Clear Skin Starts With a Healthy Gut!

by Carla Hernandez, Nutritional Therapy Practitioner August 2, 2013

By Carla Hernandez NTP of Wise Roots Nutrition

Have you been struggling with acne and skin issues for years, maybe decades and still can’t find an answer? I wish I would have known how deep the connection is from the gut to the skin when I was attempting to figure out my skin issues; I would have had an answer much sooner. The funny thing is, this is not new information, just forgotten.

The relationship between gut balance and clear skin can be traced back over 70 years ago when dermatologists John H. Stokes and Donald M. Pillsbury first proposed a connection between depression, anxiety and skin conditions such as acne.

They specifically found that emotional states (stress), like anxiety and depression, have the ability to alter gut flora!

We know that over time, this can compromise intestinal integrity and contribute to a permeable gut (leaky gut) and therefore inflammation. How that inflammation spreads is different for every person as it is systemic, meaning that it can manifest as different symptoms all over the body. For many, it can have a direct effect on the skin.

The Original Remedies

The remedies that were used by Stokes and Pillsbury is now a widely known and popular bacteria, Lactobacillus acidophilus, also known as the most common strain of probiotic on the market (if you’re looking for a multi strain probiotic, Prescript Assist is my favorite). The second remedy they used was cod liver oil! We know that cod liver oil is great for skin conditions as it is rich in vitamins A and D, which directly impact the health of the skin.

We also now know that the reason this remedy works is because a healthy gut is where 70-80% of our immunity is. If you have a well functioning digestion system, your overall health is probably better than the majority of the population, meaning that overall inflammation is likely to be much lower in those without gut issues. Although it’s possible to have acne and not have gut issues, it is very rare that I have seen this with my clients. Even when there are no obvious digestive symptoms, I will still work on supporting the gut, and there is always an improvement in the skin.

So how does our gut flora get compromised in the first place? Lots of things can alter the good and bad ratio of bacteria in our system:

  • Poor Diet- rich in sugars and carbohydrates, processed/ refined food, caffeine, alcohol, rancid oils and fats.
  • Stress- physical, emotional, mental.
  • Lack of Sleep- alters cortisol levels, creates stress and weakens the adrenals.
  • Medication/ Antibiotics- Even the birth control pill which was used by 67% of young women ages 18-24 in 2008.
  • Poor Digestion- Without the proper ability to digest our food thoroughly, this will create toxins and contribute to the load of bad bacteria in our system, adding to the cycle.  
  • Food Sensitivities- Even healthy food can be damaging if one is reacting to it. You can read more about food sensitivities here.

Psychological Stress and Leaky Gut

As our gut flora changes for the worse, the stomach lining becomes permeable. Leaky gut is well known now, especially in the alternative medicine field, as it is more common today than ever.

This is due to many people experiencing these stressors above on a daily basis. Over time, without addressing these symptoms, our immunity goes down, and more toxins, chemicals, bacteria and even parasites start to compromise the lining of the stomach and seep through to enter the bloodstream.

This is why it is known as “leaky gut”. Emotional stress can lead to the same symptoms. A study in the Journal of Clinical Investigation showed psychological stress disrupts the skin’s antimicrobial barrier, the epidermis, which is our first defense to invaders:

“A large number of skin diseases, including atopic dermatitis and psoriasis, appear to be precipitated or exacerbated by psychological stress . When this happens, infection and inflammation in the skin develops.”

Hydrochloric Acid

Hydrochloric acid, or HCL, is another well known supplement when it comes to supporting digestion, but turns out it is great for acne as well. The reason for this is because most people who have a compromised digestive system will also be low in HCL, which helps with digestion and maintains the proper PH.

So instead of food fermenting and turning toxic inside of us, it’s actually being used as it should. HCL is our first line of defense in our stomach to fight off bad bacteria and pathogens from going any further. Our intestines are the biggest reservoir of bacteria in the whole body, particularly in the colon, so we need the proper PH to help maintain an environment where unfriendly germs can’t flourish, but our good bacteria can.

Fix that Gut!

Bottom line, if you want clear skin naturally, you need to start from the inside, gut first, not with toxic prescriptions like Accutane or chemically laden skincare products for acne prone skin.

The second thing you may want to consider is that most people need to do some sort of gut healing, but timing is everything. If you currently have an infection, or parasite present, you don’t want to be throwing probiotics at it, as it will not heal and can exacerbate symptoms.

I suggest working with a practitioner that has experience finding out the real cause of your digestive (or other symptoms) concerns. This means testing. I personally suffered for years with digestive issues and acne, thinking I could figure it out without tests, only to find out that I had two parasites and a nasty bacteria that I needed to have addressed first and foremost. Needless to say I am now an advocate of certain tests as it is crucial to properly address the root problem.

