Photo by Shawn Carpenter
Are you taking antibiotics to treat acne because your peers are taking them and say they really work or because your doctor is telling you to do so? Do you know that: while they can heal your acne to a certain extent, they can actually do more harm than good? Explore the article below to see what we should give them credits for, why we should minimize the use, what are some of the alternatives and how to minimize the side effects if you are taking them or really need to take them.
Antibiotics Are Indeed the Heroes
When it comes to treating serious bacterial infections such as deep wounds and bacterial pneumonia, antibiotics serves as a powerful and effective tool to save lives by either inhibiting bacterial reproduction or eliminating the bacteria. Antibiotics, therefore, provide a germ-free or less bacteria-packed environment for the body to start healing itself from there.
It is true that our body has its own natural defense “departments” such as immune and lymphatic systems. But, there are times when the body is so overwhelmed by infections that one may risk losing his or her life, should there be no strong and effective antibacterial agents like antibiotics that come to rescue. According to Jake Paul Fratkin, Doctor of Oriental Medicine and Licensed Acupuncturist since 1978, antibiotics are “truly miraculous”, because they save lives that otherwise might be lost to organ failure and other major infections.
Despite the recognition in invention of antibiotics, Dr. Fratkin also thinks that the prescription of them to cure problems like skin infections like eczema and acne can be “unnecessary” or “unhelpful”. Before we dive into antibiotics’ potential negative effects on the body, let’s talk a quick look on the types of commonly used antibiotics products in the market to cure skin problems.
Antibiotics Are Beneficial for Acne. But…
In general, when it comes to treating moderate-to-severe inflammatory acne, there are two types of antibiotics to kill bacteria that cause acne and reduce inflammation: topical antibiotic applications (such as creams lotions, gels, or pads) and oral antibiotics (the common types of which include tetracycline, minocycline, and doxycycline), which is a stronger way of the treatment because they fight bacteria from the inside out.
And, the good news about antibiotics helping to fight acne is that the usually work well to clear inflamed lesions and surrounding skin inflammations. Logan and Treloar, co-authors of The Clear Skin Diet, also mention in their book that “based on limited data, those who use oral antibiotics should expect about a 50 percent improvement in the number of acne lesions”.
However, despite the benefits you see, the concerns associated with using antibiotics could outweigh the physical benefits you experience. Here are why:
Reason One: They Initiate the Creation of “Super-bugs”
This goes back to Dr. Fratkin’s statement earlier, who thinks that the use of antibiotics can be “unhelpful”. According to him, overusing of antibiotics allows them to enter the human body in significant amounts, which causes bacteria to mutate and form resistant strains that are disease-causing and drug resistant. In fact, Fratkin is not alone. The influence of drug resistance is also mentioned different health professionals such as Logan and Treloar , authors of The Clear Skin Diet, where both argue that the bacteria “wise up” and learn to become immune to antimicrobial effect over time.
The consequence can be serious. When it comes a time when antibiotics are really in need to wipe out serious infections, antibiotics can no longer be in effect, because bacteria have evolved to become so drug resistant that they can hardly be removed. Martha Lucas, PhD and License Acupuncturist who writes for Acupuncture Today, quotes a case study that in a Brooklyn hospital nine out of 19 patients died from an infection that was antibiotic resistant.
Reason Two: They Kill Beneficial Bacteria inside the Body
According to Dr. Fratkin, there are over 500 different species of beneficial bacteria inside the body that collectively destroy pathogenic microbes and neutralize harmful chemical toxins our body is trying to excrete. Oral antibiotics will significantly do harm to the beneficial intestinal bacteria. For example, a short-term use of the antibiotic ciprofloxacin reduced the diversity of the intestinal microbiota by roughly 33%.
What’s worse, Chris Kresser, Licensed Acupuncturist and practitioner of integrative medicine who runs a blog based on his own research, argues that “even a single course of antibiotics can permanently alter the gut flora”. He also cites a study which demonstrated that several healthy bacterial species failed to recover even after six months after only a short course of the antibiotic ciprofloxacin, which suggests “even a short course of antibiotics may cause permanent changes to the community of friendly flora in the gut”.
The sad part is that the loss of good bacteria in gastrointestinal tract may lead to inflammation, increase oxidative stress and negatively impact the healing process of acne. Oh, wait. Aren’t we taking antibiotics to heal acne?
Reason Three: If Used for a Long-term, They Lead to the Compromised Immune System and Other Health Issues other Health Issues
As the innate strength of one’s immunity is dependent of the role of the beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract, the influence on gut flora could also lead to a negative impact on the body’s immune system as well.
When the immune system is weakened, the person who takes antibiotics may develop new infections and other health issues. For example, a study cited in The Clear Skin Diet published in the Archives of Dermatology in 2005 shows that people with acne who were treated with long-term antibiotics are twice as likely to suffer from respiratory tract infections when followed for a year. Besides, there are also other adverse reactions including yeast overgrowth, discolored teeth and gastrointestinal upset.
