My Skin Story – Part 2
Last week I shared my experience with conventional medicine and my acne. You can read about it in part one of this series here. After years of seeing only temporary results, I decided it was time to dive deeper and find the root cause of my acne.
When I lived in Indonesia, I saw a holistic approach to medicine. I had never experienced this before, but it intrigued me, and I wondered if I could use this approach of food as medicine to clear my skin. I began cutting out certain foods that I researched could trigger acne including sugar, gluten, soy, and dairy. I tried cutting out each of these separately for a month at a time, but nothing seemed to clear up my acne.
In 2017, after my most severe acne flare-up yet, I decided to cut out gluten and dairy at the same time. This combination led to almost immediate results. My skin began to calm down and become less inflamed. Because of the progress I was seeing, I was motivated to do whatever I could to clear my skin. I knew I needed to take a whole body approach. I focused on lowering stress, doing physical activity I enjoyed, increasing my nutrient intake, getting good sleep, supplementing specifically for acne, and properly hydrating.
This is my skin in August of 2017, after about a month of cutting out gluten and dairy. Although there is still a lot of redness, the active acne had calmed down a lot!
I still wanted to find the root cause of my acne, so I decided to seek professional help to get to the root cause of my symptoms. I began to see a naturopath and with their guidance, I did various lab tests. To start, we did a food allergy test and a hormone panel. My hormone test showed I was low in progesterone and testosterone which is quite common among women. She gave me a protocol to continue lowering stress and boost my progesterone through various supplements. From the food allergy test, we learned I was sensitive to eggs and amaranth (a type of grain), so I cut both out.
Unfortunately, we weren’t seeing great results from either protocol so we did more testing. I took a test for SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth), a condition where you have an overgrowth of bacteria in your small intestine when the majority should be in your large intestine. SIBO can cause IBS symptoms for many, but some people experience acne as a symptom. Since SIBO is still a newly recognized condition, there is still a lot of unknown when it comes to treating it. Typically, treatment involves antibiotics or herbal antimicrobials as well as a low fermentable carbohydrate diet to eradicate and “starve” out the bacteria. The SIBO diet is very strict and recommended for about 4-8 weeks. I saw results almost immediately. When I retook the test, it still came back positive for SIBO so, despite my efforts, I had not gotten rid of the SIBO. I quickly plateaued and wasn’t seeing any more improvement. Under the guidance of my naturopath, I kept on the diet for over 6 months because we weren’t seeing results. This was extremely difficult to maintain, especially when eating out or with family and friends. I always made my own food. The stress of being on such a restrictive diet took a toll on me mentally. Which I believe hindered me even more from progressing. I eventually decided to stop the SIBO diet and slowly reintroduce foods. My symptoms did not get any worse from reintroducing the fermentable carbohydrates I cut out, so I decided to try adding back in eggs and amaranth. To my surprise, I tolerated both.
I shifted my focus from the SIBO to healing my gut by using healing supplements, gentle nutrition, and a better mindset. Now, over a year later, my skin has gradually continued to heal. I have even been able to reintroduce gluten in the form of fermented sourdough bread and sheep and goat dairy.
Just a note on food allergy tests…Although they can be helpful, they can also be inaccurate. We still need to be aware of our symptoms and ultimately listen to our bodies. I believe because my gut was stressed, it was easily inflamed so the eggs, amaranth, gluten, and dairy were all necessary to cut out for a time as it healed, but now that I’ve worked on healing my gut, it is not as sensitive and can tolerate more foods.
I do still get occasional breakouts, but I’m much more aware of what triggers my acne, and I don’t obsess over breakouts like I used to. If I have a pimple, I simply move on and know my skin is resilient and will heal. Although I have acne scars, in a sense I’m grateful for the reminder of how far I’ve come through this journey, what it’s taught me about myself, body image, mental health, and the importance of listening to your body.
There is not one thing that will work for everyone to heal their acne. I titled this series “My Skin Journey” because it truly was a journey, full of mistakes, trial and error, and many ups and downs. Despite this, I can confidently identity what things made a big impact on healing my skin.
In the next post, I’ll be summarizing what these were.