Probiotics for Acne – Do they Work?


Acne: that awful skin condition characterized by red and white sore looking pimples on the skin. Acne is especially prevalent on the face and neck, though it can sprout up just about anywhere. It's the result of inflamed or infected sebaceous glands. These are the tiny glands in the skin which secrete a lubricating oily matter. It's bad enough that acne looks bad, but it can also be incredibly painful in some people too. The physical torment caused by chronic acne can also have a negative, psychological impact on its victims.

In this article the main focus is on probiotics and acne. By the time you have read this you will be familiar with the following four points:

  1. How diet and gut health influence acne
  2. How probiotics can help to fight acne
  3. How to use probiotics to best effect
  4. Topical vs. oral probiotics – which is best for YOU

Once the curse of adolescents, acne is now affecting more and more adults all the time, especially men. The problem with acne is that there is no single root cause of this troublesome skin complaint. Dermatologist point the finger at lifestyle and poor diet as the main contributors. This is not surprising as health experts often link diet and lifestyle to modern day health conditions. All the same, there are lots of other underlying factors involved, some of which can be hard to identify.

Typical Acne Causes

The causes we want to look at in this piece relate to something called the brain-gut-skin-axis. A couple of generations ago, doctors and skin specialists thought that acne was the result of eating too much greasy foods and sticky sweets. Move forward 20 years and they changed their minds. This time they said acne and food have no known links. Not long after that, food was back in the spotlight as one of the root causes. This pattern tells us that everyone was pretty much clutching at straws. It's not a lot different today, and there certainly isn't a one-cure-fits-all solution [1].

The best way to treat YOUR acne is to find out why YOU have it, what's the trigger? See, we're all different, and that's why we haven't seen an acne wonder-product hitting the high street.

If you, like so many others, have tried just about every known remedy, then it's time to look elsewhere. It's time to see if your gut is somehow creating those flare-ups. It's true that all kinds of things can link acne to its victim, and one of those can definitely be gut-problems, hence this article. So if abnormalities in the bacteria that live in the digestive track are a problem for you, then perhaps probiotics are the solution. We will get on to that shortly [2].

Most of the known causes for acne include (gut related causes in bold):

  • Dietary Gut Irritants
  • Environmental irritants
  • Food Intolerances
  • Hormone levels (the most common cause of acne)
  • Low Stomach Acid
  • Medications
  • Skin products
  • Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)
  • Stress
  • Sedentary lifestyles

Common Acne Symptoms

Only people who have truly suffered with acne can sympathize with others. It's a condition that non acne sufferers often joke about, especially teens, but this is no laughing matter.  Here are some of its cruel symptoms, many of which can be persistent for years, or even a lifetime [3]:

  • Blackheads
  • Whiteheads
  • Pustules (puss filled blisters)
  • Papules (small red bumps)
  • Cysts
  • Crusting of skin bumps
  • Redness around the skin eruptions
  • Scarring of the skin

Some poor individuals get the entire package and that can really take its toll and affect their quality of life. Perhaps the three most basic commonsense pieces of advice for all acne sufferers is to:

  1. Exercise regular (seriously, this can help)
  2. Make sure you're always hydrated
  3. Stop picking, poking, scratching and popping the skin

Probiotics and Acne – How Stuff Works

We can't get any further from the skin than the gut, yet this can be the epicenter for acne eruptions. Dietary Gut Irritants are all those things which can influence your gut in a negative way. For some it will be gluten, for others it might be alcohol, infections, drugs and a plethora of other things.

About Probiotics – A Snapshot

In a nutshell, probiotics are “living microorganisms”. These are what scientists call the “good” or “friendly” bacteria. We not only welcome this friendly bacterium, we need it too. The known health benefits and health claims associated with probiotics are too many too mention. To keep things simple, here are the three you need to know about the most”​

  1. Probiotics help to increase the bioavailability of nutrients
  2. Help to improve digestion
  3. Obstruct the growth of the “bad” bacteria

The Gut-Skin Connection

Gut issues can materialize because of many different things. To understand how this associates with acne we first have to understand the actual problems.

Inside us all are two distinct types of bacteria which live in the digestive system. First we have the good guys. These are what the scientists call the “good” or “friendly” bacteria (probiotics). Next there are the so-called bad guys. We can't see them but they are there all the same. In fact, there are many more bacteria residing inside your gut than there are actual cells in your body.

