When I was in 9th Grade, I had really bad acne. So much so that I couldn’t even count the pimples on my forehead anymore.This was probably due to a variety of reasons—the heat and humidity of Manila, stress from school, and the greasy, fried Filipino food often served in the school canteen (because who can resist a freshly fried turon?). I tried everything to remedy the acne, from rubbing toothpaste on my pimples to liberally applying tea tree oil every night, but as soon as a pimple disappeared, another would quickly take its place.
I eventually gave up stressing over the acne and conceded that it was just another annoying aspect of puberty. My acne slowly started becoming less severe, but it wasn’t until I started eating “healthy” in 11th Grade that I noticed bigger changes.
“Healthy” has loads of different meanings, but for me it meant drinking a lot more water, eating more fruits and vegetables, and lessening my carbohydrate intake. I originally changed my eating habits to go along with all my friends and their “prom diets,” but I realized that after a month of eating healthier, I was only getting one or two pimples sporadically.
While researching about how diet affects acne, I realized that acne has a variety of causes, such as stress or humidity, but acne also has a frequently overlooked culprit: gut health.
Acne acts as a mirror of your inner dietary and hormonal imbalances, so it’s no wonder that recent advances in gut microbiome research shows a significant link between gut health and acne.
First off - what is the gut and how does it relate to acne? Everyone has a gut microbiome, which refers to the trillions of microorganisms living in the gut, such as bacteria, fungi, viruses and the environment surrounding them.
Acne is a skin condition involving infected or inflamed sebaceous glands, and research indicates that the gut microbiome has significant effects on acne. The relationship between the skin and the gut microbiome is referred to as the “skin-gut axis.”
The microorganisms living in the gut maintain the intestinal barrier, whose job is to limit bacterial byproducts (like toxins) and undigested food from entering the blood and reaching the skin.1 However, an imbalance among the gut bacteria (a condition called dysbiosis) damages this intestinal barrier. The byproducts and food then leak through the intestines and into the bloodstream. This condition is commonly called “leaky gut syndrome,” and it causes an autoimmune response that may trigger inflammation and acne.
Additionally, the gut microbiome also interacts with the immune system and maintains the skin’s balance by inhibiting pathogenic bacteria from growing on the skin and decreasing inflammation. The short chain fatty acids from the gut’s fiber fermentation also leads to skin microbe growth, thus managing skin inflammation.
So how do I maintain my gut health to control my acne? Is there a remedy for my gut health and acne?
- Add good bacteria back to your gut through probiotics. Make sure to consult your healthcare provider before choosing a probiotic supplement, as not all supplements may help improve your own body’s gut health.
- Eat food to promote the good bacteria already present in your gut. These good bacteria flourish from feeding on fermented food like yogurt and kombucha. Kimchi is also a fermented food, so you can recreate K-Drama meals while nourishing your gut! Many fermented foods are also rich in lactobacilli, which is a healthy bacteria.
- Make sure to have a diverse range of foods in your diet. Fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and protein all promote gut health. However, we Filipinos do love our processed and sugary food, so just eat them in moderation! These types of food have a glycemic index (GI) rating, and people with a low GI diet have shown improvements in acne symptoms.
- Keep hydrated, as drinking water has a beneficial effect on the intestine’s lining and the balance of bacteria in the gut. Additionally, water helps the body break down food and absorb nutrients. The year-round heat and humidity of the Philippines should be a constant reminder to complete your 8 glasses of water a day!
- Minimize stress. From working to studying to the everyday Manila traffic, we Filipinos are no strangers to stress. But long term stress leads to gastrointestinal issues, and short-term stress leads to slower digestion. Poor gastrointestinal health during stress alters the gut microbiome, and may also weaken the intestinal barrier.
Acne is triggered by a variety of factors, and one factor that you can control is your diet and gut health. Starting with the steps above, you can improve your gut health and maintain your acne. My experience in switching to a healthier diet definitely made my skin clear up, and eating healthier may help solve your skin issues as well.
Acne and gut health have a very obvious, yet overlooked relationship that is easily remedied by maintaining a proper diet. But even if you don’t suffer from acne, gut health affects a multitude of other bodily functions, such as your immune system and brain function. So choose to sustain your gut health for not only your skin, but also for your overall health and well-being!
1Claire Barnes, nutritional therapist at Bio-Kult.