The gut-skin connection
You may have heard of the gut-skin connection before – after all, it’s now widely accepted that our gut and our skin are intricately linked. This makes sense too, especially when you consider the numerous functions that your gut performs on a daily basis.
Similar to your skin, your gut is also a barrier, protecting the rest of your body from unwanted microorganisms. It hosts 70% of your immune cells and wards off unwanted pathogens. If your gut is the barrier, your gut flora arguably acts as a police force of sorts – did you know that you have trillions upon trillions of bacteria in your gut? An estimated 3-5 pounds in fact!1
They form your gut flora and are responsible for breaking down carbohydrates and sugars, reducing unfriendly bacteria and synthesising vital nutrients such as B vitamins and magnesium. Your gut flora also help to prevent systemic inflammation, increase your absorption of water and reduce your levels of IGF-1, a hormone that can act as a major acne trigger!
It may not surprise you to learn that if your gut flora are overwhelmed or weakened, then the results may have an impact on your skin, especially when it comes to acne.
Several studies seem to support this notion too! The first was conducted in Russia and found that 54% of the acne patients studies had impaired gut flora, and they were able to cut treatment time by 50% by treating this imbalance.2 Another study also concluded that there was a noticeable link between Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) and acne rosacea, with SIBO being 10 times more prevalent in sufferers than those with healthy skin.3
Okay, so there is a connection between your gut and your skin but how does it work? Well in some cases, the link is more obvious than others. Leaky gut for example seems to breed leaky skin. Remember what I said earlier about your gut acting as a wall? Imagine a wall with holes – that’s a bit like how leaky gut works.
Basically, pathogens and undigested food make their way into your blood stream and kick-start systemic inflammation and inspire an autoimmune response. This system-wide inflammation is bad news for your skin and can trigger an acne outbreak. Gut inflammation can also impair your skin’s ability to function effectively as a barrier, increasing instances of inflammation.
So if you’re gut flora is disturbed, you may be more predisposed towards acne.
Why is it good to take prebiotics?
As I mentioned earlier, your gut flora can become overwhelmed and normally this happens when there is an imbalance between the population of ‘friendly bacteria’ and ‘unfriendly bacteria.’ Your unfriendly bacteria feed off sugar and processed foods.
A diet high in simple carbohydrates, processed fats and refined sugars will create the perfect breeding ground for unfriendly bacteria, and when they start to overwhelm the friendly bacteria, that’s when problems start to occur, such as leaky gut.
Probiotics contain live bacteria that can help to bolster your population of friendly bacteria, balancing your gut flora and reducing digestives problems such as constipation and diarrhoea. They can also work to boost your immunity and eliminate pathogens. This helps to repair your intestinal barrier function and can help to reduce any signs of inflammation.
Certain food products can act as probiotics, such as miso, sauerkraut and fermented dairy products but it’s important to make sure that your probiotic contains the right strains of bacteria. Variety can be key and when it comes to probiotics, the more the merrier seems to be a good ethos to follow.
Streptococcus thermophilus, bacillus laterosporus and lactobacillus acidophilus are good strains to watch out for; all three support digestion, and can help to boost your immunity, with lactobacillus acidophilus helping to breakdown lactose.
Optibac offer a great range of probiotics, some specifically engineered for certain situations, such as if you are travelling or on antibiotics.
Can probiotics cause acne?
Okay, so I’ve had a look and examined the argument for probiotics but what about the opposing side? There does seem to be a lot of people saying that probiotics won’t really help acne, with some even arguing that they might exaggerate the condition!
Firstly, some arguments specify that probiotics can make acne worse. In instances of SIBO, the problem is that your friendly bacteria are now inhabiting your small intestine and, as with most things, too much of a good thing can be a problem. If you continuously take a probiotic in this scenario, you may make the problem worse.
There’s also the idea that an imbalanced gut flora is merely a symptom – your gut flora can be affected by a wide variety of factors, such as stress, food intolerances, low stomach acid and even certain medications. Probiotics, at best, may help a symptom, but they’re not a miracle cure that will fix your overarching problem.
Should I bother with probiotics then?
The cases where probiotics make acne worse do seem to be in the minority, but I do think that there is some merit to argument that you have to look at the main cause of the problem, rather than a symptom.
By no means are probiotics going to miraculously fix all your acne problems overnight. They may help to alleviate a symptom, but the larger triggers will remain so it is important to still examine your diet and lifestyle critically. If stress is upsetting your gut flora, you will need to confront this problem and overcome it before you notice any dramatic changes.
Proper dietary problems are also extremely important. Remember, your unfriendly bacteria feed off refined sugar! Food intolerances are also a major causal factor so it might be a good idea to keep a food diary. If you notice that you are breaking out after consuming dairy, try to eliminate it from your diet to see if that helps.
You could also focus on dietary probiotics – kefir, yoghurt, miso, tempeh and sauerkraut are all great dietary probiotics that can help to improve your gut environment. Certain food products, such as artichokes, leeks and chicory root can also act as prebiotics!
So yes, I would perhaps recommend taking a probiotic, but it’s important that this isn’t the only step you take to combat acne.
What about prebiotics?
As you may have noticed, I listed a number of prebiotic foods too but can prebiotics really help? Well first of all, I’ll briefly recap what a prebiotic is and how they differ from probiotics.
Prebiotics are derived from a special type of plant fibre that can help to nourish the friendly bacteria in your gut. This is slightly different from probiotics, which are mainly focused on introducing new friendly bacteria into your gut.
Prebiotics can promote a good gut environment for the friendly bacteria introduced by probiotics, so it might not be a bad idea to consider a prebiotic. I’d recommend our Molkosan Original®, a natural prebiotic that’s chockfull of L+ lactic acid. It’s prepared using organic milk but is completely free from lactose and approved by the Vegetarian Society.