, is that acne is caused by inflammation, which originates from the gut.
Our gastrointestinal tracts are host to a colony of over 100 trillion microorganisms (mainly bacteria), which is about 3 pounds worth! This is called the microbiome, or flora, and it outnumbers human cells by 10:1.
However, different factors can cause an imbalance of good to bad microorganisms, eventually leading to intestinal permeability, or leaky gut.
Leaky gut refers to when the protective wall lining of the gastrointestinal tract has become damaged, allowing toxins and undigested food molecules to enter into the bloodstream. As a result, it causes systemic inflammation and oxidative stress throughout the body.
This increase in oxidative stress damages sebum (a substance in your skin that helps it to retain moisture), by reducing its oxygen content. This change in sebum makes it a more suitable environment for the bacteria P. Acnes. It begins to thrive, and eventually, acne lesions appear.
Science proves acne sufferers have altered gut flora
- This 2001 Russian study showed that 54% of acne patients have impaired gut flora.
- Consumption of a fermented probiotic drink over the course of 12 weeks led to significant reductions in total acne lesion count and a reduction in sebum production.
- This study on adolescents with acne showed that they are more likely to suffer from constipation, bad breath, and gastric reflux. Abdominal bloating was also 37% more likely to be associated with acne and other seborrheic diseases.
- Acne sufferers have more bacterial strains in their stools.
- SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) is 10 times more prevalent in those with acne roasacea.
Acne is nearly unheard of in some non-Westernized societies
This 2002 study compared Western and non-westernized societies.
They found that 79% to 95% of adolescents in Westernized societies have acne vulgaris. While 40% to 54% of men and women over the age of 25 have some degree of facial acne.
Of the 1,200 Kitavan and 115 Aché people tested from Papua New Guinea and Paraguay, two non-westernized areas, not one case of acne was found.
Sounds absolutely crazy, but it has everything to with lifestyle and diet, and nothing to do with genetics. The Kitavan and Aché people simply have a more natural way of living than the West.
Your gut microbiome determines your health
Greek physician Hippocrates said over 2,000 years ago that "all disease begins in the gut". Well, decades of science has proven this statement to be true.
Our gut's microbiome is even considered our second brain, it's that powerful.
Altered gut flora can contribute to:
- Digestive diseases
- Autoimmune diseases - multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, arthritis
- Mood disorders
- Skin conditions - infantile eczema, psoriasis, cheilitis, and of course acne
How our lifestyle choices affect the gut microbiome
Doing even one course of antibiotics can alter the gut's flora, throwing off their natural balance.
It has led to the creation of dangerous superbugs, which people often contract in hospitals during antibiotic treatment.
NSAID's and other drugs
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs as well as others (contraceptives and analgesics) can also alter the gut's flora, increasing leaky gut.
Besides pharmaceutical drugs, diet has a massive impact on gut health.
The Western diet is the big issue here. It's generally high in sugar and fat, and low in fiber. It also utilizes a lot of refined and pasteurized foods, with a big emphasis on milk and grains, which are huge contributors to acne.
This kind of diet is directly related to an overgrowth of "bad" bacteria.
In the example below, we get an insight into the acne-free Kitavan diet, which we mentioned earlier:
A whopping 69% of their calories comes from carbohydrates, 21% from saturated fat, and 10% from protein.
Even though most Kitavans smoke, they have undetectable levels of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and they're also incredibly lean.
This is mainly because of the type of carbohydrates they consume, which come from root vegetables and fruit. Also, their fat consumption is much higher in omega-3's than a Western diet.
Whereas a Western diet is high in omega-6 fats and carbohydrates from refined foods.
For an excellent article on the comparison of the Kitavan and Western diets, go here.
We build our gut flora and a big part of our immune system through our environments. The use of hand sanitizers, anti-bacterials, and soaps has decreased our exposure to rare pathogens, which we have naturally built immunities to for millions of years.
Lack of contact with dirt and whole unpasteurized foods is detrimental to our gut's microbiome, especially in early development.
Psychological stress can have a significant affect on gut flora.
Certain types of bacteria are passed onto babies during normal birth. However, a caesarian delivery may affect the early biodiversity of intestinal bacteria.
How restore our gut health and eliminate acne
You'll have to make some dietary changes if you want to improve your acne.
Following a diet that's rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, with an emphasis on starchy root vegetables (boiled) clearly benefits gut health.
You'll want to eliminate:
- Vegetable / seed oils
- Processed meats and grains
- Refined sugars and fats (packaged junk foods, drinks, etc.)
As a rule of thumb, it's best to eat high-digesting foods like fruit alone on an empty stomach early on in the day, and slow-digesting foods at the end of the day. This is to avoid fermentation of foods in the gut.
Also, take potent probiotics, and consume foods high in omega-3.
By consuming a lot more fibre, and putting less of a glycemic load on your body, this should improve your gut function and flora, and ultimately cure or greatly improve your acne. If this doesn't quite do it for you, than a strict plant-based diet should be put in place.
Other than that, make sure to get lots of sleep, exercise, and sun to fast-track your health recovery process.
You can also reduce acne using omega-6 rich topical products
I already mentioned how we consume high amounts of omega-6 fats in a Western diet. So why would you want to slather it on your skin?
The odd thing, is that acne-prone skin is actually lacking this essential fatty acid. This is caused by a deficiency in a certain enzyme called delta-6 desaturase.
This enzyme is critical for converting omega-6 in the body, to a substance called GLA (gamma-linolenic acid) in the skin. As a result, acne sufferers are also deficient in GLA - worsening inflammation associated with the condition.
Our product LOA OIL is high in GLA and can also speed up the acne healing process by eliminating inflammation and irritations.
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