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  • Meg Hagar, MS,RD,CDN,CLT

What causes acne? Study shows it might be your gut!

Updated: Dec 6, 2019


See if gut health diet can help get rid of pimples and cystic acne!

A recent study published in Acta Dermato-Venerologica has found that those with acne actually have a distinctly different gut flora than those without acne! This is good news for those who have severe acne and who have tried everything from benzoyl creams and lotions to acne facials. So if you have pimples on your face: jawline acne, acne on cheeks, chin acne, forehead acne or even chest or back acne- read on!


The connection between gut bacteria and acne (AKA the “skin-gut connection”) has been in question for quite some time. This study included a total of 86 patients (43 “controls”- meaning those without acne and 43 people with acne) and analyzed diet habits, medical history and stool samples. The study found that those with acne stated they ate dairy products, fried and fatty foods more often compared to those without acne. This study also found that those with acne had a significantly decreased diversity (fewer different types of strains and species) within their microbiome- Basically, they have less different types of people at their party than those without acne. This is super important- research shows that decreased diversity in gut bacteria is also associated with not only other inflammatory diseases (like psoriasis, other digestive disorders and Behcet’s disease) but this also supports that those with less people at their party are more prone to inflammation. (And, since we know acne is an inflammatory condition, that’s how gut inflammation and skin inflammation are connected).


The most important part of this study, in my opinion, is that not only do those with acne have less gut diversity (and therefore are prone to more inflammation in the body), but the balance of different bacterial phyla (or, “families”) present in the gut mirrors that of the “Western Diet”. The balance of bacteria present in those who eat a lot of fried foods, animal products, dairy and refined carbohydrates is the same as those who have acne. This way of eating is also associated with increased inflammation. In this study particularly, that makes sense, as those who had acne did report eating foods like dairy and fried foods more often.


So what does this all mean? Is gut healing how one might get rid of pimples? Should we all be on a gut health diet for acne? Before I say yes or no, let me mention some of the limitations of this study. Looking at the downfalls of a scientific paper is important because it allows professionals to evaluate whether or not what the study is claiming is actually solid.


This study took place in Sichuan and included only those who had not tried previous interventions for acne. Due to genetic predisposition, geographical and environmental factors that can’t be controlled for, we can’t say for sure that this study could be repeated and have the same outcomes if done here in North America. The study subjects also had no previous intervention for acne, which means that for those of us who have tried everything to get rid of our bad acne- we just need to consider what effect (if any) those interventions may have on gut health (i.e., taking antibiotics, Accutane, other medications, etc). Another thing to mention is that the diet information in this study was self reported, meaning there is room for some error and inaccuracies (ever try to recall what you had for breakfast yesterday morning? Tougher than you think sometimes, right?!).


However, overall, I think it is a pretty good study for being one of the first of its kind! It had a decent amount of participants with even numbers of subjects with and without acne, other factors that may skew results were controlled for (like weight, medical history, etc) AND the age of the samples accurately represents the age in many of the clients that I see (ages 14-25). Although I do see plenty of ladies a little older than that range, I still think it’s applicable to them (much different than using results of a study done on teenagers to apply to the elderly). Plus, following a gut-healthy diet is not only NOT harmful, but also been shown in research to be better for you anyway!


So the bottom lines from this study are: (1) Invite all different types of people to your party! You can do this by eating all different colors of food (make your meals colorful!). (2) Gut healing may be a vital part of healing your skin. Although this study cannot determine whether gut dysbiosis actually causes acne, it’s certainly a good indicator that restoring gut health may be part of an effective acne treatment. (3) Certain dietary patterns are associated with inflammation, gut dysbiosis and lower gut diversity; all of which may contribute to acne. Give a gut healthy eating pattern a try! It's not harmful and is totally good for you!

Here’s what you can start doing right now to heal your gut and take the first step to healing acne:


(1) Make the basis of your diet fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans/legumes and nuts and seeds.

(2) Decrease or even avoid dairy products and fried foods

(3) Eat animal products in moderation (and when you do, make sure you see the terms “grass-fed”, “free-range” or “free-roam”, “hormone-free” on the package)

(4) Submit your own stool sample and see if dysbiosis may be what’s causing your acne. Order yours here!


For meal ideas and step by step meal instructions, follow me on Instagram @megthedietitian or join my Facebook Group: Gut Healing for Acne! The full study can be found here.


Drop a comment and let me know what changes you’ll make to your diet to start healing your skin!

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