By Dr. Mercola
Up to 50 million Americans struggle with acne, making it the most common skin disorder in the United States.1
When it strikes during the teen years, it can lead to feelings of self-consciousness, embarrassment and depression. Many severe acne sufferers struggle with low self-confidence, feelings of alienation and social withdrawal as a result.
And it's not only teens who are affected; one in five U.S. adults also suffers from acne, and for them the psychological toll is often no less severe.
Many are desperate for help to clear their skin, and if the typical face washes and topical treatments don't work, they may gratefully accept a prescription for the acne drug Roaccutane (generic name, isotretinoin, and formerly sold as Accutane in the United States).
Isotretinoin (Formerly Sold as Accutane) Greatly Overused
This is an extreme step, given that isotretinoin is easily one of the most dangerous drugs ever made. Yet, incredibly it remains the industry standard for treating severe acne. One leading UK dermatologist even recently spoke out to say it is being greatly overused.
More than half a million people worldwide have been prescribed Roaccutane, despite the fact that it's intended to be used only as a last resort (and even then its use is highly questionable). But UK dermatologist Tony Chu said that often Roaccutane is being offered far more than that:2
"Roaccutane is grossly overused …I've seen patients who have been to see a local dermatologist to treat four of five spots and still been offered it … If you read the guidelines it should only be used for people who have severe acne."
In the United States, it remains one of the most controversial drugs, and Swiss drugmaker Roche, manufacturer of Accutane, has spent most of this century in court defending itself against lawsuits from people whose health has been irreparably damaged by this menacing drug.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Suicide, Depression and More …
Roche has lost nine out of 13 lawsuits since 2007, and was ordered to pay more than $25 million in damages in 2010, plus another $18 million in 2012, to Accutane users who developed inflammatory bowel disease as a result of the drug. Due to generic competition and the exorbitant cost of defending personal injury lawsuits, Roche stopped selling the drug in June 2009.
However, the generic form of Accutane (isotretinoin) is no less deadly and remains available on the marketplace under the names Claravis, Sotret and Amnesteem. Aside from its links to inflammatory bowel disease, Accutane has been implicated as a cause of depression and suicide.
In 2004, brain scans showed that people taking Accutane suffer a 21 percent decrease in activity in the orbitofrontal cortex, a brain area known to mediate symptoms of depression.3 These brain changes may explain the depression, suicidal and aggressive behavior, and psychotic reactions reported by some Accutane users.
Is reducing your acne worth that? In light of this evidence and reports of suicide or suicide attempts associated with the use of isotretinoin, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stated:4
"All patients treated with isotretinoin should be observed closely for symptoms of depression or suicidal thoughts, such as sad mood, irritability, acting on dangerous impulses, anger, loss of pleasure or interest in social or sports activities, sleeping too much or too little, changes in weight or appetite, school or work performance going down, or trouble concentrating, or for mood disturbance, psychosis, or aggression.
…Patients taking isotretinoin may experience side effects including bad headaches, blurred vision, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, seizures, stroke, diarrhea, and muscle weakness. Additionally, serious mental health problems, such as depression and suicide, have been reported with isotretinoin use."
Isotretinoin is a Category X Drug for Pregnancy – Guaranteed to Cause Birth Defects
Isotretinoin now has the strongest warning available for any drug category — and was given an FDA Pregnancy Category X rating, which means if you are taking isotretinoin and become pregnant, you are virtually guaranteed to be damaging your baby. Accutane is extremely teratogenic (causing damage to a fetus). According to the FDA:5
"If you are pregnant or may get pregnant, isotretinoin can cause birth defects, miscarriage, premature births, and death in babies."
The risk is so well-established that anyone taking the drug must go through the FDA's iPledge system, which was designed specifically to eliminate fetal exposure to this toxic drug. The system requires both the patient and the prescriber to enter in specific information on a monthly basis prior to the drug being dispensed. In the United States, a woman must:
- Use two forms of effective contraception simultaneously for one month before, during, and for one month after isotretinoin therapy.
