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Acne: beyond the skin

Acne is a common skin condition that many people experience during their lifetime.

Acne lesions occur when pores become clogged by excess oil and dead skin cells and an increase in production of skin cells (keratinocytes) form a barrier, preventing this excess from being released from the pore.  This environment within the pore is favourable for the bacteria,Propionibacterium acnes, to grow and replicate, leading to inflammation and spreading of the acne.

Conventional treatment for acne, which are mainly topical treatments, are geared towards reducing the production keratinocytes, killing the bacteria and removing excess oil from the face.  Many of these types of treatments often come with negative side effects, and often do not provide great or lasting results.

There are a number of internal factors that lead to the intensity and chronic nature of acne.  It’s important to understand that acne treatments that provide sustained results involves figuring out these root factors, and treating the body from the inside to out

Some of these factors can be DIET
Diet has been found to play a major role in acne.1  There is scientific support that have linked acne to the “Western diet” which is comprised of:

  • High consumption of dairy products such as milk and cheese
  • Foods that register high on the glycemic index (GI) – ie Refined carbohydrates (mainly white flour foods such as bagels, white bread, croissants, baguettes, as well as high sugar foods)
  • Diets high in trans and saturated fats (deep fried foods, animal fats) low in essential fatty acids, particularly poly-unsaturated fatty acids (fish, plant oils (olive oils, flax oils)

Try removing these foods from your diet and see if it makes a difference, especially if you also have digestive health concerns.  You can always use alternatives in order to make this transition easier.

Alternatives to milk and dairy: Almond milk, coconut milk are great milk substitutes

Breads: Try a SPROUTED, whole grain bread, which is lower on the glycemic index and easier on the digestion or remove bread altogether and try sticking with whole, lower GI grains such as brown rice, white basmati rice, millet, quinoa, amaranth, teff, buckwheat, spelt or rye

Poor digestive health is linked to acne
Your intestinal flora (probiotic flora) plays an important role in regulating your immune system.  An unhealthy (dysbiotic) probiotic flora causes widespread inflammation, oxidative stress and poor sugar control, all of which are part of the pathogenesis of acne.  Digestive health conditions that are tied to an dysbiotic flora such as constipation, food sensitivities, and poor stomach acid regulation, are also likely to occur alongside acne.  So if you experience symptoms such as bloating, gas, heartburn, and/or stomach pain in addition to acne, you may need to shift your focus your intestinal probiotic flora.2

Probiotics can make a world of a difference for some people, however if you’ve tried this as well as the dietary suggestions and are still experiencing symptoms, your digestive system may need a tune up or a complete overhaul.   Having your digestive health professionally assessed can provide you with accurate treatment approaches to effectively improve your health concerns and clear your acne.

Stay tuned for my next installment which will discuss the link between acne and hormones

Yours in health
— Dr. Tanya Lee, N.D



  1. Melnik BC. Linking diet to acne metabolomics, inflammation, and comedogenesis: an update. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2015 Jul 15;8:371-88
  2. Bowe WP, Logan AC. Acne vulgaris, probiotics and the gut-brain-skin axis – back to the future? Gut Pathog. 2011 Jan 31;3(1):

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