Herbal and Nutritional Supplements commonly used in the Naturopathic treatment of all types of acne.
It is well known that deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals can cause or worsen numerous health problems, including skin diseases like acne. A wide range of vitamins, minerals, animal products, herbal extracts and other plant-based products are purported to help control acne symptoms.
This section includes many of the Herbal and Nutritional supplements that are most frequently used as acne treatments.
Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) is a flowering plant that is native to Europe, Western Asia and Northwest Africa. It is now naturalized worldwide. Red Clover is a common agricultural cover crop because it fixes nitrogen in the soil and is a rich source of pollen and nectar for bees.
Red Clover is widely used in Naturopathic Medicine to treat a variety of ailments. In Naturopathic Medicine, dried Red Clover is occasionally used as an oral herbal supplement or mixed with topical formulations for the treatment of acne.
Red Clover and Acne
There are some people who have reported that both oral and topical Red Clover formulations were helpful treatments for their acne. The effect of Red Clover on acne may be related to the presence of Phyto-Estrogens. Estrogens can inhibit the activity of Androgens (male sex hormones). Elevated levels of Androgens are known to trigger acne symptoms in some individuals.
Unfortunately there are no rigorous scientific studies on the effectiveness of Red Clover for the treatment of acne. Nonetheless, Red Clover is one of the few herbal supplements that may actually be useful as an acne treatment, and this application deserves further investigation.
How Does Red Clover Work?
Red Clover is purported to have anti-inflammatory, expectorant and sedative properties. Red Clover is commonly used as a Naturopathic treatment for menopausal hot-flashes. Red Clover contains several isoflavone compounds which are similar in structure estrogen (a female sex hormone). These Estrogen-like compounds are called Phyto-Estrogens. Consumption of large amounts of Red Clover extract can trigger estrogen-dependent effects in the body.
Phytoestrogens derived from red clover: an alternative to estrogen replacement therapy?Beck, et al. 2005. Therapeutic agents and herbs in topical application for acne treatment.Kanlayavattanakul, et al. 2011. Estrogenic activity of two standardized red clover extracts (Menoflavon) intended for large scale use in hormone replacement therapy.Dornstauder, et al. 2001. Clinical studies of red clover (Trifolium pratense) dietary supplements in menopause: a literature review.Booth, et al. 2006. Isoflavones, phytohormones and phytosterols.Dweck. 2006. Determination of isoflavones in red clover and related species by high-performance liquid chromatography combined with ultraviolet and mass spectrometric detection.Wu, et al. 2003. Inhibition of angiogenesis and inflammation by an extract of red clover (Trifolium pratense L.).Krenn, et al. 2009.
Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium) is an evergreen shrub that is native to western North America. The Oregon Grape is the official plant of the state of Oregon (USA). The bush has spiny leaves and blooms of yellow flowers that develop into dark blue berries.
The berries of Oregon Grape are edible, but they are quite tart. Oregon Grape was an important element of the traditional medicine of the Native Americans who inhabited the region. Oregon Grape is occasionally used in Naturopathic treatments for acne.
Extracts from the roots of Oregon Grape are available commercially and are commonly used in Naturopathic Medicine. Oregon Grape root extract has been reported to have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Some Naturopaths prescribe Oregon Grape root extract as an oral supplement to treat inflammatory skin conditions, such as psoriasis and acne. Some people have reported that oral supplements of Oregon Grape root extract helped improve their acne symptoms. However, no rigorous clinical studies have been conducted to determine if Oregon Grape extracts are actually an effective treatment for acne.
Oregon Grape root extract contains signficant concentrations of a biologically-active molecule called Berberine. Berberine is an alkaloid that has been shown to have anti-bacterial properties. Berberine may be responsible for many of the reported medicinal properties of Oregon Grape root extract. Berberine is found in many other plants (eg. Goldenseal), and many cultures utilize those plants for medicinal purposes.
From medical herbalism to phytotherapy in dermatology: back to the future.Dattner. 2003. Herbal medicine for acne vulgaris.Yarnell, et al. 2006. Different approaches of alternative medicines in acne vulgaris treatment.Ghosh, et al. 2011. A review on herbal drugs acting against Acne Vulgaris.Patel, et al. 2015. Botanicals in dermatology.Reuter, et al. 2010. Topical herbal therapies an alternative and complementary choice to combat acne.Kapoor, et al. 2011. Method validation for determination of alkaloid content in goldenseal root powder.Weber, et al. 2003.
Multi-vitamins are nutritional supplements that combine many vitamins, minerals and other nutrients into a single formulation. Regular intake of a balanced multi-vitamin at the recommended dosage is an excellent way to maintain healthy levels of essential nutrients in your body.