- Have two negative urine or blood (serum) pregnancy tests with a sensitivity of at least 25 mIU/ml before receiving the initial isotretinoin prescription (an additional pregnancy test must be taken with each month of additional therapy).
According to the FDA's iPledge system:6
"There is an extremely high risk that severe birth defects will result if pregnancy occurs while taking isotretinoin in any amount, even for short periods of time. Birth defects which have been documented following isotretinoin exposure include abnormalities of the face, eyes, ears, skull, central nervous system, cardiovascular system, and thymus and parathyroid glands. Cases of IQ scores less than 85 with or without other abnormalities have been reported. There is an increased risk of spontaneous abortion, and premature births have been reported.
Documented external abnormalities include: skull abnormality; ear abnormalities (including anotia, micropinna, small or absent external auditory canals); eye abnormalities (including microphthalmia); facial dysmorphia; cleft palate. Documented internal abnormalities include: CNS abnormalities (including cerebral abnormalities, cerebellar malformation, hydrocephalus, microcephaly, cranial nerve deficit); cardiovascular abnormalities; thymus gland abnormality; parathyroid hormone deficiency. In some cases death has occurred with certain of the abnormalities previously noted."
If a drug is this toxic to a developing fetus, it certainly does make you wonder how it could possibly be safe for any living creature. Indeed, in addition to teratogenic and psychological adverse effects, Accutane (isotretinoin) users have also reported the following negative effects:
Increased levels of triglycerides and cholesterol in your blood Increased liver enzyme levels and liver damage Erectile dysfunction Headaches and brain swelling Disturbances of your central nervous system Seizures Damage to skin and mucous membranes Premature epiphyseal closure Hyperostosis (excessive bone growth) and bone demineralization Neutropenia, agranulocytosis, and rhabdomyolysis (blood disorders) Development of inflammatory bowel disease Damage to your eyes including cataracts Hearing impairment Pancreatitis Heart attack and stroke Allergic vasculitis
Did You Know Acne Can be Treated Naturally?
The root cause of acne is most likely not bacteria or genetics, but environmental factors — particularly your diet. Acne is much less of a problem in non-Westernized societies, where refined carbohydrates, sugar and fructose are consumed in much lower amounts. Solid evidence exists that diets high in sugar and refined carbohydrates are the primary CAUSE of acne.
When you eat grain carbohydrates and sugar/fructose, it causes a surge of insulin and an insulin-like growth factor called IGF-1 in your body.7 This can lead to an excess of male hormones, which cause your pores to secrete sebum, a greasy substance that attracts acne-promoting bacteria. Additionally, IGF-1 causes skin cells known as keratinocytes to multiply, a process that is also associated with acne.
Additionally, these very same foods -- refined carbs, such as fructose, sugar and grains -- will also increase inflammation in your body, which may trigger acne, and at the same time they will also wreak havoc on the makeup of your intestinal bacteria, which may also play a role.
This is why simply eliminating grains, sugars (particularly fructose), cereals, potatoes, corn, rice, pasta, processed foods, etc., radically improves acne for most people. Fruit contains a fair amount of fructose, so it should be consumed in very limited quantities if you are predisposed to acne. And fruit juices should be strictly avoided since the sugar is very concentrated in them. (Vegetable juices are great, though, especially green juices.)
Additionally, psychological stress may also alter the microflora in your intestines, which could therefore contribute to systemic inflammation that could exacerbate acne and other skin conditions. In one study, researchers noted:8
"Experimental studies show that psychological stress stagnates normal small intestinal transit time, encourages overgrowth of bacteria, and compromises the intestinal barrier. SIBO [small intestinal bacterial over growth] is strongly associated with depression and anxiety, while eradication of SIBO improves emotional symptoms.
Although the frequency of SIBO in acne vulgaris has not yet been investigated, a recent report indicates that SIBO is 10 times more prevalent in those with acne rosacea vs. healthy controls. Correction of SIBO leads to marked clinical improvement in patients with rosacea."
