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 for Clear Skin
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, Bio-Kult is an excellent one). The second remedy they used was cod liver oil! We know that cod liver oil contains vitamins for skin conditions as it is rich in 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 toward clearer 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, 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 (sources) is the 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 if You Want Naturally Clear Skin!
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 gut parasites 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 and More Information
Carla Hernandez is a Certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP) who uses nutrition, diet and lifestyle interventions to support physiological mechanisms within the body. She specializes in Digestive Issues, Weight Loss and Skin Conditions.