Suffering from acne? Discover the curative effects of your gut microbes


60 second summary

  • Probiotics are microorganisms beneficial for maintaining a healthy gut bacteria community
  • Acne can be caused by hormonal and inflammatory imbalances
  • Supplementing with fermented foods such as yoghurt and saukraut may balance cells in the body responsible for inflammation control.

What causes acne?

Acne is a skin condition affecting 85% of individuals between the age of 12 and 25.

The science: It is can be caused by several factors: excess secretion of sebum, an oily substance produced by the skin; release of molecules causing inflammation or hyperkeratosis.

Hyperkeratosis-  when the protein keratin builds up in the connective tissue surrounding a hair.


Acne is a multifactorial disorder which means several aspects of your life can influence whether you acquire it. One suggestion is a diet too high in refined carbohydrates because of their high glycemic load.

Glycemic load- a measurement of the quantity of sugars in a portion of food alongside how fast it raises your blood glucose levels.[1]

The science: A diet with a high glycemic load is known to increase acne-triggering molecules such as IGF-1 (insulin like growth factor 1). Additionally IGF-1 promotes release of hormones such as testosterone with increases production of oils in the skin.[2]


The usual treatment for acne is the use of broad spectrum antibiotics yet this is not only a long process but also comes hand in hand with side effects such as unpleasant changes in skin color. Over the past few years the use of probiotics to treat skin conditions has become a hot topic in medical research. Probiotics are microorganisms which can alter and restore health to your gut microbiome due to their anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial effects.

In one study on 300 patients supplemented with L. acidophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus, 80% of the patients showed clinical improvement in their acne. In another experiment patients taking Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium supplements in addition to antibiotics had significantly less acne lesions than the group just on antibiotics.


Probiotics are known to decrease inflammation through regulating the release of molecules like interleukin 1 alpha, a type of pro-inflammatory cytokine.

Inflammatory cytokines- substances affecting the body’s reaction to infection and disease and can be pro-inflammatory, making the disorder worse or anti-inflammatory, promoting healing.

The science: Therefore by decreasing release of interleukin 1 alpha, probiotics can decrease skin trauma.

Another mechanism by which probiotics act is by balancing the ratio of cells important in immune function such as T cells, where T stands for thymus because it is where the cells mature. Effector T cells defend the body through mechanisms like cell death, whilst regulatory T cells suppress the formation of effector T cells. An imbalance between these may lead to autoimmune disorders, one of which is of course acne.

Acne and stomach acid?

Another association between acne and gut microbe problems relates to the hydrochloric acid in one’s stomach. The acid’s function is not only to help in food digestion but also to prevent growth of unwanted bacteria. Studies have shown people with acne and inflammation of the skin are likely to have hypochlorhydria.[3]

Hypochlorhydria- production of too little hydrochloric acid.

The science: This leads to the migration of microbes from the large intestine ( the terminal part of the digestive tract) upwards, to the small intestine where they can impair one’s absorption of nutrients like zinc. Research has confirmed people with acne have lower levels of zinc in their blood than those with clear skin. [4]

The bacteria shown to control acne to the greatest extent are: Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, Lactococcus, Lactobacillus, and Enterococcus. Interested in controlling your outbreaks? Try supplementing your diet with probiotics such as:

1. Kefir

2. Sauerkraut

3. Pickles


[1] (n.d.). Glycemic Load. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Jul. 2019].

[2] International Journal of Microbial Sciences. (2017). Edible Plants and Their Influence on the Gut Microbiome and Acne. Available at: [Accessed 10 Jul. 2019].

[3] PMC. (2018). The Gut Microbiome as a Major Regulator of the Gut-Skin Axis. Available at: [Accessed 10 Jul. 2019]. c

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