Probiotics are the friendly bacteria that are found in yogurt. These helpful microorganisms accumulate in the colon, where they break down fiber, create vitamin K, keep recycled estrogen and testosterone from being reassembled and being sent back into the bloodstream, and, among many other functions, train the immune system to fight bacteria with a minimum of inflammation. The power of probiotics to reduce the inflammation that causes acne has been known for over 80 years.
In the late 1920's, two scientists named Donald Pillsbury and John Stokes have observed that most adults who have acne also suffered from a condition called hypochlorhydria, or insufficient secretion of stomach acid. Low levels of acid in the stomach allowed disease-causing bacteria to escape destruction in the stomach and then to establish colonies in the small intestine, the portion of the intestine just below the stomach. These bacteria then grow into films that cover and coat the small intestine so that it cannot receive important nutrients, including most vitamins and antioxidants. The bacteria also release inflammatory substances that leak through the lining of the gut and then into the bloodstream. Inflammation then causes fatigue, depression, weight gain, and acne.
The bad bacteria that accumulate in the small intestine do not migrate to the pores of the skin to cause pimples. They simply initiate a chain of events that increases the inflammatory response to acne bacteria already in the skin. As the immune system tried harder than ever to get rid of acne bacteria, the bacteria themselves release decoy chemicals that cause inflammation to destroy the skin rather than themselves. Having the wrong kind of bacteria in the intestines causes the immune system to overreact to the normally harmless acne bacteria in the skin, harmless, that is, until the immune system tries to destroy them.
Pillsbury and Stokes observed that there was a relatively easy way to reverse the pattern of fatigue, depression, weight gain, and acne. All that was needed was to replace the “bad” bacteria with “good” bacteria such as Lactobacillus acidophilous, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Lactobacillus casei, and Bifidobacterium bifidus. These friendly bacteria displaced the pro-inflammatory, disease-causing “bad” bacteria. They also interacted with the immune system to “train” it that inflammation is not necessary for health.
Probiotic bacteria live in tiny pockets in the lining of the colon known as villi. These pockets are only about 1/1000th of an inch (less than 1/10th of a millimeter) deep. The bacteria float around in the digested food that fills in the villi. They are easily dislodged by bowel movement.
An untrained immune system attacks both disease-causing and friendly bacteria. The friendly bacteria in the colon, however, do not stay in one place while the immune system is doing its work. They move from villus to villus faster than the immune system can find them. The immune system “learns” that is not necessary to unleash torrents of inflammatory chemicals to keep bacteria in check, and immune cells retain this knowledge when they later travel to the skin.
The findings of Pillsbury and Stokes were largely neglected for nearly 80 years. In 2010, a Canadian researcher named Alan Logan, a fellow of the Integrative Health Centre in Toronto, and American researcher named Whitney Bowe, of the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, rediscovered the interactions between the colon, the brain, and the skin. Logan and Bowe found that nearly all probiotic bacteria help relieve depression and also help clear up the skin. They even termed the phrase “brain-gut-skin axis” to describe the hormonal interactions between brain, colon, and skin that keep inflammation in check.
How can you enjoy the anti-acne benefits of probiotic bacteria?
One way is to drink your juices in the form of smoothies made with yogurt. The yogurt you use to make your smoothie will have to contain live cultures of probiotic bacteria. Many brands of yogurt are fermented with probiotic bacteria but then the product is pasteurized to kill all bacteria, including the probiotics. These products won't do you any good. The yogurt you add to your smoothies has to contain “live cultures,” usually identified on the label. A variety of different strains of bacteria is best, since different strains grow at different rates, and with multiple strains in your system you will always have at least one fighting acne inflammation.
The other way to enjoy the benefits of probiotic bacteria, if you cannot consume dairy products, is to take probiotic supplements. Alive! makes a mixture of probiotics in a powder you can add directly to your juice. Ultimate Flora makes a line of products that contain 10 different strains of friendly bacteria, up to 50 billion bacteria per capsule. Ultimate Flora is a premium product, but any product will help if it contains at least 5 billion bacteria per capsule and you take at least one capsule per day.