In many cases, acne can be at least partially traced back to problems in the gut, and taking probiotics to treat acne may be one of the most important things you can do.
You body is made up of hundreds of trillions of bacteria. Most of us think of bacteria as a bad thing, but your body (and particularly your gut) is also made up of good bacteria which is absolutely essential to your health and wellbeing.
The good bacteria in your gut help you digest your food and absorb nutrients, boost your immune system, and eat up bad bacteria. They also help you to avoid digestive issues like diarrhea, constipation, IBS, lactose intolerance, and leaky gut.
When your gut is in balance, the good bacteria should outnumber the bad guys about 5 to 1, but when this is not the case, the bad bacteria can cause a host of gut issues – and since our body is holistic, the issues can stem out from there to the rest of the body and wreak havoc.
The skin is particularly linked to the gut and a poor bacterial balance can heavily promote inflammation in the skin. For a lot of people with acne, fixing up this ratio in the gut can go a HUGE way to clearing your skin.
Plus it will mean you can absorb and utilize your food much better, and make your body stronger overall – which means you can get away with “abusing” it a lot more (indulging in unhealthy foods, skipping nights of sleep, etc) without causing break outs.
Why Does The Good Bacteria in the Gut Get Outnumbered?
All sorts of reasons including use of birth control pills, inheritance at birth, consistently unhealthy & sugary food choices – but the big one is is use of antibiotics.
Antibiotics wipe out all bacteria good and bad, and give a perfect opportunity for the bad bacteria to overgrow and outnumber the good guys. The longer you take them and more powerful the antibiotic, the more damage is done.
This is, of course, unfortunate since most of us have used antibiotics at some point in our lives. And many of us have been prescribed antibiotics for acne, which often makes the acne worse in the long run since it damages the gut.
Just so you know – if you ever need to take antibiotics, always make sure you are taking a high potency probiotic during and after the course in order to prevent damage!
So How Do We Fix It?
Fixing gut problems can be complicated, but the core of it is adding more good bacteria to your gut so that they will eventually outnumber the baddies again.
You can just start taking the good bacteria on its own and it should definitely help – but you may also, for a period, try to kill some of the bad guys while adding good bacteria in order to speed this process up and make space for the good bacterial colonies to form and flourish. If you want help with this, check out my candida cleanse program.
Either way – you can add good bacteria to your gut by taking probiotics – which means either a supplement or a food that contains live, beneficial bacteria. Or both. The more the merrier.
Fermented foods are things like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kombucha, amongst others. Commercial versions of these foods usually contain little to no live beneficial bacteria, and if you’re going to use them as a therapeutic tool to fix up your guts, you should make your own.
The less time consuming, albeit more expensive method, is to take probiotic supplements, which is what the rest of the article is about!
What to Look For In a Probiotic Supplement
There are almost as many probiotic supplements on the market as there are bacteria in your body! And not all probiotics are created equal. It can get very confusing, to say the least.
So what should you look for?
1. The Bacterial Count
Probiotic supplements always state the amount of CFUs the product contains (which means colony-forming-unit). For every day use, you want to be taking at least the equivalent of 10 to 20 billion CFUs per day. You may choose to take more as a therapeutic dose at the beginning of treatment.
2. The Type of Bacteria Contained in the Supplement
There are tons of different types of beneficial bacteria in your gut, and in probiotic supplements as well.
Probiotic bacteria are classified by their genus (e.g. bifidobacterium), their species (e.g. longum), and strain (e.g. HA-135). Each different type, right down to the strain, can have very different functions and effects on the body.
Therefore, it’s a good idea to take a diverse range of bacteria in your probiotics. You don’t want to put all your eggs in one bacterial basket.
For every day health and well being, you want to look for a probiotic that, at the minimum, contains a variety of these common and well researched types of bacteria:
- Lactobacillus (L.) — often found in probiotics in the form of L. acidophilus, L. casei, L. bulgaricus, L. fermentum, L. thermophilus, etc.
- Bifidobacterium (B.) — often found in probiotics in the form of B. longum, B. bifidum, B. infantis, B. animalis, etc.
If you have a specific digestive issue like IBS or chronic yeast infections, you might find that your doctor or naturopath suggests a very specific strain of bacteria that is effective for that particular problem.
As far as I know, there isn’t yet a known strain specifically for combatting acne! We can only hope it will one day be discovered.
3. The Quality of the Product
The problem with probiotic supplements is that they contain bacteria that is alive. Which also means that bacteria can die (useless to you!). Low quality products can often contain as little as 50% of the stated CFU by the time it gets down your throat.
