The link between diet and acne remains controversial, but more research suggests that what you put into your body can play an active role in acne development, particularly when it comes to your gut health.
Gut Health and Acne
Your gut is home to a diverse array of both good and bad bacteria. Maintaining a balanced gut microflora may play an important role in your general health, from supporting your digestion to producing certain vitamins. A shift in balance, also known as dysbiosis, results in the overgrowth of bad bacteria that increase the risk of various health issues, including a leaky gut, digestive problems, and general inflammation.1
That inflammation can contribute to acne on the skin. In one study, 54 percent of patients with acne were also found to have impaired bacterial microflora.2 Similar reports found that SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) was 10 times more prevalent in those with acne rosacea than in healthy controls.3
Dysbiosis can be caused by various factors, including stress and certain medications (particularly antibiotics), but your everyday diet plays a significant role in the health of your gut bacteria.
Foods to Promote Clear Skin
Incorporating foods that will support a healthy, balanced gut can potentially contribute to clear, acne-free skin. Here are some foods to include in your diet.
Probiotics are active bacteria and yeasts found in certain foods and supplements. Including probiotics in your diet can help to replenish the good bacteria in your gut. Furthermore, studies have found that probiotics applied directly to the skin inhibit Propiobacterium acnes (the acne-causing bacteria) by producing antibacterial proteins and modifying the skin’s barrier functions.7 Probiotics have also been shown to reduce inflammation and induce production of ceramides, which promote healthy fats to keep skin moisturized.4
Probiotics are available as supplements and can be found naturally in many fermented foods, including:
Prebiotics act as a food source for the bacteria in your gut. Where probiotics replenish gut populations through addition, prebiotics help existing bacteria multiply and thrive to rebalance the gut microflora.5
Prebiotics mainly consist of dietary fiber, which is plant material that is undigestible by the human stomach. This is important so that the fiber can withstand the harsh acids to reach the large intestine (where most of your gut bacteria reside) relatively intact. Fiber also thankfully comes with a variety of other health benefits, including regular bowel movements, reduced body weight, and improved heart health.5 Fiber is generally easy to find in fresh fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Some good sources of fiber include:
- Flax seeds
- Chia seeds
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Commonly found in fatty fish, omega-3 fatty acids are a healthy fat that can help the gut microbiota maintain intestinal walls and support immunities. Omega-3 fatty acids are also known to have powerful anti-inflammatory properties and can increase the production of anti-inflammatory compounds in the body.6 Wild fish and seafood are the best natural source of omega-3s, but you can also take fish oil supplements.
Polyphenols are antioxidant molecules found in many foods including nuts, fruits, vegetables, chocolate, wine, and tea. Polyphenols from green tea have been studied extensively compared to other sources. ECGC is the most abundant green tea polyphenol and has been found to reduce sebum production, inhibit P. acnes growth, and reduce inflammation.8
One double-blinded comparing the consumption of 1500 mg decaffeinated green tea daily (from 500 mg capsules three times daily) and an identical looking placebo control found significant reductions acne lesion counts on the nose, perioral area, and chin in the green tea group compared to the placebo group. No difference in total lesion counts and counts of the forehead and cheek area were found. These results indicate that green tea polyphenols may be a helpful adjunct in the treatment of acne.
Acne is a disease that involves multiple causes and systems that requires a multi-faceted approach. We recommend avoiding high-glycemic index foods that cause acne. Our research has also found that probiotics, zinc, fish oil, and DIM may also be helpful for acne.