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Acne: Diet or Drug?

As a 69 year old, I got over the idea that a pimple could be life threatening quite a few years ago, but every time I see a kid or adult with acne, my heart reaches out to them because I know they are likely to be depressed, anxious or feel socially isolated.

acThey go along to the drugstore, watch an ad for acne control products on TV, or sometimes go to the doctor but in almost all cases they end up with a tube of goo they put on their face. And does it solve their problems?

There are over 3,000 distinct identified skin diseases. They are very, very common in the industrialized world.

We still see 79–95 percent of Western adolescents and 40–54 percent of Western adults with some form of acne.
Of those,
25% have dermatitis,
11% have eczema,
5% have rosacea and
1% have psoriasis.

Skin conditions seem a fact of life for us – something we just accept, but how long has this been the case? Anthropologists tell us that what we think of as skin conditions were virtually non-existent in hunter-gatherer cultures.

Think about it!
All we’ve been told about dirty skin, subsistence diet and poor hygeine should have mean the exact opposite! Our forefathers can only assume that most skin disorders are primarily influenced by environmental rather than genetic factors, and that changes in nutrition and lifestyle might be sufficient to prevent and even reverse them.

Can we clear up acne without the tube of goo?
Can we do it by eating as our ancestors did?

The problem is that the skin is not just the skin, so isolating it in any treatment denies some important facts.
Other organs in our body affect our skin, particularly the brain and the gut. Lately there’s been a flood of scientific reports on the relationship between the skin, gut and brain. A sure sign that science is serious about the data is a new term you’ll hear more of: the “gut-brain-skin axis”. It refers to the interconnection between these three systems.

Back in the 30’s scientists had already connected emotional states to changes in the gut microbiota. They theorized that emotional upsets caused or promoted inflammation and skin disease. These early conclusions have now been confirmed by the latest studies. These are reporting strong associations between skin conditions (acne, eczema and psoriasis) plus mental health problems and digestive disease.

As we all are aware, the standard way of treating skin problems doesn’t seem to acknowledge the role of diet, lifestyle, and digestive health. It is almost entirely focused on suppressing symptoms. It’s understandable in the marketing oriented pharmacology of today. A kid has a zit and wants a cream to put on it. he or she isn’t going to investigate the “gut-brain-skin axis”.

So let’s take a look at diet and see what value it has.

Common treatments for acne are topical creams and gels. (Retin-A, Differin, Renova, Tazorac). They unclog pores. The other acceprted method is oral antibiotics, (doxycycline, tetracycline, minocycline, erythromycin). It kills bacteria that causes inflammation around the blocked pores. Doctors also use oral contraceptives to try to regulatef possible hormonal imbalances which may in turn lead to acne. In the most severe cases of acne, they may prescribe a medication called Isotretinoin, originally marketed as Accutane.

Results vary.
Creams and antibiotics help some. For others they have little effect. Oral contraceptives appear to outperform placebo in the treatment of acne for teenage girls, but they need to be taken for 3–6 months.

Isotretinoin is a very powerful treatment for acne. It can even clear up severe, scarring breakouts that refuses to respond to antibiotics, creams, or contraceptives. Potential side effects and risks of these treatments are substantial, and in some cases, life-altering.

We are all becoming well aware of the cumulative effect of excessive antibiotic use.

This has a profoundly negative impact on gut health, and we are only just beginning our understanding. Disturbances of the gut microbiota are associated with almost everything… anxiety, depression, obesity, diabetes, autoimmune disease and more. So it’s reasonable to assume that taking antibiotics for months or years should not be underestimated.

Oral contraceptives have their own long, long list of side effects.It includes nausea, vomiting, constipation, acne, hair growth in unusual places, crushing chest pain or heaviness, extreme tiredness, coughing up blood, and swelling of the gums.

Complications for Isotretinoin (aka Accutane) are hair raising. Becasue of the number of adverse events reported (including severe fetal abnormalities in women taking Accutane during pregnancy) and an FDA-issued warning, Roche ceased manufacturing Accutane in 2009. It’s also been linked to inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, and, if that’s not enough… an increase in suicides.

For skin disorders like psoriasis and eczema, treatment is often oral and topical steroids. The risks for these include:

Weight gain
Mood changes, including aggression
Thinning skin
Muscle weakness
Cushing’s syndrome (stretch marks across the body, acne, fatty deposits in the face)
Osteoporosis (even at a young age)
High blood pressure
Glaucoma and cataracts
Increased risk of infection.

Let’s remain on subject. I’m tempted to think and talk about the psychological side effects of all this, but this article is trying its best to remain on the topic of diet and acne. I just see the pain kids go though and would have great personal difficulty advising a kid to take any of these paths.

Diet for skin disorders
We said earlier that acne and skin disorders are disturbingly common in the Western world, yet almost unheard of in hunter-gatherer cultures. How can we ignore this obvious change in the reasons for skin disease? Surely it means something about our modern diet and lifestyle is contributing to skin disease. Could it be that returning to a lifestyle of eating and living that more closely mimics our ancestral template may have its own (beneficial) side effects of preventing and treating skin problems.

Cassie and I are in agreement that virtually all skin disorders are inflammatory. So surely eating to reduce inflammation would be obvious. That’s exactly what the New Alkaline Diet is all about.

The New Alkaline Diet does NOT recommend any highly processed modern foods simply because they provoke inflammation.
We don’t suggest refined flour and grains, excess sugar, and industrial seed oils.
We encourage regular physical activity becasue it reduces inflammation whilke strengthening immune function.
Our focus on adequate greens is also accessing the power of antioxidants and inti inflammatory components of these excellent alkalizers.

And like our ancestors we believe in the healing power of sleep. Sleep is another powerhouse inflammation reduction method.

But it’s not so easy, is it? 
We suffer another ‘plague’ in our modern Western world. It’s our inability to either intake or metabolically access essential nutrients. We are overfed, and undernourished. America is our best example, but as I walk the streets of my hometown in Australia there’s very little difference. Over 50% of Americans are deficient in zinc, calcium, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin B6; 33% are also deficient in riboflavin (B2), thiamine (B1), folate (B9) vitamin C, and iron.

In addition to reducing inflammation, the New Alkaline Diet can works well for skin conditions because it’s nutrient dense. We are accessing all of the nutrient rich foods our ancestors developed their metabolism with over hundreds of thousands of years. The meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and starchy tubers featured in the diet are the most nutrient-dense foods we can eat.

Finally, we have seen personally that the New Alkaline Diet is gut-friendly. Given the strong connection between the gut and the skin, we believe this is a critical factor and a big reason to investigate further.

As always, we are not physicians.
Check with your doctor before starting or stopping any new treatment plan, including what we suggest in this article. This is not intended to be medical advice, and is not a substitute for being under the care of a physician.

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