If you have acne there are many routes you can take to try to clear your skin. You can take the traditional route of cleansing, toning, and moisturizing your skin from the outside. Or you can take a more internal approach and increase your vitamin and mineral content. Here we’re going to talk about vitamins and acne, specifically vitamin a and acne.
If you bring up the relationship between diet and acne to a dermatologist who isn’t up to date with the latest science, you might be told that diet has nothing to due with acne. This is based off of the faulty “chocolate study,” where 2 groups of acne patients were given candy bars loaded with refined sugar and trans fats, but one of the bars had 10 times more chocolate. Unsurprisingly, both groups had worse acne at the end of the study, and that was extrapolated into “diet has no relationship to acne.” I don’t think I need to explain how messed up that is.
Considering that people with acne are drastically deficient in vitamins and minerals, especially vitamins A, E and zinc, (1)(2) and we get our vitamins and minerals from the food we eat, digest and absorb, it’s sort of crazy to even think that diet has no relationship with acne. People who suffer from acne also have higher levels of inflammation.(3) Diet can lower the amount of inflammation in the body.(4) Vitamins and acne go hand in hand.
The nutrients in our bodies come from the foods that we digest and the supplements we take. Nutrients combat inflammation. We want to get the greatest amount of nutrient content from our foods and supplements so we have normal levels of vitamins, minerals and inflammation. Eating real, whole foods, taking certain supplements, and not eating anything processed or refined is how this is done.
Here is part 1 of the “Supplement Series” where we talk about vitamin A and acne. You can find more information in the book Clear Nutrition: How to Eat and Live for Clearer Skin, Better Digestion and Optimal Health (out July 26, 2015)
Vitamin A and Beta-carotene
Beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, is found as carotenoids in foods and most supplements. Beta-carotene is not vitamin A but is a phytochemical that goes through a few steps in your liver to be converted into the bioactive form of vitamin A called retinol. Retinoids are prevalent in the skin care industry because of their effects on the skin. Vitamin A (retinol) works to make sure our skin doesn’t over produce keratinocytes (skin cells) and it also tells our cells in their early stages what type of cell they will be turned into by a process called differentiation.
If we want to heal our skin, increasing our vitamin A intake is a good place to start. However, we must be sure that we don’t take too much because it is a fat-soluble vitamin and can cause toxicity if taken in too large amounts. This is true for all fat-soluble vitamins. This toxicity occurs when we take the pre-formed or bioactive form of vitamin A (retinol) found in things such as cod liver oil. We do not have to worry about vitamin A toxicity when we eat beta-carotene in sweet potatoes, carrots, or goji berries. I remember being called Roger Rabbit when I was trying to rid my acne through juicing because I would bring home 15-pound bags of carrots and juice massive quantities of carrots because I knew how important vitamin A was for skin health. – I don’t recommend doing this
Now though, I know that it’s a better idea not to juice so many carrots because their juice is higher in sugar content, and it’s a much better idea to get higher quality, bioactive vitamin A (retinol) from liver, fermented cod liver oil, or a butter/fermented cod liver oil blend. The vitamin A from fermented cod liver oil is much more easily absorbed and utilized by your body than the beta-carotene from plant sources. Because vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, it requires fat to be absorbed and utilized. Nature coupled vitamin A with fat for a reason.
Trying to get the amount of vitamin A that our bodies need to reverse acne through fruits and vegetables alone is really tough for several reasons. First, animal sources such as cod liver oil contain vitamin A in its bioactive form of retinol while plant sources contain the pro-vitamin A beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is a phytochemical and plays very important functions in the body. People who need a lot of vitamin A – which is nearly everyone with acne – need retinol, which is the actual bioactive form of vitamin A that helps our skin.
The absorption of beta-carotene is very limited in humans, being only around 3 percent in women (5) and only 2 percent in men (6). This drastically low absorption rate comes from only half of the participants in the two clinical trials that did these experiments. The other participants didn’t even have enough beta-carotene in their blood to be measured. The absorption and conversion rate for these people was less than 0.01 percent. Likely, the absorption and conversion of beta-carotene to retinol was so low because getting even the 2 or 3 percent absorbed requires a working digestive system, which is compromised in a vast majority of acne sufferers.
Acne has been linked to leaky gut (7), so suffice it to say that those with acne also have very poor beta-carotene absorption. The rate of retinol absorption from animal products, though, can be all the way up to 99 percent (8). Also, fermented cod liver oil balances out the vitamin A with vitamin D. Liver or fermented cod liver oil is a must for clear skin in my opinion. Getting our vitamins and minerals from foods such as beef liver or fermented cod liver oil is a better choice than using synthetic supplements. I eat grass-fed ground beef with ground organs mixed in at least once a week to get the super high levels of vitamin A I need. I also take fermented cod liver oil or desiccated liver capsules as needed.
Takeaway – Start eating grass-fed liver at least once a week or a few times a month to get the vitamin A needed to heal the skin. Personally, I get liver and other organs mixed in with ground beef. I order liverwurst and Braunschweiger from grasslandbeef.com. A tip I learned from Chris Kresser, a leader in the ancestral health movement, is to chop fresh liver into half-inch cubes, freeze them in an ice-cube tray, then pop out the liver cubes and store them in a freezer bag. When you’re making any meat dish, defrost a cube, chop it finely, and mix it in. This way you get all the nutrients without the taste. Chris also warns that if you have iron overload, a condition of excess iron in the body, you should not eat organ meats.
Tomorrow we’ll go into the B- Vitamins, specifically vitamin B5
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