It's actually well proven that stress can aggravate acne. One study involving college students found a connection between acne flare-ups and stress from final exams.9 Researchers found that subjects who had the most stress during examination periods also had the worst acne outbreaks, suggesting emotional stress from external sources is a significant factor. While it has been argued that the stress associated with acne is an effect of acne rather than a cause, the above researchers believe this evidence proved otherwise — that it's the stress that is exacerbating the acne, not vice versa.
Ditch the Drugs and Try This Instead
No one wants to live with acne, but that doesn't mean you have to resort to toxic drugs to clear your skin. Remember, your complexion is a reflection of your overall health. Don't forget to incorporate these essential factors into your acne-busting plan:
- Sugars/Fructose and Grains: This is probably the single most important step you can take to improve your skin health. If you can eliminate all sugars, fructose and grains for a few weeks there is a major likelihood you will notice rapid improvement in your complexion. Be sure to check out my nutrition plan for a simple guide on how to eat right for healthy skin and overall health.
- Water: Drink plenty of fresh, pure water every day. Hydrating your body facilitates cell growth and regeneration, elimination of wastes, and sloughing away dead skin cells. Hydration will also improve your skin tone.
Every day, drink enough water so that your urine is a pale yellow color. If your urine is bright yellow, you probably need to drink more water (unless you take B vitamins, which themselves turn urine bright yellow).
- Exercise: Getting plenty of high-intensity exercise helps your body flush out toxins, including those in your skin's pores. Plus, exercise is vitally important to all other aspects of your heath. If you happen to have access to an infrared sauna, this can be helpful too, because the more you sweat, the more you flush unwanted debris and contaminants out of your pores.
- Sleep: Did you know that a good night's sleep can decrease your stress and lead to clearer skin? Your body's main time for healing and rebuilding is at night while you sleep, and this applies to your skin. Sleep is also required for good energy and mood.
- Proper balance of bacteria: This is especially important if you have been on antibiotics, because those drugs indiscriminately kill off the beneficial bacteria in your gut, without which you cannot have a strong immune system. You can reestablish your bacterial balance by incorporating naturally fermented/cultured foods into your diet and/or taking a high-quality probiotic supplement.
- Vitamin D: This important nutrient is crucial for maintaining a healthy immune response, and most people are deficient in it. Without adequate vitamin D, your body cannot control infection, in your skin or elsewhere. Exposing large areas of your skin to appropriate amounts of sunshine is the best way to optimize your vitamin D levels, or alternatively use a safe tanning bed. You should expose your skin until you just barely begin turning pink, which indicates you've generated the optimal amount of vitamin D for the day.
If you don't have access to regular UV exposure, the last option is an oral vitamin D3 supplement, accompanied by regular monitoring of your vitamin D levels with a blood test.
- Address your stress: My favorite tool is the Emotional Freedom Technique, or EFT. EFT involves tapping your body's energy meridians with the tips of your fingers to clear emotional blocks, thus restoring balance to your mind and body. EFT is a powerful de-stressing technique that is easy for adults and children to learn. It can even relieve physical complaints such as chronic pain, allergy symptoms, and more. You can also add in other proven stress-busters, such as yoga and meditation.
Accutane Acne Drug Widely 'Overused' Says UK Dermatologist
By Dr. Mercola
You may be aware, and possibly have experienced firsthand, that antibiotics can cause diarrhea.
This is because antibiotics, by design, disrupt the balance of good and bad bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract, often killing off both beneficial and harmful microorganisms without distinction.
It is through this same mechanism that antibiotics may also be causing you to pack on extra pounds.
In fact, Dr. Martin Blaser, a professor of microbiology at New York University Langone Medical Center, suggests that antibiotics may permanently alter your gut bacteria and interfere with important hunger hormones secreted by your stomach, leading to increased appetite and body mass index (BMI).