Sources

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2045620/

http://www.gutpathogens.com/content/3/1/1

Photo Credit: D Sharon Pruitt

About the Author

Carla Hernandez is a Certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP) who uses nutrition, diet and lifestyle interventions to support physiological mechanisms within the body. She is the founder of Wise Roots Nutrition, which is an integrative approach that focuses on customized plans to support the root cause of a person’s health challenge.

Carla educates and empowers you to make responsible and healthful food choices that restore balance and proper function to your body, as well as offers lab testing to provide accurate recommendations and effective solutions. She believes in finding the root cause of a condition, rather than just treating the symptoms. Carla works with people locally in San Francisco, as well as long distance via phone and Skype. She specializes in Digestive Issues, Weight Loss and Skin Conditions.

Sign up to get Carla’s weekly nutrition tips, ideas, and the latest health information on her site, wiserootsnutrition.com or connect with her on Facebook.

 

Comments (37)

  1. Pingback: Coconut Oil May Not Be Right For You

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  3. It’s no wonder some people have poor skin you’ve only got to see what they put in their food trolley at the supermarket! If you follow a healthy diet instead of eating processed and junk food there’s less likelihood of health problems.

    Reply
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  5. An interesting article. If people realised if they look after their health properly then perhaps many of the ailments such as bad skin complexion and acne would not exist.

    Reply
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  10. Interesting article! How do you exactly ‘address’ specific paracites or bad bacteria?
    Also I would like to know your thoughts on fermented foods and their role in gut healing? Won’t fermented foods give the good bacteria and at the same time (which is important) stimulate hydrochloric acid and proper pH in your gut and thereby contribute to healing?

    Reply
  11. Hello,
    I have pretty much all the signs of a compromised gut…acne, depression, anxiety, headaches, stress (autistic daughter. life etc…), lack of sleep, I was on birthcontrol pills for years and I am currently still taking Prozac. I have begun my whole foods journey, which has helped to some degree. The worst problem I have is really, really bad acid reflux!!! I have tried lemon water, essential oils, ACV, digestive enzymes, HCL, probiotics etc… The only thing that resolves it completely is prescription drugs. I have been reading how bad these acid blockers are and i want to get off of them!!! Can anyone give me some direction on what I might be doing wrong when it comes to the HCL and other natural tactics. I don’t really know how much to take and have just been doing the trial and error method. I know I should probably do the GAPS diet but I just can’t see how it will fit into my crazy life right now. Any help would be appreciated!!!!!!!!!! Thanks so much, Noahla

    Reply
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  13. Woow! i’m impressed with this findings. thank you very much for sharing this useful information. I have been struggling with some skin conditions for sometime and who knows leaky gut could be the problem. I would find out.

    Reply
  14. Hello,
    Great article on healthy skin. I was wondering if going to the Sauna is beneficial for the skin, or just a myth? Is it really good for your skin and flushing toxins out of your body going to the Sauna?
    Thanks

    Reply
  15. I am having such a hard time with this. It’s really difficlut, esp. dealing with stress, anxiety, depression, etc. I try to eat as healthy as possible but sometimes it’s not easy. I am seeing a holistic doctor and he’s working with me (diet, supplements, etc.), but I am still having struggles. I am not where I use to be with this, but I still have a ways to go…

    Reply
  16. Hi there,
    What parasite/bacteria did you have and how did you deal with them before adding probiotics/diet? I have worms, candida and SIBO and do GAPS/probiotics but it’s not enough to get rid of the worms.
    Thanks,
    Denise

    Reply
  17. great article. I would love to know what tests you suggest for bacteria and parasites before trying to heal the gut with probotics and diet

    Reply
  18. This is wonderful information and exactly what I have been dealing with for weeks now. I went to a local chiropractor who does nutrition response testing for my HORRIBLE cystic acne outbreak. Turns out I had a parasite of some kind and a sensitivity to dairy products. I believe stress to be a major cause in this ‘outbreak’. A few dietary changes, some standard process supplements, and my skin is looking 99% better!

