Functional Medicine Acne
Acne is the most common skin condition in the United States and affects over 50 percent of all adults at some point. Many people suffer from acne for years and try multiple treatments with no long term success.
In this article, we’ll discuss how we use functional medicine for acne to help members find and treat the root cause of their breakouts.
Functional Medicine for Acne
A functional medicine assessment for acne at Root would start with an initial appointment with one of our functional medicine doctors to review your symptoms, health history, and prior treatments. These in-depth appointments often last upwards of one hour (which is five times longer than the average doctor’s visit). Your doctor may then recommend a few tests to identify the cause of your acne.
These tests may include:
- A blood test to look for nutrient deficiencies that can worsen acne, like zinc and omega-3.
- A blood and/or dried urine test to evaluate hormone levels
- A functional stool test to evaluate gut bacteria and assess for any infection or dysbiosis
Once we receive your test results, our functional medicine doctors will develop your personalized treatment plan. In addition to unlimited doctor visits, our members also have an unlimited number of sessions with our functional medicine dietitians to evaluate your overall nutrition status, help you develop a realistic meal plan to treat the root cause of your acne, and recommend vitamin/mineral supplementation as needed.
Let’s review a few of the most common root causes of acne.
Poor Gut Health
An imbalance of gut bacteria, or dysbiosis, is a very common cause of acne. Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is one particular form of dysbiosis that occurs when too many bacteria end up in your small intestine instead of your large intestine. SIBO is fairly common in people with acne. For instance, one study reported SIBO is ten times more prevalent in those with acne versus healthy controls (1). Read more about SIBO and acne. Furthermore, H.pylori is a bacteria often found in the stomachs of people suffering from acid reflux or stomach ulcers. However, some research suggests this bacteria may also be associated with worsening acne. For instance, one study found that people with severe acne had higher levels of H.pylori than those with mild or no acne (2).
Androgens are sex hormones found in both men and women, but with higher amounts typically found in men. High levels of testosterone and DHEA-S commonly cause acne in women due to excess oil production. We often see high androgen levels in conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). This is the most common hormone disorder among women in their reproductive years and around 30 percent of women with PCOS suffer from acne (3).
High Cortisol Levels
Have you ever had a pimple pop up right before a big event? It’s no surprise that stress can cause breakouts. However, many people do not realize that chronic, low-grade stress can increase stress hormones, like cortisol, and make breakouts more likely outside of these events as well.
Treating Acne with Functional Medicine
While each protocol will depend on your specific test results, health history, and root causes, here are a few interventions we may recommend to treat acne.
Improve Gut Health
Our functional medicine doctors have specialized experience in ordering and interpreting comprehensive stool tests. A functional stool test will assess your gut bacteria and evaluate for any signs of parasites, H.pylori, yeast overgrowth, inflammation, and more. This highly valuable information gives us actionable data to guide your personalized treatment plan. A functional medicine plan to improve gut health may include a short-term elimination diet, antimicrobials to remove bad gut bacteria, and our best probiotic for acne. We have seen this probiotic work wonders in patients with acne when combined with the right treatment program.
Balance Your Blood Sugar
Insulin resistance occurs when your body does not respond properly to insulin, a hormone responsible for moving sugar from your blood and into your cells for energy. High insulin levels raise testosterone which may cause (or worsen) acne by increasing oil production. One study found higher insulin and blood sugar levels in women with acne compared to women without acne (2).
In order to reduce insulin resistance and prevent dramatic blood sugar fluctuations, we recommend using our Root Plate™ PFC method to ensure you have a protein, fat, and fiber-rich carbohydrate with each meal and snack. You can start small, and use the PFC method with your breakfast first. This meal often affects many of your other meal choices and cravings throughout the day.
Here are a two breakfast ideas using the Root Plate™ PFC method:
- Overnight oats with 1 tablespoon chia seeds, 1 scoop of collagen powder, and optional mix-ins (mixed nuts, berries, cinnamon, etc.)
- Meal-prepped egg bake casserole with sauteed veggies and 1 serving of fruit on the side.
Learn more about an optimal diet to reduce acne.
Boost Skin Nutrients
Your intake and blood levels of certain vitamins and minerals may impact acne severity. For example, zinc levels may correlate with the severity of acne and supplementing with zinc may be useful in treating individuals with moderate to severe breakouts. We often suggest a zinc dose of 15-30 mg daily. We also recommend taking an omega-3 supplement that contains two key omega-3 fats: EPA and DHA. You may also see EPA and DHA labeled as “fish oil.” When combined with an anti-inflammatory diet and treatment plan, omega-3 can help lower inflammation in the body and may reduce acne breakouts. Root acne bundle includes both zinc and omega-3 and also targets improving gut health with a spore-based probiotic.
Lower Stress Hormones
While we can’t always prevent stressful experiences in our life, we can change how we respond to stress. Effective ways to manage stress and lower cortisol levels include yoga or tai chi, meditation, spending time in nature, therapy, journaling, and more. Try to incorporate at least one stress reducing activity into your routine each day. Even five minutes of a guided meditation can make a positive impact.
Acne is a devastating symptom that can persist for years. We use functional medicine to identify and treat the root causes of your acne, like poor gut health, high androgens, and elevated stress hormones. We bundled our most recommended acne supplements (a probiotic, zinc, and omega-3) into an acne supplement bundle which can support optimal gut health, lower oil production in the skin, and reduce overall inflammation.
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