I have struggled with acne for more than half my life. I remember being in fifth grade, the first girl in my class to get acne (plus body hair + boobs!). I was scared shitless. . .Why do I have all these painful red bumps on my face? Why do I have it and no one else does?
Little did I realize that I was entering puberty, a time in which my skin (face, back + chest) would be riddled with cystic acne. Once I hit high school, I finally decided to do something about it. I went to a dermatologist and was put on Accutane. Fantastic! It worked fabulously. Or so I thought.
Several months after discontinuing the Accutane, the spots started to come back. Back to the dermatologist I went (again and again), coming out with different prescriptions for creams, washes, antibiotics, and yet another round of Accutane. By the time I finished high school my acne was not too bad- maybe 15% of what it was. I think I owe that to the birth control pill! Once I decided to come off the pill in order to use a non-hormonal method of birth control, my acne returned with a vengeance. Just like puberty all over again.
To add insult to injury, this all happened when I was in nutrition school- just the time and place where you really want to look and feel your best- to be ‘healthy’. Of course, a short time later I learned I had PCOS, and my lifelong acne struggles finally made sense. I had an answer! It took me about 2 years post-pill to clear up my acne to the point where I only get minor bumps before ovulation now.
One of the major things that helped to clean up my PCOS acne (besides balancing my hormones, exercising and eating more veggies and less crap) was using probiotics- in the form of supplements and fermented foods. There are so many reasons why probiotics are helpful for acne, and I’m outlining them below. Note that while they won’t ‘fix’ your acne the way that a health-promoting and anti-androgen lifestyle will, they are certainly a big part of that picture.
Reason 1: Clear Up Skin + Mind
I don’t know how many times I’ve cried about my acne. Why ME? Why now? What did I do to deserve this? And the spiralling goes on and on. . .Have you been there too?
You might be interested to know that emotional disturbances like feelings of depression or anxiety are two to three times more prevalent in people with acne than those without. Makes sense to me! Women with PCOS are also at higher risk for depression, anxiety and mood problems- potentially compounding this effect.
Where do probiotics come in? Well, the use of probiotic supplements have both an acne-clearing and mind-clearing effect. They are potentially powerful agents to do this. Many of our ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters and other compounds are found mostly in the gut. Probiotics help to restore balance in this case, while clearing the skin.
Reason #2: Healthy Gut for Healthy Skin
Like the connection between mood problems and acne I mentioned above, people with acne are also more likely to have a variety of digestive complaints like constipation, burping, bad breath and bloating. Yuck! While this wasn’t something I ever experienced in great amounts (except maybe some bloating), I see this a lot in the women I work with.
The biggest possible reason for this is something known as Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth or SIBO. What this means simply is that there’s too many ‘bad’ bacteria and other pathogens in the body than ‘good’ bacteria. While SIBO can be a severe issue, even a small amount of bacterial overgrowth like candida or even leaky gut can cause digestive and skin disturbances.
Probiotics are ‘good’ bacteria, and so help to ‘crowd out’ the bad guys with their body-loving superpowers. The means a healthy gut and healthy skin for the user!
Reason #3: Reduce Inflammation
What is something that both acne and PCOS have in common? Inflammation! Higher levels of internal inflammation is connected to both of these conditions. Where the inflammation comes from can change depending on the person. It could be an autoimmune response, poor diet and toxic body, leaky gut, bacterial overgrowth or any other number of reasons.
How in the heck can beneficial bacteria reduce the inflammation in your body? In a few ways, and they get pretty technical. Firstly, they enhance the production of short-chain fatty acids, which have an anti-inflammatory effect. There’s even some burgeoning science that they enhance the production of regulatory (rather than inflammatory) cytokines, and can effect the regular lab markers for inflammation like C-reactive protein (CRP). That’s a pretty sweet deal for some little bugs!
Reason #4: Improve Immunity
Your immune system is intricately connected to most every process in the body. (BTW, everything in your body effects everything else- it’s ALL connected!). For example, if your immune system isn’t functioning well, it’s likely you have some bad gut stuff going on. Usually this means that imbalance of bad to good bacteria that I already mentioned.
In the case of acne, the reduction of inflammation and promotion of good gut health go a long way in strengthening immunity for glowing, clear skin.
Also, I’m sure you’ve heard of vitamin D and how good it is for your immune system. Well, it turns out that Vitamin D is often deficient in people with acne and women with PCOS, and acne lesions can be reduced greatly by getting those Vitamin D levels up to par. Probiotics play a role here by potentially helping your body to absorb and utilize Vitamin D. Win!
As you can see, the argument for using probiotics for PCOS acne is pretty strong. I’ve been using probiotics in the form of supplements and fermented foods with myself and clients for a long time now, and have to say I do believe it’s helped the acne (and MANY other symptoms). There’s no telling what it might do for other women with PCOS acne!