Wellness Blog

Probiotics: Food is the Secret to Treat Skin Conditions

Posted by Dr. Paul Zickler

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May 10, 2016 at 7:00 AM

Over the past decade, our understanding of probiotics in the field of health care has increased.  An extensive amount of research has been conducted regarding the health benefits of probiotic foods and supplements, particularly in relation to probiotic effects on gastrointestinal health [1]. 

healthy_skin_side_girl.jpgOur intestinal ecosystems contain a sensitive balance of healthy microflora such as good bacteria and yeast, which are necessary for digestive health.  Unfortunately, in our daily lives, we expose our gut to environmental toxins like processed foods, drugs, and stress that put this healthy balance at risk. Foods high in probiotics (yogurt, kefir, miso, or dark chocolate) and probiotic supplements help our intestines grow the “good” bacteria in our digestive tract to aid in digestion, a healthy immune system, and consuming “bad” bacteria.

Healthy bacteria found in probiotic foods and supplements have been used for a wide variety of health conditions from treating diarrhea to improved immune health.  Could it be that probiotics are equally effective for skin conditions as well as other health applications? 

Acne

Small studies from around the world (including in Italy, Russia, and Korea) suggest that probiotics found in food or health supplements may boost the effects of common acne treatments [2].  In other words, when combined with traditional acne treatments, probiotics clear acne quicker and improve patient tolerance to antibiotic acne treatments. 

Research indicates a link between your gastrointestinal tract and skin, as your gut flora is responsible for absorbing nutrients and eliminating toxins.  Unhealthy gut flora leads to an increase in bad bacteria and encourages a range of skin issues, including chronic inflammations, which is a cause of acne and other skin problems.

Eczema

A number of scientific studies have shown promise in using probiotics to prevent and treat eczema.  A Finnish study by Kuitunen at the Helisinki University Central Hospital [3] found that probiotics reduced the incidence of atopic eczema in infants up to the age of 2 years.  In this study, pregnant mothers took probiotic supplements for 2 to 4 weeks before birth and continued to take the supplement for the first 6 months of breastfeeding.  Half of the infants exhibited a decrease in eczema prevalence until 2 years old.

Rosacea

Rosacea is an inflammatory skin condition that results in redness of the cheeks, nose, chin, and/or forehead in addition to small pimples or skin blemishes.  Medical research has yet to identify causes of Rosacea with certainty, so there are mixed results from conventional treatments like prescription medication and avoiding triggers.  As Dr. Christiane Northrup explains in her book, The Wisdom of Menopause, many prescription medications have antibiotics or steroids, which can upset the balance of normal bacteria in your digestive system.

Consumption of probiotics have varied result, but it is a method with very low risk and can often be used in conjunction with traditional medicine.  While there is only a small amount of scientific research to back these claims, extensive anecdotal evidence and testimonials shows that probiotics can have an application for skin treatment.

Anti-Aging

As increasing amounts of research links probiotics with healthy skin, the anti-aging applications of these foods and supplements have ignited a new area of research.  The link between probiotics and anti-aging is plausible as increased research indicates that maintaining a healthy level of good bacteria in the gut can help a range of skin conditions like atopic dermatitis, promoting the healing of scars and burns, rejuvenating the skin and strengthening the skin’s immunity.  Increasing research indicates that probiotics are beneficial for overall skin health, which also strengthens the hypothesis that probiotic foods and supplements prevent aging.  Good bacteria in your gut can also help you eliminate the toxins and free radicals that can damage skin and cause early signs of aging.  In addition, early research suggests that probiotics may help to build collagen, a protein that provides elasticity to your skin, and aid in hydration. 

Probiotics are certainly linked to improved skin health, and research suggests they also have anti-aging properties but a lot more research still needs to be conducted.  It is important to keep in mind that results have seen significant variance and research is still in its infancy.  One way to assess these claims is to test if probiotics are effective for your specific skin conditions.

[1] Marteau, P., Seksik, P., and Jian, R. (2002, September). Probiotics and intestinal health effects: a clinical perspective. Retreived from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12215185

[2] Nierenberg, C. (2014, June 24) Probiotics hold promise for 4 skin conditions. Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/46502-probiotics-hold-promise-skin-conditions.html

[3] Kuitunen, M. (2013, June). Probiotics and prebiotics in preventing food allergy and eczema. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23594506

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Topics: Diet, Women's Health, Men's Health, probiotic

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