Fat: The missing nutrient in acne.

Fat: The missing nutrient in acne.

Just when I think I am figuring out the human body it finds ways to surprise me.  A few of my most difficult patients have turned out to be my own kids.  They really are here to teach me.  Recently I had a 7 month long struggle with acne in my 13 year old.

He is the kind of kid that is very perfectionistic in his studies, his hobbies, his sports and yes his looks.  So it was quite a frustrating struggle for both of us to try and solve this.  What would happen is that when I went through the vitamins he would get a bit of improvement, we would be happy and then he would get a relapse and we would be sad.

His message to me was basically that as a naturopathic doctor with almost 20 years of experience I should be able to help him.  I must say that I thought the same thing, especially having worked with this so many times and been successful.

When I ran out of vitamins and minerals, and homeopathic medicines, and herbal medicines, and all the topical approaches, etc, etc, then we both gave up and made an appointment with the dermatologist.  We were prescribed and agreed to try a synthetic vitamin A that drys up the oil glands.  We were very knowledgable consumers and the doctor was absolutely great.  We knew there was a risk of side effects but that this was mainly at high doses three or four times what my son would take.

Well four days after starting the medicine he got the worst flu, and was as sick as he had ever been.  Not only that but the sickness looked like one of the rare side effects that you could get from the medicine that included swelling of the brain.  He was sick for a solid seven days.  As you can imagine not a fun week for either of us.  But even worse after being so sick and just starting to feel better his acne started coming back!

So we actually decided to start the medicine again even after all of this.  Well four days later he told me he was having muscle pains that did not feel normal.  So we got some laboratory testing done and he was having a condition where he was getting abnormal breakdown of his muscle tissue, also a rare side effect of the drug.  So obviously we were done with that drug in spite of the promise that it held to stop his acne.  I don’t thing at any point our decisions were not logical.  It made sense to try the vitamins and minerals first, and given that amount of stress his skin was creating for him it made sense to try the synthetic vitamin A.  But clearly the drug was not our answer.

So in a moment that I took to myself to think about the case, call it inspiration and desperation, I began to think about the problem.  The first question I asked my self it was is actually in the oil that is produced by the oil glands in the skin.  What I found out was the the oil is made up of a few different things.  Triglycerides and fatty acids, taken together, account for the predominant proportion of substance in to oils.

Wait…what is the about fatty acids making up a lot of the oils in the skin.  Aren’t there some things called essential fatty acids.  Honestly it has been a weak area for me in my knowledge.  I had never seen great responses to the various oils I had tried for myself, my kids, and my clients.  So after a few disappointing trials I figured it was just one of those natural medicine concepts that was over sold and under performed.  I have seen a few of those.

As I continued to read it turns out that as they studied the oils excreted by our skin, it turns out that there is one oil that is deficient in the skin of those kids that are more susceptible to acne.  The name of that oil is Linoleic acid. (Lin-o-lay-ic).  This oil is an essential fatty acid thatour body is not able to produce!  I guess that this would be the “essential” part of essential fatty acid.  This means that we are no more able to create this oil than we are to produce vitamin C.  I never put that concept together before, I have to admit.

I was not completely ignorant about oils even tough the paragraph above may indicate differently.  I gave my kids a spoonful of flax seed oil so I figured I was at least covering my bases with the oils.  It turns out that flax oil may induce a deficiency of linoleic acid.  This is because flax is very high in what are called omega 3 fatty acids and relatively low in omega 6 fatty acids, one of which is linoleic acid.  He has had great results with the new approach.