    Reply
    • I see a chiro that does NRT (and he uses SP products too!) and he’s helped me with a LOT of my issues (hormonal, etc.) but I am still dealing with the gut stuff and brain fog (including sinus/head pressure/tension – anxiety/depression off sets a lot of these symptoms and the gut probably causes a lot of the anxiety & depression). It’s been a long process…

      Reply
  19. I can attest to the truth of this article! My daughter had SEVERE acne, which improved immensely when her holistic dermatologist tested her for food allergies and we removed those foods (gluten-containing grains, dairy, eggs, sugar, almonds). Still, she had some trouble, and craved carbs quite a bit, like she always had. We found that when she over did it on even non-gluten grains and carbs her skin would flare up. She also had tended towards constipation her entire life. A couple years after that I learned about the GAPS diet, which really took her the rest of the way (1.5 years on GAPS). She detoxed majorly the first few months, but man, her skin cleared, her “brain” cleared, she slept better, and her digestion is way better. She now can eat all of her “allergy” foods except for wheat. I think that one’s a doozy (she gets “hung over” for days if she eats it). The real key to her skin AND food sensitivities was to heal her gut!

    Reply
    • whatever parasite you may have coconut oil is wonderful!!! it helped with my heartburn as well as sea salt. but coconut oil is awesome!!!!!!!!! It knocked out h.pylori!! this is the only thing that helped me when apple cider vinegar didn’t help my heartburn or cleanses or anything. it was coconut oil.

      Reply
  20. Thank you for this article!! I have always had pretty healthy skin but I am 33 and no now my acne is awful! I started detoxing about 4 months ago (Eliminating as many processed foods as possible, cutting most dairy out and eating less meat with hormones). I started taking probiotics 4 months ago as well.
    I’ve tried so many products on the market including products from my dermatologist and physician and after having no luck I started an antibiotic (even though I hated too because of a few autoimmune conditions I have- DESPERATE). Can you tell me what labs you had done to determine the bacteria in your gut, or what tests helped to find that information out? I requested having my physician check my hormone levels but she was not interested in doing so. I also know that after having laparoscopy 4 years ago, my endometriosis is back with a vengeance, so I have been thinking that could be causing the ance too.
    Thank you!!

    Reply
    • Hi Lisa, glad you found this helpful!

      I use different labs for different tests, depending on the symptoms a person has, but I think Biohealth has a pretty accurate pathogenic screen that I love and have gotten great insight with!
      Carla\’s last post: Health Benefits of Ginger

      Reply
  21. I somewhat disagree with this post as being the first thing to address when it comes to clear skin. Indeed a healthy gut is essential for any type of issue, and yes, that includes clear skin. However; many people eat horrid diets and still have lovely clear skin.; I am a retired nutritionist, and am currently working with a client who is 17 years old and had the worse acne I’ve ever seen. The family and she are a perfect 100% observers of our WAPF and Nourishing Traditions diet since she was much younger. Her Mom and family are all members of WAP. and do a great job in the gut/diet area. Leaky guts and those type of more serious gut issues I agree need to be addressed but it must be done ALONG with hormonal imbalances. IMHO.

    In any case, I’ve had her on a very high level protocol of Chaste Treeree, Livco, Chlorophyll, and several other Standard Process products. Along with foods high in zinc, fermented Cod Liver Oil, High Vitamin butter etc. The improvement has been nothing less than miraculous. I am now working to clear up the remaining small red marks that are left over. The infection is now totally gone. Hormone balancing is the first thing I look for, and if they are not on a traditional diet, I orient them on that issue. If the hormones and liver are all over the place or compromised, you can eat all the healthy food you want, but it won’t clear up serious cases of acne. Just my opinion of course, but hopefully it will help someone who’s eating well and not getting results.
    Maria Atwood, CNHP – traditionalcook.com

    Reply
    • I am well aware that the gut is not the only cause of acne, there are far too many causes for one article to address. Obviously hormones play a big part, but what I was trying to highlight is in my experience I have noticed about 80% of my clients have H. pylori or another infection, which really needs to be addressed to not only heal the gut, but take the stress off the adrenals so the body can overall heal completely….whatever way those symptoms manifest. Hormone issues can or cannot be tied into this (and typically in teens this is the case). I work with mainly adults who have been dealing with skin conditions for decades and still eat incredibly healthy. This is when further investigation is needed, especially if they have clear symptoms. Many times the stress caused by an infection can disrupt hormones both stress and sex hormones. And yes I agree liver support and function is extremely important!
      Carla\’s last post: Health Benefits of Ginger

      Reply
  22. I always wonder why teens are more prone to back acne as well as chest acne than the previous generation. Many have no acne on their face but their backs are a mess. Is this a different sign?

    Reply
    • It could be a gut issue, could be more hormonal for teenagers, or could be even be both. Diet is also very important! Acne can vary on the underlying cause, but gut issues are something that has not really been addressed in mainstream skin concerns which is why I brought it up here. It most definitely is not the only cause, but a big one in my opinion!

      Reply

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