Antibiotics Lead to Increases in Body Fat and Hunger Hormones
Research by Dr. Blaser has shown that 18 months after antibiotics are used to eradicate H. pylori bacteria, there is a:
- 6-fold increase in the release of ghrelin (the "hunger hormone") after a meal
- 20 percent increase in leptin levels (leptin is a hormone produced by fat tissue)
- 5 percent increase in BMI
Levels of ghrelin should ordinarily fall after a meal to signal your brain that you're full and ready to stop eating; an increase would therefore essentially tell your brain to continue eating, leading to weight gain. Further, the increase in leptin levels is concerning because overexposure to high levels of the hormone can lead to leptin resistance, which means your body is unable to properly hear leptin's signals.
The way your body stores fat is a highly regulated process that is controlled, primarily, by leptin. If you gain excess weight, the additional fat produces extra leptin that should alert your brain that your body is storing too much fat and needs to burn off the excess.
To do this, signals are sent to your brain to stop being hungry and to stop eating. When you become leptin-resistant, your body can no longer hear these messages -- so it remains hungry and stores more fat.
Interestingly, you can easily become leptin resistant by eating the typical American diet full of sugar (particularly fructose), refined grains and processed foods … which, like antibiotics, will upset the balance of bacteria in your gut.
Farmers Use Antibiotics to Fatten Up Livestock Quickly
About 70 percent of all the antibiotics produced are used in agriculture -- not necessarily to fight disease, but rather to promote weight gain.
As stated by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs:
"Continuous, low-dose administration of an antibiotic can increase the rate and efficiency of weight gain in healthy livestock. The presence of antibiotics likely changes the composition of the gut flora to favor growth. Debate is ongoing as to how gut flora are changed; change may simply be a reduction in numbers, a change in species composition or a combination of the two.
… Some antibiotics may also enhance feed consumption and growth by stimulating metabolic processes within the animal."
Unfortunately, this practice is also contributing to the alarming spread of antibiotic-resistant disease. As it pertains to your weight, there's ample reason to believe that this same phenomenon occurs in humans as well, figuratively turning Americans into fatted calves.
Your Gut Bacteria and Your Waistline Go Hand-in-Hand
Research by Dr. Blaser, for instance, found that mice fed antibiotics (in dosages similar to those given to children for throat or ear infections) had significant increases in body fat despite their diets remaining unchanged.
Multiple studies have actually shown that obese people have different intestinal bacteria than slim people, and that altering the microbial balance in your gut can influence your weight. Here are six such studies:
- When rats were given lactic acid bacteria while in utero through adulthood, they put on significantly less weight than other rats eating the same high-calorie diet. They also had lower levels of minor inflammation, which has been associated with obesity.
- Babies with high numbers of Bifidobacteria and low numbers of Staphylococcus aureus -- which may cause low-grade inflammation in your body, contributing to obesity -- appeared to be protected from excess weight gain. This may be one reason why breast-fed babies have a lower risk of obesity, as Bifidobacteria flourish in the guts of breast-fed babies.
- Two studies found that obese individuals had about 20 percent more of a family of bacteria known as Firmicutes, and almost 90 percent less of a bacteria called Bacteroidetes than lean people. Firmicutes help your body to extract calories from complex sugars and deposit those calories in fat. When these microbes were transplanted into normal-weight mice, those mice started to gain twice as much fat.
- Obese people were able to reduce their abdominal fat by nearly 5 percent, and their subcutaneous fat by over 3 percent, just be drinking a probiotic-rich fermented milk beverage for 12 weeks.
- Probiotics (good bacteria) have been found to benefit metabolic syndrome, which often goes hand-in-hand with obesity.
- Probiotics may also be beneficial in helping women lose weight after childbirth when taken from the first trimester through breastfeeding.
Healthy Gut Bacteria Cannot Coexist With Antibiotics
Antibiotics can save your life if you develop a serious bacterial infection, but it's important that you resist the urge to ask your physician for a prescription for every ear, nose, or throat infection you come down with. Likewise for a cold or the flu. Antibiotics are useless against viral infections like these, and when used for this purpose will only harm your health by wiping out the good bacteria in your gut.
