Why Your Gut May Be Causing Bad Skin

Suffering with problem skin?  An
unlikely, but very good place to look for answers is your gut. More and
more research is connecting gut issues with problem skin.

For healthy, clear skin, ditch the chemical-laden topical creams.
They’re a band-aid at best. Instead, put the spotlight on healing your
gut – your skin (and wallet) will thank you. 

How can altered gut function affect the skin?

The bacteria in our intestines are akin to an organ. When healthy and in
balance, our gut bacteria perform a slew of functions, including
breaking down food, aiding our immune system, producing vitamins (biotin
and vitamin K), preventing the growth of harmful bacteria, allergies,
and disease, and a whole lot more. But when things go wrong and the
bacteria in our gut are out of whack, there are consequences.

Important is the balance of bacteria; if they grow too high or low in
number, or there are too many of these and not enough of those, our gut
flora become harmful and turn on us – implicated in everything from
cancer to weight gain. These little guys can also affect our skin and
seriously compromise our self-confidence in the process.

Bad bacteria = bad skin?

Our skin’s health depends greatly on that of our gut.  Over a century
ago, dermatologists Drs Stokes and Pillsbury linked changes in the
microbial flora to inflammation that can manifest in the skin 1. They
connected bad skin with abnormal levels of stomach acid. Stomach acid
acts as a disinfectant killing bugs in the food we eat and helping to
prevent infections. They explained that 40% of those with acne had low
stomach acid (hypochlorhydria), a condition which induces migration of
bacteria from the colon — where they should remain — to the small
intestine where they do not belong.

Bacterial infiltration in the small intestine can lead to a condition
called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) 2, which shares many
symptoms with irritable bowl syndrome (IBS) and is often misdiagnosed
as such. SIBO has been shown to:

Cause nutritional deficiencies due to maldigestion and malabsorption of
proteins, fats, and carbs, as well as vitamins. SIBO can lead to
deficiencies in vitamin B12, as well as vitamins A, D, E, and K
(fat-soluble vitamins) essential for optimal skin health and overall
good health 3,4.
Increase intestinal permeability (or ‘leaky gut’) causing both systemic
and local inflammation, which is linked with skin problems. Many acne
patients for example, suffer from increased intestinal permeability 5.
Stimulate the production of substance P, which is known to promote inflammation 7.


The skin’s principal function is to protect the body against physical
(or mechanical) impacts, changes in temperature, microorganisms,
radiation and chemicals. But research also suggests that both
psychological stress and gut inflammation can compromise the integrity
and shielding properties of the skin 7. What this means is that when the
body is stressed and inflamed, the skin’s ability to fight bacteria is
compromised — this usually further aggravates any skin infection or
inflammation already present.

And here’s just some of the research connecting acne an imbalance in gut glora:

SIBO is 10 times more prevalent in those with acne rosacea compared to healthy controls 8.
Adolescents with acne are more likely to suffer from constipation, bad
breath and gastric reflux. The same study found that abdominal bloating
was 37% more likely to be related to acne and other seborrheic diseases

A Russian study found that 54% of acne sufferers have significant alterations to their gut flora 10.
Acne sufferers appear to have more bacterial strains in their stools 11.


No hard-core detox needed; simply try the following tips:

1. Check for SIBO

If you’re suffering with IBS-type symptoms such as bloating, tummy
distention, cramping, abdominal discomfort, ask your doctor to check for
SIBO. A direct culture is considered as the gold standard although the
lactulose breath test is more widely used to test for SIBO. If your gut
has been severely affected by SIBO and you’re suffering from extensive
bacterial overgrowth, you may need antibiotic therapy (check with your
doctor first). Antibiotics regularly prescribed include rifaximin,
metronidazole or ciprofloxacin, neomycin, and tetracycline.

2. Evaluate gastric acid production

Do you regularly suffer from heartburn and GERD? If yes, this could
indicate low stomach acid as well as bacterial overgrowth in your
stomach and intestines. You may also want to ask your doctor to test
your stomach acid with a device called a Heidelberg capsule.

To improve your stomach’s acid production, you may want to:

Reduce your intake of refined carbs.
Steer clear of artificial fructose and artificial sweeteners.
Gradually increase your consumption of fresh lemon juice, apple cider vinegar and fermented foods.

3. Take a probiotic

Oral probiotics have been shown to improve skin conditions such as acne
by reducing inflammation, oxidative stress and by improving the
efficiency of the intestinal barrier 12. In one study, 80% of
participants who received a probiotic experienced improvement in their
acne 12. You could try to take Lactobacillus acidophilus and
Bifidobacterium bifidum – clinical studies have demonstrated their
efficiency in improving skin conditions 13.

4. Include omega-3 in your diet

Since an omega-3 deficient diet may increase your risks of SIBO 14, you
may want to consume wild fish at least twice a week or take a high
quality omega-3 supplement.

If you suffer from acne, you could also try to eliminate pasteurized
dairy products from your diet for at least a month and then gradually
reintroduce one product at a time to determine whether dairy causes
issues for you. Studies suggest that pasteurized unfermented dairy
increases levels of insulin-like growth-factor (IGF-1), a substance that
favors acne formation 15.

You may also want to keep a symptom diary to note any progress as you
put each step into practice. This will help you identify what works for
you specifically.

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