In most of us, for the majority of the time, the good to bad bacteria ratio remains in balance. However, whenever this “balance” gets out of whack, all kinds of health complications can arise. This good bacterium is essential to life as it digests certain foods and helps to manufacture vitamins that our bodies need to function.

When the Bad Guys Take Over

Problems materialize when the bad guys get to take over. There are many reasons why this might happen but three of the most common are most likely due to:

  1. Too much stress
  2. Poor diet
  3. Excessive antibiotic usage

There are various environmental causes too, and poor lifestyle habits that can also take their toll. This is a condition known in the medical profession as gut dysbiosis (a term for a microbial imbalance on or inside the body). It also goes by the name of SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). These harmful bacteria (the bad guys) then get to interfere with digestion and produce toxins.

When conditions in the body are good, your thin yet effective gut wall keeps bad substances out of the main body. The essential nutrients can still enter the body and get to where they're needed, but not toxins and other harmful stuff. When you suffer with SIBO, this protection weakens and the bad bacteria get to run riot. As they grow, the harmful bacteria produce corrosive substances which then start to attack the gut wall. When successful, minute cracks begin to appear in the wall, and that's when the problems begin. The result is that harmful molecules that can't usually get through can now enter into the body. The name for this is leaky gut syndrome or intestinal permeability [4].

The unwanted substances that can now “leak” into the body include:

  • Bad bacteria, virus and fungi
  • Food that hasn't been properly digested
  • Harmful toxins from bacterial metabolism

The common consequences of this, depending on the extent of the leak, can include the following:

  • Chronic inflammation
  • Trigger food allergies
  • Potential to increase emotional problems and stress levels
  • Stomach discomforts and gas
  • Nutrient deficiencies (a result of incomplete digestion of foods)

Sometimes the symptoms are minor or so negligible that people don't concern themselves too much. That doesn't mean their gut isn't leaking, it just means they put any minor discomfort down to something else or just ignore it altogether. Some of us even joke about loud and persistent tummy rumblings, though this could actually be the cause of more serious problems. Sufferers of acne rarely suspect their gut as the root cause of their skin problems, but it could be.

The Acne-Gut Studies

It's always good when we have a little science to back things up. Here we look at two studies which link acne to poor gut health.

The first is a 2011 study conducted by the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center. What the researchers noticed was that in 114 acne sufferers, around 54 percent of them had SIBO. The researchers then divided the SIBO participants into two groups for the study. They gave one half of the group intestinal microflora-correcting agents. The results were conclusive. All the patients who took the microflora-correcting agents showed promising results. Their acne symptoms cleared up twice as quickly as the SIBO group who did not take probiotic supplements.

There is another 2011 study, this time in Korea and conducted by Korea University.  This research had 56 acne patients consume Lactobacillus-fermented dairy beverages. They did this over a 12 week period. At the end of the trial, the results saw inflammatory acne symptoms reduced by 40 percent. Furthermore, there was also a reduction in pimple count by 23 percent and decreased oil production [5].

Trials and research are always ongoing when it comes to acne, but the connection between the gut and skin conditions are nothing new. In fact, many doctors have suspected this connection for at least 50 years now.

Summing Up

In general, acne patients have higher levels of chronic systemic inflammation (SI). This is a condition that causes red, swollen and painful acne. Acne tends to get worse with increased inflammation. We also know that gut issues are a major factor in chronic SI. Studies continue to show that it's possible to clear or reduce acne symptoms by treating gut issues in patients with SIBO. The way to treat these conditions is with probiotics.

Not all acne is caused by problems in the gut, but tests have shown that a high percentage of sufferers do have SIBO. Because of this, those with chronic acne symptoms have nothing to lose by exploring probiotics for their condition. It's is especially worth looking into if all other treatments have so far failed.

Resources

  1. http://www.acneeinstein.com/the-gut-skin-axis/
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3038963/
  3. http://acner.org/acne-symptoms/
  4. http://www.emedicinehealth.com/small_intestinal_bacterial_overgrowth/article_em.htm#small_intestinal_bacterial_overgrowth_sibo_quick_overview
  5. https://www.aad.org/media/news-releases/could-probiotics-be-the-next-big-thing-in-acne-and-rosacea-treatments

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