Antibiotic use has become so routine in the United States that one round of the drugs may seem like no big deal, but remember that using them drastically alters the makeup of bacteria in your gut, which will need to be rebuilt in order for you to stay in good health. Whenever you use an antibiotic, you're also increasing your susceptibility to developing infections with resistance to that antibiotic -- and you can become the carrier of this resistant bug and even spread it to others.
Ultimately the problem of antibiotic-overuse needs to be stemmed through public policy on a nationwide level, especially in the agricultural community, but I urge you to also take personal responsibility and evaluate your own use of antibiotics, and avoid taking them -- or giving them to your children -- unless absolutely necessary.
Remember that the foods you eat are also a major source of exposure to antibiotics, so to protect your gut bacteria you should buy primarily antibiotic-free, organically raised meat and produce. Keep in mind that conventionally farmed food is often grown in fertilizer derived from factory-farmed animal waste and human sewage, which may be a source of contamination with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
The Recipe for Healthy Gut Bacteria
Your gut bacteria are vulnerable to your lifestyle. If you eat a lot of processed foods, for instance, your gut bacteria are going to be compromised because processed foods in general will destroy healthy microflora and feed bad bacteria and yeast.
In addition to antibiotics, your gut bacteria are also very sensitive to:
- Chlorinated water
- Antibacterial soap
- Agricultural chemicals
Because virtually all of us are exposed to these at least occasionally, ensuring your gut bacteria remain balanced should be considered an ongoing process, and consuming fermented foods is one of the best ways to do this.
One of the reasons why fermented foods are so beneficial is because they contain lactic acid bacteria -- a type of beneficial gut bacteria that research shows can help you stay slim.
I have long stated that it's generally a wise choice to "reseed" your body with good bacteria from time to time by taking a high-quality probiotic supplement or eating non-pasteurized, traditionally fermented foods such as:
- Lassi (an Indian yoghurt drink, traditionally enjoyed before dinner)
- Fermented organic grass-fed raw milk, such as kefir
- Various pickled fermentations of cabbage, turnips, eggplant, cucumbers, onions, squash and carrots
- Natto (fermented soy)
If you do not eat fermented foods on a regular basis, a high-quality probiotic supplement can be incredibly useful to help maintain healthy gut bacteria when you stray from your healthy diet and consume excess grains or sugar, or if you have to take antibiotics.
Also please remember that it is vital to eliminate ALL sugars. They will sabotage any beneficial effects of the fermented foods, as they will act as nutrients for the pathogenic yeast, fungi and bacteria that are in your gut.
Antibiotics: This Commonly Used Drug Found to Promote Obesity
Breast cancer rates dropped by half in tandem with the discontinuation of hormone replacement therapy, according to a study published online in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. The study was reported in the Telegraph in the United Kingdom.
The Telegraph said:
"Dr Prithwish De, of the Canadian Cancer Society, and colleagues, found that use of HRT dropped from 12.7 per cent in 2002 to 4.9 per cent in 2004.
During the same period breast cancer rates dropped by 9.6 per cent even though the same number of women were having mammography tests.
Between 2004 and 2006 use of HRT remained stable at around five per cent of women aged 50 to 59 but breast cancer rates began to increase again.
Dr De wrote: 'The results support the hypothesised link between the use of hormone replacement therapy and invasive breast cancer incidence and indicate that the sharp decline in breast cancer incidence in 2002 is likely explained by the concurrent decline in the use of hormone replacement therapy among Canadian women.'"
The study's authors said these numbers support existing evidence of the link between HRT and breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Rates Fell When Regular Hormone Therapy Decreased
In January of this year, Oprah Winfrey invited Suzanne Somers on her show to talk about health tips. The 62-year-old actress uses bio-identical estrogen cream and progesterone on her other arm two weeks a month.
According to Somers, the bio-identical hormones are identical to the ones created by the human body, unlike conventional hormones, which are made from mare’s urine.
The result has been a media firestorm condemning both Somers and Oprah, including the hit piece in Newsweek linked below. The authors of the piece, Weston Kosova and Pat Wingert, argue that bio-identical hormones are just as synthetic as conventional hormones -- although they don’t much discuss the fact that conventional hormones are actually different from the 17-beta-estradiol made by your body, while the bio-identical hormones are 17-beta-estradiol itself.
