Up to 50 million women, men, and teens in the United States suffer from the breakouts and embarrassment of acne vulgaris each year. About 85% of people aged 12-24 have at least mild acne, but you can get acne well into your 40s, too.
In fact, acne is the No. 1 skin condition that Americans wrestle with. Drugstore shelves and dermatologists’ offices are filled with products that dry up lesions, kill skin bacteria, and balance hormones.
Treating a skin condition on your skin may seem like a good idea. But when it comes to acne and other chronic skin conditions, the real problems start in your gut.
At Natural Health Specialists, our holistic medicine specialist, Christopher J. Fischer, ND, believes you can’t have real health without digestive health. Everything from mood to arthritis to, yes, even acne is controlled by what's happening in your gut.
How does your gut microbiome influence your skin microbiome? Following is a brief summary of the mechanisms at play and why they matter when it comes to healthy skin.
Your gut isn’t just a mass of looping tissue that transforms food into feces. Your gut has intelligence. In fact, the walls of your digestive system house a second brain: the gut brain.
Your gut brain is officially known as the enteric nervous system (ENS).
The ENS consists of two thin layers that are composed of more than 100 million nerve cells. The ENS runs through your entire digestive system, including your:
The ENS controls digestion, which you might expect, but it also communicates with your other brain — the one in your head. An irritated gut sends signals to your brain that can change your mood and may even be one of the causes of mental health issues, such as depression.
Unlike the ads about Las Vegas, what happens in the gut and the ENS does not stay there. In fact, everything that goes on inside your gut ends up affecting the rest of you, too, including your skin.
First, the ENS affects hormone production. Surges of hormones, such as testosterone, are one of the factors involved in acne.
In addition, your gut microbiome ideally has a balance of a variety of beneficial bacteria. In fact, the term “microbiome” actually refers to microscopic biological organisms such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
When your “bad” bacteria outweighs the “good” bacteria in your gut, it causes inflammation that spreads throughout your body, including your facial skin.
Also, if your gut starts to leak bacteria into your bloodstream — due to a diet high in inflammatory foods or other factors — these bacteria can accumulate on your skin. Your skin has its own microbiome that needs to be balanced to keep skin healthy. If it’s invaded by excess gut bacteria, acne can be the result.
Finally, using antibiotics to treat acne can also kill beneficial gut bacteria. This leads to further imbalances that create more inflammation and ultimately lead to more acne breakouts.
The Western diet that emphasizes trans fats, simple carbohydrates, and fried or processed foods tends to be extremely inflammatory. A pro-inflammatory diet kills good bacteria and weakens the intestinal walls, causing leaky gut.
In addition to recommending an anti-inflammatory diet that emphasizes fresh fruits and vegetables as well as healthy fats and proteins, we may also recommend supplements and herbs. Once your gut is healthy, your skin issues (and other issues) begin to clear, too.
To find out how to clear your skin with the wisdom of your ENS, subscribe to our new client special for monthly gut health telehealth sessions. Although we’re based in East Northport, New York, Dr. Fischer sees all patients virtually.