BEVERLY HILLS – Does it feel like nothing helps with your acne? You eat healthy, you live healthy and you’ve tried everything, but nothing helps. Your acne just won’t budge. You may suffer from gluten sensitivity and it may prevent you from curing acne.
Gluten sensitivity is one of those hidden and hard to detect causes behind many health problems. And something you might not think of in a million years. It also happens to be the reason many acne victims struggle to get clear skin.
If you are badly sensitive to gluten, you could have a perfect diet and live the healthiest life but won’t get clear because of regular exposure to gluten.
To make matters worse, gluten is everywhere. You can find gluten in nearly all processed foods. And even in items you wouldn’t think of, such as lipsticks, shampoos and vitamins.
So how does gluten contribute to acne?
First let me say acne is a result of blood sugar problems and chronic inflammation. These trigger hormonal reactions that lead to increased sebum production, blocked pores and overgrowth of acne-causing bacteria. For a more detailed explanation, please see: what causes adult acne.
Gluten contributes to acne in two ways. First, it causes damage to the small intestine, which could lead to nutritional deficiencies and an increased toxic body load (through leaky gut syndrome).
The second link between gluten and acne is inflammation. People with gluten sensitivity cannot digest gluten effectively. As a result they absorb incompletely digested protein molecules. The immune system treats these as invaders. As it attacks these ‘invaders’ the white cells release histamine, which increases inflammation. Inflammation increases insulin resistance in the nearby cells.
Insulin resistance leads to blood sugar problems, which is linked to acne.
As this happens once in a while, the body can deal with it. But most people are exposed to gluten 3 or more times a day. This, coupled with other inflammatory agents, spreads inflammation all over the body. Suddenly cells all over the body start becoming insulin resistant.
I call the gluten-acne connection hidden, for two obvious reasons.
First, most people are not aware of their gluten sensitivity. Even fewer are aware of its link to acne and other skin problems. Second, gluten lurks in many foods and it’s very easy to get exposed to it — even if you try to avoid it.
For many medical professionals, the dangers of gluten extend to celiac disease and not much further. Celiac disease is clear-cut allergic reaction and as such, is easy to diagnose.
Subclinical gluten sensitivity is entirely different. First, most people show no outward signs that could be linked to gluten. Second, the immune system doesn’t produce standard antibodies after gluten exposure. So gluten doesn’t show up in standard allergy tests. Doctors specializing in gluten sensitivities can detect it with special tests
Gluten sensitivity could be the most common food allergy as it is estimated that around 40% of the population is sensitive to gluten.
Gluten Here, There and Everywhere
With most food allergies, it’s reasonably easy to avoid exposure. Usually you just have to read the labels carefully.
Not so with gluten. Thanks to modern food processing you can find gluten in most processed foods.
Avoid the obvious, such as breads, pastas and pastries, and you’ve cut out the biggest sources. But did you know there can be gluten also in cheese, butter and teriyaki sauce? Many processed foods contain vegetable starches and other additives that may contain gluten.
So gluten could be lurking in close to 90% of the items in your local supermarket.
Outside of grains, most food products contain only small amounts of gluten, but for people with severe sensitivities even these can make it difficult to cure acne.
As a rule, don’t assume anything. If the food is not raw and fresh fruit or vegetables or does not clearly state gluten-free (wheat-free is not enough), it may contain gluten.
And if that’s not bad enough, it’s not just the food items that contain gluten. Your toothpaste may contain gluten. Same with your shampoo. And what about that new lipstick you (or your girlfriend) have. That also may contain gluten. Finally even the capsules of your nutritional supplements may contain gluten.
Gluten is one more reason to avoid both processed foods and chemical-based personal care products.
I cannot list all the sources of gluten here, but I’ve listed a few good links with more information at the bottom of this article.
Coping with Gluten Sensitivity and Curing Acne
There are two parts to getting over gluten sensitivity and eventually curing acne. First is to avoid gluten. When you stay away from gluten you avoid triggering the immune system and inflammatory response.
Study the resources at the bottom of this page for sources of gluten and see how you can cut them out of your life.
Second is to bring your body back to a state where it’s not so sensitive to gluten anymore. Gluten causes problems because of two reasons:
1) Undigested protein molecules leak from the digestive track into the bloodstream
2) The immune system is ‘on the edge’ because of chronic inflammation
As you heal the digestive tract and bring down the inflammation levels you become less sensitive to gluten. You may never fully get over the gluten sensitivity, but at least it doesn’t trigger such a strong reaction anymore.
Let’s look at the digestive tract first.
Research has shown two interesting facts. First, people with celiac disease have different bacterial gut microflora than healthy people. Second, supplementing with probiotic bacteria may reduce the damage gluten causes and accelerate healing.
Researchers at the Department of Science and Technology, University of Verona in Italy studied the differences in the composition of bowel microflora between celiacs and healthy people. The researchers concluded the following :
“The diversity of the faecal microbiota was significantly higher in coeliac children than in healthy controls. The presence of the species Lactobacillus curvatus, Leuconostoc mesenteroides and Leuconostoc carnosum was characteristic of coeliac patients, while that of the Lactobacillus casei group was characteristic of healthy controls. The Bifidobacterium population showed a significantly higher species diversity in healthy children than in coeliacs. In healthy children, this population was characterized by the presence of Bifidobacterium adolescentis. Overall, the results highlighted the need for further characterization of the microbiota in coeliac patients, and suggested a potential role of probiotics and/or prebiotics in restoring their gut microbial balance.”
The composition of the bowel microflora may hold the key to celiac disease and gluten sensitivities. Probiotic bacteria have been shown to digest gluten into peptides, and thus make it harmless.
Researchers in Finland studied the effect of probiotic bacteria on cultures of epithelial cells (cells that line the intestine) to find out their effect on gluten-induced cellular damage. The researchers found that probiotic bacteria called Bifidobacterium lactis countered the harmful effects of gluten, and that it may be a helpful addition to a gluten-free diet.
Despite supplementation, a healthy diet and lifestyle are the most important factors controlling the health of your digestive tract. The type of bacteria you have in the gut depends on what you put in there. A healthy diet with plenty of raw fruit and vegetable fiber cultivates healthy bacteria. A diet full of processed food, sugar and animal products cultivates unhealthy bacteria. Drinking enough water throughout the day and engaging in regular exercise are also important.
Reducing inflammation is the second part in coping with gluten sensitivity and curing acne.
A healthy diet and lifestyle are the only viable solutions. Antioxidant supplements may help, but they cannot overcome the harmful effects of an unhealthy diet and lifestyle.
Fighting inflammation is not just about diet. Proper sleep, maintaining a positive attitude (or at least avoiding stress) and steering clear of chemicals and pollutants are equally important. Regular exposure to sunlight also has an anti-inflammatory effect.
So if you’ve been struggling with persistent acne that, despite all your efforts to eat and live a healthy life, hasn’t budged, gluten might be the missing piece.