Reason Four: The Use of Antibiotics does not Address Root Problems
No matter how effective antibiotics are in treating acne, this can only be a short-term relief. As Dr. Laurence Knott, who writes for Patient.co.UK, a UK’s leading independent health site established over 15 years, mentions, “Once the spots have cleared, acne commonly flares up again if you stop treatment.” This suggests that the use of antibiotics does not address the root problems at all. Dr. Kulreet Chaudhary has clearly stated this point when she writes for Dr. Oz Blog: “the current medical approach to the management of acne is very superficial and aimed at preventing the bacterial over-growth in the skin.” In other words, if the root cause is not found or paid attention to, acne can be a life-long battle with reliance of medical treatments and harsh chemicals like benzoyl peroxide.
Simply put, there are multi-faceted views on causes of acne. One needs to reflect on each possible root cause to truly eliminate stubborn acne in terms of our lifestyle, diets, emotions and more.From a Traditional Chinese Medicine’s perspective, acne can be a reflection of internal heat inside the body and is connected to the health and wellness of different organs within. Therefore, instead of eagerly treating acne only from a surface level, one needs to keep his/her cool, install in mind a big picture of all aspects that can cause acne, evaluate one’s life from all perspectives, and make adjustments afterwards. This whole process is very likely to reward you with a permanent change while keeping acne at bay for good.
Alternative for Antibiotics
With all the lessons learned above, Logan and Treloar recommend one discontinue use of application of topical antibiotics after six to eight weeks or as soon as there are marked improvements. In fact, Dr. Fratkin suggests we avoid antibiotics of all forms, except in situations where good alternatives do not exist. So, if antibiotics are not encouraged for treating. What are other alternatives? Instead of thinking about an alternative for antibiotics, the right question to ask should be: what is the way for eliminate acne from the root level, so that my skin stays clear for good? To answer that question, here are some quick tips:
- First and foremost, it is important to evaluate your current diet and improve it. These days, more and more studies have shown that there is a direct relationship between quality of your diets and quality of the skin. As a general rule, here is the simple guideline: “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants,” a high-level summary of an ideal healthy dietary habit advocated by Michael Pollan, New York Times best-selling author of In Defense of Food. Simply put, that means we should eat non-processed whole foods, embrace a plant-based lifestyle, and avoid overeating which may cause burdens to digestive tract.
- Next, how you organize your diets can be just as important as what you eat. So, make sure you follow food combination rules to maximize the digestion of different groups of foods, because how efficiently your stomach digests foods can have a direct impact on how the skin looks, too.
- Also important is knowing how to manage your stress. Stress is very toxic to us from three aspects: first, from The Clear Skin Diet by Logan and Treloar, I know that stress increases the production of androgens, also known as male hormones, which can lead to acne breakouts; additionally, the two authors also mention that stress can stimulate the nervous system for more sebum development inside the follicle; and, when a person is in a stressful state, the body’s self-healing properties are greatly inhibited, according to Dr. Lissa Rankin, MD and author of Mind Over Medicine. No wonder stress is labeled as one of the greatest toxicities in the modern society! To manage stress, try meditation, yoga, or listening to some peaceful music.
- Opt for natural ingredients for topical application. A good alternative for antibiotics could be products that contain tea tree oil, which has strong antibacterial properties and has been proven to be effective in curing acne with fewer side effects than benzoyl peroxide. Antonia Balfour, Licensed Acupuncturist and Herbalist specializing in the holistic skincare, recommends we make our own serum at home by mixing 5% tea tree oil with 95% of a non-comedogenic oil (such as argan oil).
Taking Antibiotics Now? Here is How to Minimize Side Effects
While taking antibiotics is not the most ideal situation, there are times when taking such drugs are necessary. If you are currently taking antibiotics, one great tip for you to restore the beneficial bacteria is to take supplemental probiotics. Here is the question I once asked myself: wouldn’t antibiotics kill the good bacteria I ingest? Fortunately, Chris Kresser has an answer for that, who writes in his blog that “even transient strains can have powerful therapeutic effects”. As an example, a study on135 hospital patients taking antibiotics found that 12% of the probiotic receiving group develop antibiotic-associated diarrhea, compared to 34% of the placebo group.
Dr. Andew Weil, who is a medical doctor, naturopath and an American teacher and writer on holistic health, recommends taking acidophilus to restore friendly cultures even when one takes antibiotics for just a few days. Particularly, he recommends acidophilus containing lactobacillus GG or bacillus coagulans 30 (BC-30), two strains proven to survive passage through the strong acid in the stomach.
By now, I hope that you have had a more complete overview of antibiotics: yes, the invention of this drug brings value because it saves lives; yet, at the same time, we may just have overused it, causing more harm than good to our health. Therefore, consider using them with great caution!
Now it’s your turn. Any thoughts and comments you would like to share with me? Please do so in the comment section below. I’d love to hear from you.
For a healthier and more savvy version of you ; – )