The amount of bacteria that actually makes it down to your guts depends on quite a few things, and here’s how you can maximize your chances that those little buggers are going to make it to your guts alive:
- Look for supplements that say that the minimum CFU count is guaranteed at time of expiration or “through to the end of shelf life”. Often supplements will say that the CFU count is guaranteed at time of manufacture, but that can mean half of them are dead by the time you start the bottle.
- Most of the time, probiotics need to be refrigerated unless it specifically says on the bottle that they don’t require refrigeration (even then, keeping them in the fridge is a good idea unless you’re traveling). So make sure the health store you buy them from is keeping them in the fridge, otherwise don’t waste your money. If you’re having them shipped to you through the mail, they can usually withstand a day or two unrefrigerated without too much carnage, but may need an ice pack if being shipped in the summer.
- Look for supplements that have an enteric coating, or somehow specify that they are delayed release, or resistant to stomach acid – this helps protect the bacteria as it moves down your system and increases the chance they’ll make it to your guts alive
- If you’re interested in a brand of probiotics, research the company before you buy; check out that they’re reputable with quality manufacturing methods.
Probiotic Brands I Recommend
Over the years, I’ve taken many different probiotics and recommended some of the brands I’ve tried – such as HMF Forte, which is a good quality supplement and came as a recommendation from my naturopath.
However, for this article, I took a peek at ConsumerLab’s probiotic report, which claims to unbiasedly test and compares several different brands of probiotics for their quality.
These are ones I’ve chosen to recommend as based on their tests and the above criteria (going from lowest to highest CFUs):
14 billion CFUs per serving, 8 different strains of lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. Dairy, soy, and gluten free. Is best if refrigerated.
This one doesn’t have enteric coating, but it checks out on ConsumerLab, has great reviews, and is a number one seller on Amazon. And you really can’t beat the price. Price for a 30 day supply comes to $6.24, or 20 cents per day.
20 billion CFUs per serving, 10 different strains of lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. Gluten and yeast free. Doesn’t need refrigeration. Price for a 30 day supply comes to $10.75, or $0.35 a day.
50 billion CFUs per capsule, 10 strains of lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. Enteric coated. Dairy, wheat, and gluten free. Is best if refrigerated. Price for the product comes to $26.60 per 30 day supply, or $0.88 per day.
Renew Life also has a whole line of different probiotics including both lower and higher potency products (from 15 billion up to 200 billion CFUs), and ones specifically for treating women’s issues like yeast infections.
This is the mac daddy of probiotics from a very well known and reputable brand. Be careful with these, because they’re potent.
90 billion CFUs per capsule, 15 different strains of bacteria. Gluten, dairy, and soy free. Vegetarian. Needs refrigeration. No enteric coating though. Price $34.99 for 30 day supply, or just over $1.12 per day.
Garden of life also offers a wide range of probiotics for different purposes and in different CFUs. An extremely popular one is their Primal Defense probiotic line.
When to Take Probiotics & Other Considerations
A question that nobody seems to know the answer to is when the optimal time to take probiotics is – with food, or on an empty stomach?
I believe that if you want to repopulate your guts, take probiotics on an empty stomach. If you want the probiotics to help you digest your food, take them with food.
Something else to consider is that when you first start taking probiotics, you are introducing all this bacteria that is then going to go to war with the bad guys in your gut.
This may not make you feel very well at first. People often report more digestive symptoms – and feelings of general malaise – when they first start probiotics, especially if their gut needs a lot of work or they’re not used to taking in so much live bacteria.
This should go away after a week or two, but if you want to avoid this all together (or the reaction is just way too strong), it’s a good idea to start with a small dose of the probiotics and work your way up to the full dose after several days or weeks.
In order to achieve this, you can open the probiotic capsules and just take a little bit of the powder at a time (in a drink or sprinkled on food). Or you can start with a supplement that contains lower CFUs, and later switch to a higher CFU product.
This can significantly reduce or eliminate any “detox” symptoms you might experience.
Give your probiotics a run of at least 3 to 6 weeks to see if they are giving you any benefit. If after some time, you don’t feel like it’s making any difference, don’t be afraid to try different brands that contain different strains, or change to a stronger probiotic. Everyone’s gut is different and needs different things – probiotics are often one of those things where you may need to try a few before you get one that really hits the spot for you.
And when you find one that works for you, how long are you supposed to take it for? It’s up to you, but I don’t think it would ever hurt to always be taking a daily probiotic (or live fermented foods) to keep your gut – and skin – in tip top shape.
Any tips, tricks, or insights about probiotics and acne? Have you found a brand that works really well for you? Share in the comments below!