Whether it's acne or eczema, most skin disorders have one thing in common: inflammation. Not just the visible inflamed pimples you see on your skin, but inflammation within your gut that's tipping your entire wellbeing off balance and causing those stubborn outbreaks.
We are continually told that we need to supplement our diet with "friendly bacteria", whether it's Gok Wan or Martine McCutcheon endorsing some new, sugar-fuelled "probiotic" drink that'll make you feel fantastic. (FYI don't waste your money on these! The high-sugar content will override any benefits those little pots of "tummy friendly goodness" claim to provide!) Long before probiotics became fashionable, in a time when there was no such thing as a fridge-freezer, our ancestors would preserve food by fermentation - these fermented foods would be full of good bacteria that would keep our inner eco-system healthy. However, with the advent of modern food science, we rely heavily on alternative preserving methods such as freezing, pasteurising and canning - meaning that are bodies are no longer receiving a regular supply of beneficial bacteria to keep our digestive system balanced. On top of this, there are other factors that cause even further problems to our gut flora. Birth control pills (which ironically are often prescribed to female acne suffers) and antibiotics both disrupt the probiotic population in our gut (ever wondered why you get a bout of thrush after a course of antibiotics?) This destroy all the good bacteria meaning our internal eco system is out of balance and the lack of good bacteria in our gut means we are more susceptible to skin inflammation.
OUT OF BALANCE?
Factors that can affect the good bacteria in your gut include:
• High Sugar/Processed Diet
• Lack of Sleep
• Medication/ Antibiotics
• Poor Digestion
• Food Allergies/Intolerances
WHAT'S THE ANSWER?
The bottom line is: you need to fix your gut to heal your acne. Digestion related issues can often be a minefield and there isn't a "one solution fixes all". However, you can really help support all those good guys (and reduce the bad guys!) in your gut with kefir. Kefir is a unique cultured dairy product that is one of the most probiotic rich foods on the planet - it's super rich in friendly bacteria, will reduce inflammation and will helps support and protect the lining of the gut. This helps you to absorb more nutrients from your food and increases the efficiency of toxin removal.
CAN'T I JUST TAKE A PROBIOTIC SUPPLEMENT?
Organic beauty pioneers, Green People, have an excellent section on their Healthy Living Guide about the benefits of fermented foods - they state that "fermented foods contain hardier and more bio-available probiotics than lab-grown supplements, meaning they are more likely to survive in the gut." This is because wholefoods have had to evolve and adapt to survive in the wild, fighting off disease and environmental challenges.
Aside from being more bio-available and effective within the body, kefir is also a much cheaper option than probiotics and if you are lactose intolerant, you need not fear - you can still enjoy kefir! Kefir grains actually consume the lactose (milk sugars) during the fermenting process - just start slowly as kefir is very powerful stuff. Start with 1-2 tablespoons a day and build up your daily intake over 2 weeks!
It's important to reduce the amount of dairy you consume when trying to heal your acne, or any other skin condition as there's now strong evidence to suggest that milk and other dairy products can contribute to acne breakouts and other inflammatory skin disorders. This is because milk increases the hormones that increase sebum production and skin cell growth (two of the primary causes of acne formation). If you're concerned about consuming dairy, organic, grass-fed and preferably raw goat or sheep milk is generally much more tolerable for those with acne-prone skin and doesn't have such a high impact on hormone levels. If you're looking for a hassle-free way of enjoying the benefits of goat milk kefir, raw goat guru's The Chuckling Goat offer a 21-day raw kefir detox for just £39.95. The act of fermentation also helps to deactivate a large portion of the acne-causing hormones in milk so as long as you choose the best possible milk produce available and avoid non-organic, skimmed, homogenised or pasteurised milk at all costs - then you can still enjoy all the skin friendly, gut-healing benefits of kefir!
The Homemade Mommy has written an interesting post on the difference between shop bought "probiotic drinks" and kefir: "Kefir made from live kefir grains has 35 different strains of beneficial bacteria and yeasts. Kefir isn't at all like yogurt - Kefir actually colonizes our digestive tracts with beneficial bacteria and yeast. Yogurt and many other so called probiotic foods on the market today actually only provide prebiotics or simply - they provide food for the good bacteria that live in the intestinal tract. Laboratory grown probiotics or yogurt have only 1 or maybe as high as 5 strains of beneficial bacteria and laboratory grown kefir for manufactured products has only 10 strains. Commercially made kefir sold in shops is not fermented long enough. In addition the pasteurization process after fermentation kills the probiotic microbes."
Considering making your own kefir? It's so much cheaper, and better for you than many shop bought supplements and drinks - it's a no-brainer!
GETTING STARTED: WHAT YOU NEED
Once you've got the initial bits, you can theoretically have a lifetime supply of kefir! Here's what you need:
- Live kefir grains (I bought mine from the lovely guys at Happy Kombucha)
- Plastic Strainer
- Muslin cloth
- Elastic band
- Organic FULL-FAT Goat/Sheep/Cow's Milk (preferably raw)
MAKING YOUR OWN KEFIR
- Wash/sterilise your jars/utensils/hands
- Pop your kefir "grains" into a medium jar
- Add 250ml of organic milk (I recommend starting off with smaller batches then as your grains grow and multiply you can begin to make bigger batches)
- Cover the top of the jar with a square piece of muslin cloth and secure with a rubber band - this allows air to get to the kefir but stops bugs and dust!
- Pop the jar somewhere safe, at room temperature and allow it to ferment (roughly 24-48 hours - check it regularly and stir it with a non-metal spoon till it reaches 'yogurt consistency".)
- Give the kefir and good mix and strain it through your plastic sieve. You may have to push the kefir through the strainer with a non-metal spoon (don't worry, this won't damage the grains!)
- Rinse the jar out and pop the grains back in the jar and add another 250ml of organic milk and repeat the process! Don't wash the grains between batches - there have been rumours that this interrupts the kefir grain's fermentation cycle and slows them down.
Note: If you start making your own kefir, you'll find that your grains start growing very quickly. Make sure you've got a few friends lined up to share your excess grains with!
Have you ever tried kefir before and experienced its wonderful health benefits?
Amy Saunders is an expert in natural beauty and founded her holistic skincare blog 'Get That Glow' after suffering from acne for over 13 years. Amy delves deeper into the root causes of acne, proving you don't need harsh chemicals to achieve a flawless complexion.