Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria that live your digestive system. They help with digestion of food and absorption of nutrients. Now scientists say they may even help to clear your skin. The bacterial balance in the gut influence inflammation levels, insulin resistance and glucose tolerance. They can even help you to fight acne causing bacteria. Join me for a brief tour as I explain how these little fellows in your gut help you to get clear.
The antioxidant system
Research has shown that acne victims have significantly lower levels of antioxidants than people with healthy skin. It’s not known whether this is due to greater demand for antioxidants or due to some other reason.
Antioxidants, and especially vitamin E, are crucial in protecting sebum from oxidative damage. As explained in the previous issue, oxidative damage to sebum is the trigger event that starts off the whole acne process.
Intestinal health and inflammation
Intestinal health affects the levels of systematic inflammation in the body. When intestinal health is compromised tiny, tiny holes appear between the cells in the intestines. Through these holes the content of the gut can lead to the body. Among the leaking material could be bacterial toxins and incompletely digested food particles.
The immune system treats these toxins and particles as invaders and attacks them increasing inflammation throughout the body. To cope with the inflammation the body has to use its finite antioxidant reserves.
Intestinal health is primarily affected by bacterial balance residing there. When the so-called good bacteria (probiotics) outnumber the bad bacteria the intestines are in good working condition. But when the balance starts shifting towards the bad guys problems appear.
Inflammation is not the only problem resulting from this bacterial imbalance. Harmful bacteria compete from nutrients and impair digestion and absorption nutrients. All this means that you get less nutrients from the food you eat.
Emotions and intestinal health
The bacterial balance in the gut is affected by many things, stress and emotions among them. An Australian study investigated the effect of academic stress on the bacterial balance in the gut. The study found: “Significant findings indicated that faecal lactic acid bacterial levels were lower during the high-stress condition”. Animal studies have come up with similar results.
One explanation for this is that harmful bacteria in the gut are opportunistic. They can ‘read’ the stress signals the body sends and attack at the precise moment when the body is more vulnerable.
So… all this sounds nice in theory, but is there any evidence that this is anything more than an interesting theory?
Bacterial microflora and acne studies
Unfortunately studies linking acne to bacterial balance in the gut are few and far in between. Luckily there are few that make this avenue worth exploring.
- A Chinese study of over 13’000 teenagers going that those with acne were more likely to suffer from digestive problems.
- Russian researchers found that in 54% of acne patients gut microflora is markedly different from healthy controls.
- As many as 40% of people with acne may have lower than normal stomach acids, which is a risk factor in bacterial imbalance.
- Italian researchers reported that bacterial imbalance is 10 times more prevalent in acne rosacea patients than in healthy controls. Furthermore treating the imbalance with probiotics lead to market improvements on the skin.
- There are also indications that the intestinal lining in acne patients is in worse condition than in people with healthy skin
Probiotics may help with acne
Aside from the above studies, there are also a few that show that oral and topical probiotics may help with acne.
- An uncontrolled study done in the sixties showed that probiotic supplementation helped 80% of the 300 acne patients the doctor followed.
- An Italian study found that adding probiotics to standard antibiotic treatment of acne improved the outcome.
- A Russian study found that adding probiotics to standard acne care led to faster clearing of the skin.
- A recent Korean study found that the consumption of a Lactobacillus-fermented dairy beverage improved clinical aspects of acne over 12 weeks. The group that consumed the fermented beverage had almost 40% less inflammatory lesions and 23% fewer pimples in total compared with the placebo group.
Granted, these aren’t exactly the most convincing studies, but they are interesting enough to warrant testing.
Probiotic may also help when applied topically. Two studies showed that they inhibit the growth of P. Acnes bacteria, and that applying topical probiotic lotion reduced inflammatory pimples by 50% vs. placebo over 8 weeks.
Furthermore, consumption of probiotic foods or taking probiotic supplements:
- Reduces systematic inflammation in the body
- Reduces inflammation in the skin
- Improves insulin resistance and glucose tolerance
- Could lead to changes in the bacterial balance in the skin and provides resistance against P. Acnes bacteria
Probiotic bacteria and the bacterial balance in the gut play a far greater role in health and disease than previously thought. Even skin that is far removed from the gut is affected by the changes in the bacterial balance.
Bacterial imbalances increase systematic inflammation in the body, which then can aggravate acne by depleting antioxidant storages. The gut microflora also affects that other critical element in acne formation, hormonal balance, by affecting insulin resistance and glucose tolerance.
Finally, probiotic bacteria can influence inflammation levels in the skin, and possibly give some resistance to P. Acnes bacteria.
Simple action items
Sorry if this post has been a bit ‘technical’. Anyway, in simple terms, you have to make sure the bacteria in your digestive system stay in great shape. Here are a few things you can do:
- Take a probiotic supplement or eat fermented foods regularly
- Eat fresh and lightly cooked vegetables liberally. The fiber in them feeds beneficial bacteria.
- Don’t put processed foods into your mouth, or anything else with nasty chemicals
- Throw stress and negativity out of your life because they help the bad guys in the gut. Easier said than done, but hey
Do that and you’ve taken care another important element supporting acne.
- Acne vulgaris, probiotics and the gut-brain-skin axis – back to the future?
- Risk factors for sebaceous gland diseases and their relationship to gastrointestinal dysfunction in Han adolescents.
- Impact of the impaired intestinal microflora on the course of acne vulgaris.
- Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth in rosacea: clinical effectiveness of its eradication.
- Dietary effect of lactoferrin-enriched fermented milk on skin surface lipid and clinical improvement of acne vulgaris.
- Effect of konjac glucomannan hydrolysates and probiotics on the growth of the skin bacterium Propionibacterium acnes in vitro.
- Antimicrobial activity of enterocins from Enterococcus faecalis SL-5 against Propionibacterium acnes, the causative agent in acne vulgaris, and its therapeutic effect.
- Effect of Lactobacillus plantarum 299v on cardiovascular disease risk factors in smokers
- Systemic inflammatory markers in older persons: the effect of oral nutritional supplementation with prebiotics.
- Lactobacillus fermentum ME-3 – an antimicrobial and antioxidative probiotic
- Oral Probiotic Control Skin Inflammation by Acting on Both Effector and Regulatory T Cells
- Intestinal microflora and metabolic diseases
- Investigating the role of perceived stress on bacterial flora activity and salivary cortisol secretion: a possible mechanism underlying susceptibility to illness.
- How Stress Induces Intestinal Hypersensitivity
- Role of probiotics in correcting abnormalities of colonic flora induced by stress
- Effects of psychological stress on small intestinal motility and bacteria and mucosa in mice (PDF)
- Hospital Stress Turns Friendly Gut Bacteria Nasty, Killing 40% Of Patients
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