By Callie Birtles, RHN & Acne Coach in The Clear Skin Solution
While acne is often seen as a teenage problem, many women suffer from acne well into their 30s, 40s and 50s.
But did you know that its cause can lie in poor stomach acid levels?
Low stomach acid can lead to a cascade of issues including nutrient deficiencies, dysbiosis of the intestinal microbiome, hormonal imbalances, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and H. Pylori infection – all of which cause inflammation which is at the core of acne.
Low stomach acid, also known as hypochlorhydria, is the occurrence of insufficient amounts of hydrochloric acid (HCl) to properly digest food, absorb nutrients, and prevent infection. Our ability to produce stomach acid is impaired by poor diet, stress, medications and/or insufficient nutrients to make stomach acid.
Chronic stress can also lead to hypochlorhydria because our body shunts blood away from our digestive organs. With impaired blood flow to the digestive organs, the stomach can’t produce enough HCl. Without enough stomach acid, the body struggles to absorb the very nutrients it needs for the parietal cells (the cells that produce HCl). If you have a poor diet, there’s even less nutrient availability to keep your stomach working in tip-top shape.
So what are the consequences of low stomach acid?
Without strong stomach acid as a barrier, we are more at risk of bacteria, yeast, viruses and infections. Low stomach acid can have a cascade effect on the entire body.
Over 70% of our immune system resides in our gut. This is where we produce nutrients, metabolize hormones, neutralize toxins, and synthesize neurotransmitters. More and more studies are demonstrating the link between gut health and skin health.
If clear, glowing skin is a top priority for you, then gut health should also be. Good gut health starts with a strong stomach.
Sufficient stomach acid is required to break down and absorb nutrients from food; such as iron. Protein digestion requires plenty of stomach acid. Improper protein digestion can lead to uncomfortable symptoms of bloating and gas.
If you’ve been struggling with iron levels for a long time, it could be that you don’t have enough stomach acid to absorb it. Both protein and iron are essential components of our immune system which assists in fighting bacteria and inflammation that can contribute to acne.
Many B vitamins are synthesized in the gut by beneficial gut bacteria. Skin-loving nutrients A, D and K are fat-soluble vitamins that require specific gut bacteria to make them bioavailable. These vitamins are essential for building and maintaining healthy skin cells.
When food is not digested properly by the stomach, it moves into the intestines and may cause digestive problems. Here, undigested food can begin to putrefy (rot) as it takes longer to move through the intestines. This allows opportunistic bacteria more time to feed and reproduce. When these bad bacteria reproduce too much, they start to crowd out the good bacteria. This is called dysbiosis. Dysbiosis elevates our stress levels, creates blood sugar imbalances, impairs thyroid function, and creates inflammation which provokes an immune response. All of which are NOT acne friendly.
Dysbiosis can also alter our hormones!
Within the microbiome, we have the estrobolome; a collection of microorganisms in the gut that metabolize and regulate estrogen. Dysbiosis alters the estrobolome and creates a situation where we may have too much estrogen known as estrogen dominance. Too much estrogen is related to acne, PCOS, PMS, breast cancer, and endometriosis.
When it comes to hormones, we want to use them and lose them. Dysbiosis puts a strain on the liver as it struggles to detoxify the excess hormones and toxins created by dysbiosis. If the liver and kidneys are overloaded, the skin becomes a route of elimination (Nutritional Pathology Third Edition, Dr. Brenda Lessard-Rhead, CSNN 2013 pp.85).
H pylori is a common type of bacteria that can infect the stomach and small intestine. A decrease in digestive activity allows for H. Pylori to thrive and cause infection. H. Pylori can be linked to several stomach issues including gastritis, peptic ulcers, and even stomach cancer. Stomach acid serves as an effective first line of defence against invading organisms like H. Pylori by killing them before they can attach themselves to the mucosal lining of the gut wall. This reduces their chances of surviving or multiplying over time.
Low stomach acid is often overlooked in the development of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and candida. Stomach acid plays a major role in digestion and absorption by breaking down proteins, killing bacteria and fungi ingested with food, and activating enzymes that aid further digestion. Without adequate levels of stomach acid, these processes are impeded or prevented altogether, allowing bacteria to thrive in the small intestine where they would normally be unable to survive.
The presence of undigested food particles also creates a nutrient-rich environment for SIBO to flourish. Unabsorbed carbohydrates such as starches serve as fuel for bacterial fermentation to occur, which contributes heavily to overgrowth. When large populations of bacteria collect in the small intestine as a result of inadequate gastric secretions, they create inflammation and produce gas which can cause abdominal discomfort and bloat.
Candida is a type of yeast that lives in the gastrointestinal tract, and when left unchecked, it can wreak havoc on the gut and lead to acne. Having low stomach acid gives candida a greater opportunity to grow out of control. This causes inflammation in the gut wall, which causes the wall to become permeable. Here, toxins and undigested food particles enter the bloodstream. An overgrowth of candida will also crowd out beneficial bacteria, creating dysbiosis.
Low stomach acid has a significant impact on gut health, which in turn, affects our ability to achieve clear, glowing skin. Understanding its effects on the rest of the GI tract, knowing the signs, and taking steps to improve stomach acid provide a perfect canvas for a clear complexion.