The real reason for the attacks on bio-identical hormones?
As Somers points out, many doctors, scientists and media figures make a good deal of money off of the pharmaceutical industry.
And one thing you won’t see mentioned in the Newsweek article is the fact that Pat Wingert is the co-author of a pharmaceutically biased book on hormones and menopause, and that Newsweek is heavily funded by pharmaceutical companies.
This resembles an incident a few years ago when the cattle industry actually sued Oprah Winfrey just for talking about Mad Cow Disease.
Media Blasts Oprah for Supporting Alternative Medicine
The contraceptive pill may disrupt women's natural ability to choose a partner genetically dissimilar to themselves. This could result in difficulties when trying to conceive, an increased risk of miscarriage and long intervals between pregnancies. Passing on a lack of diverse genes to children could also weaken their immune systems.
Humans tend to be attracted to those with a dissimilar genetic make-up to themselves, maintaining genetic diversity, which is signaled by subtle odors. A research team analyzed how the contraceptive pill affects odor preferences, and found that the preferences of women who began using the contraceptive pill shifted towards men with genetically similar odors.
Not only could genetic similarity in couples lead to fertility problems, but it could ultimately lead to the breakdown of relationships when women stop using the contraceptive pill, as odor perception plays a significant role in maintaining attraction to partners, researchers said.
How Contraceptive Pill Influences Partner Choice
Chinese herbs may relieve menstrual cramps better than drugs, acupuncture, or heat compression, Australia-based researchers found after studying nearly 3,500 women in several countries.
Along with relieving pain, Chinese herbs also reduced the recurrence of cramps over a three-month period.
In the study, women were given herbal concoctions to regulate their “qi” (energy) and blood, warm their bodies, and boost their kidney and liver functions. Herbs in the study included, but were not limited to:
2. Szechuan lovage root
3. Red peony root, white peony root
4. Chinese motherwort
5. Cinnamon bark
In one trial, 53 percent of the women who took herbs had less pain, compared with 26 percent in the placebo group.
The Chinese herbs were more effective than non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), oral contraceptive pills, acupuncture, heat compressions, placebos, or no treatment at all.
Chinese herbal medicine has been used to treat menstrual pain for hundreds of years. Up to 50 percent of women of reproductive age experience period pain that leads to absences from school and work.
Since relatively small numbers of participants were included in each trial in the study, the researchers recommended further research to confirm their findings.
Herbs Found to be More Effective Than Drugs to Relieve Menstrual Pain
Despite widespread publicity, the 2002 landmark study on the potential dangers of hormone therapy for postmenopausal women is completely unknown to most women.
New research from the Stanford University School of Medicine discovered that only 29 percent of the women surveyed knew anything about the study two years later. Additionally, only 40 percent of the women were able to identify possible risks and benefits linked to hormone therapy.
Hormone therapy is used to ease your symptoms of menopause, but has also been widely prescribed for preventive purposes, based in part on earlier observational studies that had suggested it could help protect women against heart disease, weak bones, and dementia.
In July 2002, the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) abruptly ended its combination of estrogen and progestin therapy study, as their data discovered higher rates of breast cancer, heart attacks, strokes, and blood clots in the population taking the hormones, compared to those taking placebos.
Later, in April 2004, WHI also halted the portion of the study for estrogen-only therapy, after finding the hormone did not offer any protective heart disease prevention, but rather increased your risk of stroke and blood clots.
The WHI findings triggered enormous changes in the use of hormone therapy, and prescriptions had dropped 38 percent by 2003.
Senior author Randall Stafford, MD, PhD, said their latest survey indicates there's a huge problem in communicating crucial health information to patients effectively, which in turn is indicative of an even larger problem – ensuring that people can make informed decisions about their medical care.
WHI March 2, 2007 (The Estrogen-Alone Study Links)
Women's Health Initiative (The Estrogen-Plus-Progestin Study Links)
Do YOU Understand the Dangers of Hormone Therapy?
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