- There are potential connections between acne and several parts of the body.
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies may play a role in acne breakouts.
- It’s long been thought that acne is linked to digestion, an idea contemporary research appears to confirm.
Acne and the liver
The relationship between acne outbreaks and liver function is hotly debated among doctors. Some doctors insist that no relationship exists between acne and impaired liver function; others disagree. Nonetheless, there are indications that links do exist.
Dr. Ben Johnson of Osmosis Skin Care says that pimple patterns are connected to internal sources. “For decades we have assumed that acne is caused by oil or bacteria, but that never made sense with the face patterns, the most recent research, and acne’s connection to environmental factors.”
Dr. Johnson asserts that acne which repeatedly appears on the chin is connected to the liver. Breakouts of this type are referred to as “hormonal acne” because they involve a hormone-like toxin.
“All acne in the lower face… is often called ‘hormonal acne.’ The reason it keeps showing up in the same spot is because the patient is being exposed to an estrogenic toxin or a toxin that resembles estrogen. These toxins are dealt with by their liver and depending on the chemical, a certain part of the liver processes it and sends it to a certain part of the lower face for removal.”
As an example, Dr. Johnson says that repeated exposure to the pesticide found in Round-Up, pesticide glyphosate, will cause acne breakouts on the chin until the toxin is flushed from the body.
In addition to hormones, liver-related vitamin and mineral deficiencies may also play a role in acne breakouts.
Vitamin A, crucial for many bodily functions, represents a group of chemicals known as retinoids. Those who have struggled with breakouts have likely heard of retinoids. The link between retinoids and acne is well established. Retinoids like retinol (vitamin A1) and isotretinoin (Accutane) are frequently used to treat acne, especially severe cases.
The relationship between vitamin A and the liver is likewise well established: vitamin A is mostly stored in the liver. Because an overabundance of vitamin A can lead to liver toxicity, patients taking oral retinoids are advised against also taking vitamin A supplements due to the chemical similarity of the two substances.
The body is unable to synthesize vitamin A, so it must be obtained from external sources. Foods rich in vitamin A are numerous and common, including carrots, sweet potatoes, fish oil, liver, spinach, and pumpkins. Most foods orange in color are excellent sources of vitamin A.
Vitamin A deficiency is known to lead to health problems like poor eyesight. A lack of vitamin A can also lead to dry skin, dry hair, and brittle fingernails.
Vitamin A has also been shown to help regulate the overproduction of keratinocytes, the cells that produce keratin, which makes up your hair and nails as well as the surface of your skin. Overproduction of keratinocytes has been linked to acne outbreaks. This is because keratinocytes can obstruct the sebaceous gland, leading to acne.
Vitamin A is known as a skin-hormone. Essentially, it plays an important role in telling your body’s cells what to do under particular circumstances.
Link with zinc
Another potential link between vitamin A, the liver, and acne outbreaks may be found in zinc deficiency. Zinc is known to be critical in the formation of retinol-binding protein (RBP) in the liver. RBP determines how much vitamin A is available to bodily tissues like the skin. Zinc deficiency leads to a deficiency of RBP, thereby limiting the amount of available vitamin A.
In one study patients with severe acne were noted to have significantly lower levels of both RBP and zinc than were patients with either mild acne or no acne at all. The authors of the study noted that, on its own, topical zinc therapy showed no improvement over placebo. However, in another study, vitamin A combined with oral zinc therapy normalized RBP levels after one month.
In short, taking zinc alongside a vitamin A supplement (or a retinoid, as prescribed by your dermatologist) may help to normalize RBP levels and increase the amount of vitamin A available to keep your skin healthy.
Insulin resistance – one form of impaired liver function – has also been linked to higher rates of acne. An overabundance of insulin is known to lead to hyperkeratinization, excess production of sebum, colonization of P. acnes bacteria, and inflammation of the skin. All of these conditions are symptoms of inflammatory acne. As a result, it’s been suggested that high glycemic index foods may be a culprit in acne outbreaks, especially in those who are insulin resistant.
Acne and digestion
The link between acne and diet continues to be a controversial topic. Indeed, the potential interconnectedness of digestion, psychology, and acne has been debated for decades, first suggested as early as 1930. More recently, the “gut-brain-skin axis” has gained traction among medical professionals.
The original theory was that emotional disorders, like anxiety and depression, could negatively affect gut flora and lead to skin problems, including acne. Whatever the cause may be, there is an unmistakable correlation – the presence of acne shows high comorbidity of psychological conditions like anxiety and depression, among others. In addition, people with acne suffer higher rates of gastrointestinal distress than does the general public.
It has recently been shown that small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) can lead to a host of maladies, including digestive problems and mood disorders. Although there has not yet been a conclusive link shown between SIBO and acne, SIBO was found to be ten times more common in those with rosacea than those without.
The original proponents of interconnectivity between digestion, psychology, and acne suggested treatment with probiotics, long before the notion of probiotics existed in its present, popular form. In particular, they suggested Lactobacillus acidophilus, a ‘good’ bacteria commonly found in yogurt and other probiotic-containing foods and supplements.
Indeed, probiotics have been shown to have a positive effect on acne. Though there are many explanations for this effect, some of the most significant are probiotics’ general anti-inflammatory effects and their apparent antimicrobial effects on P. acnes bacteria.
Acne and interrelatedness
The body is a complex organism, and understanding bodily interrelationships will take many more years of study. Unfortunately, false positives or anomalous cases may lend credence to theories that are ultimately not true. Many more studies will have to be conducted in order to conclusively establish the various links between the complex inner workings of our internal organs and our largest organ, the skin.