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Acne and Constipation

Symptoms like constipation and acne often occur simultaneously thanks to the gut-skin axis.  

While conventional medicine typically treats acne with a surface level approach, new research involving the gut-skin axis presents a functional medicine perspective in treating both constipation and acne.

Constipation and Acne: What’s the Connection?

Constipation and acne are often symptoms of two root cause issues: poor detoxification and gut health.

For instance, bowel movements are an essential part of detoxification. While your liver does most of the hard work, your gut is responsible for eliminating many of these toxins through the stool. Without regular bowel movements, your detoxification system is suboptimal which may indirectly lead to other symptoms – like acne.

Constipation is also a symptom of poor gut health and gut-related conditions like small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). When you have an imbalance of gut bacteria, inflammation, or gut permeability (i.e. “leaky gut”), you are more likely to suffer from skin conditions, like acne.

What is Constipation?

Ideally, you should be having at least one bowel movement per day without too much straining or difficulty. The bowel movement should feel “complete” and you should not experience any gas or bloating throughout the day.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for many people. The official Rome III diagnostic criteria for functional constipation is when 25 percent of bowel movements are associated with at least two of the following symptoms for at least three months:

  1. Straining

  2. Hard or lumpy stools

  3. Sense of incomplete evacuation

  4. A sense of anorectal obstruction

  5. The need for manual maneuvers 

  6. Fewer than three bowel movements per week

Thankfully, constipation is often very responsive to diet and lifestyle adjustments!

How to Treat Constipation and Clear Acne

If you’ve ever had acne, you know that it can be emotionally and financially depleting! Before spending too much time and money on skin products, medications, or facials, make sure you’re creating a solid foundation for a healthy gut and healthy skin.

Eat Enough Fiber

The majority of Americans fail to meet their daily fiber recommendations. Fiber is a non-digestible carbohydrate that has many benefits for treating both constipation and acne. For instance, fiber provides bulk to your stool and gives it the right consistency for easy and regular passage. Fiber also feeds your friendly gut bacteria and balances your blood sugar levels which can reduce the occurrence of acne breakouts.

Aim for at least 25 grams of fiber per day by including lots of fiber-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.

By eating more of these fiber-rich foods, you often naturally reduce other foods that may worsen constipation and acne-like candy, pastries, refined carbs, and fast food. 

Drink Enough Water

If you’re not making a conscious effort to drink water each day – it’s likely that you are not drinking enough! Water helps to promote regular bowel movements, hydrate the skin, and clear out toxins through your urine. 

There is no universal requirement for water intake, and your needs may vary based on age, gender, health status, and physical activity. However, a good starting place is to drink at least half of your body weight in ounces. For example, a 180-pound person would need to drink at least 90 ounces of water per day.

Here are a few tips to help you drink more water each day:

  • Invest in a good quality stainless steel or glass water bottle to keep your water cold and help you track how many ounces you drink each day.

  • Drink a glass of water right when you wake up in the morning.

  • Add lemon, cucumber, or orange slices to your water bottle to make it more favorable and tempting to drink.

  • Set reminders or alerts on your phone throughout the day.

  • Drink a glass of water with each meal.

Try to gradually replace sugar-sweetened beverages that may worsen acne-like soda, juice, or sugary coffee drinks-with water.

Move Your Body

Exercise, even moderate activity like walking, can help treat both constipation and acne. Moving your body through mild or moderate exercise helps gut motility and promotes regular bowel movements through gravity and contraction of abdominal muscles during exercise.

What’s more, exercise also helps balance your blood sugar which may reduce acne flare-ups and hormonal imbalances.

Choose any type of physical activity you enjoy and will consistently maintain—yoga/pilates, walking, weights, or cycling are some common choices! 

Try a Magnesium Supplement

Magnesium citrate has a gentle laxative effect that can ease constipation and promote daily bowel movements. Plus, magnesium is also a great nutrient for reducing the effects of stress and encouraging a good night’s sleep. Both stress and poor sleep are associated with worsening acne. 

Constipation and Acne: When to Seek Help

Some cases involving constipation and acne require a deeper investigation with personalized testing and tailored treatment plans. If you feel that you have already established a healthy foundation but still experience GI symptoms and/or breakouts, working with a functional medicine practitioner can helpful.

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