Multi-vitamins are rarely used as a direct treatment for acne, but they are often incorporated into comprehensive acne treatment plans as part of the dietary regimen.
There is no robust evidence that taking Multi-vitamins is an effective treatment for any disease, at least in otherwise healthy people. However, deficiences in essential Vitamins and Minerals can cause a wide range of health problems, suppress the immune system and trigger acne symptoms. For example, B Vitamin (B2, B5 and B6) deficiencies can cause skin problems and acne-like symptoms. Deficiencies in Vitamins A and D, as well as important minerals like Zinc, may also trigger acne symptoms.
Overall, taking a once-daily, balanced multi-vitamin is unlikely to significantly reduce the frequency or severity of acne symptoms in most people. That’s because most people who eat a reasonably well-balanced diet do not have acute Vitamin or Mineral deficiencies. But regular use of multi-vitamins at recommended dosages is generally safe and is an excellent way to ensure your body has all the nutrients that it needs.
Khadir is an herbal supplement made from the Kher plant (Senegalia catechu or Acacia catechu). The Kher plant may go by other names, such as black catechu, black cutch, cachou, catechu, cutchtree and khair. Kher is a thorny, deciduous tree that is native to Asia and parts of India near the Indian Ocean. In Ayurvedic medicine Khadir is used for treatments ranging from sore throats to diarrhea to skin care.
Khadir is commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine as both a topical and oral treatment for acne. Khadir is thought to act as a an astringent, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial agent. The addition of Khadir to Naturopathic face washes is purported to help minimize the redness and swelling associated with acne lesions. However, these claims have not been tested in clinical studiesÂand acne sufferers should not anticipate oral or topical Khadir treatments to dramatically improve their acne symptoms.
Khadir extracts contain several compounds which are believed to have biological activity. The Acacia catechu is so named because the plant contains significant concentrations of catechins, catechols and catecholamines. The utility of these compounds for the treatment of acne is not well understood and requires additional research.
Therapeutic plants of Ayurveda: a review of selected clinical and other studies for 166 species. Khan, et al. 2001. Determination of the predominant catechins in Acacia catechu by liquid chromatography/electrospray ionizationâˆ’ mass spectrometry. Shen, et al. 2006. In Vitro antimicrobial activity of Acacia catechu and its phytochemical analysis. Negi, et al. 2010. A medicinal extract of Scutellaria baicalensis and Acacia catechu acts as a dual inhibitor of cyclooxygenase and 5-lipoxygenase to reduce inflammation. Burnett, et al. 2007. Analgesic effects of a standardized bioflavonoid composition from Scutellaria baicalensis and Acacia catechu. Yiman, et al. 2012.
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) is an herb in the Ranunculaceae family that is native to Eastern North America. According to historical documents, Native Americans relied on the medicinal qualities of Goldenseal for the treatment of a variety of ailments. These ailments include skin infections, digestion problems and cancer. Goldenseal is now occasionally used by modern Naturopathic practitioners for the treatment of acne.
Goldenseal extracts are purported to have anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal and astringent properties. For the treatment of acne, Goldenseal extracts are both consumed orally or added to topical anti-acne formulations.
Many people have claimed that Naturopathic treatments involving Goldenseal helped to improve their acne symptoms. However, there do not appear to have been any rigorous clinical studies to evaluate how effective Goldenseal extract is for the treatment of acne. In fact, there does not appear to be strong evidence that Goldenseal is an effective treatment for many of the medical conditions for which it is commonly prescribed. The lack of scientific evidence does not prove or disprove the medical utility of Goldenseal, but more research is needed to evaluate many of the claimed benefits of Goldenseal.
Goldenseal does contain significant quantities of several alkaloids which are known to be biologically active, such as berberastine, berberine, canadine and hydrastine. Berberine has been shown to have antibacterial properties, possibly by disrupting their efflux pump system. Berberine has also been reported to be an anti-inflammatory agent when consumed orally, but this claim has not been fully proven.
Topical herbal therapies an alternative and complementary choice to combat acne.Kapoor, et al. 2011. Herbal medicine for acne vulgaris.Yarnell, et al. 2006. A review on herbal drugs acting against Acne Vulgaris.Patel, et al. 2015. Human cytochrome p450 inhibition and metabolic-intermediate complex formation by goldenseal extract and its methylenedioxyphenyl components.Chatterjee, et al. 2003. Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis L.) extracts synergistically enhance the antibacterial activity of berberine via efflux pump inhibition.Ettefagh, et al. 2011. Determination of Hydrastine and Berberine in Goldenseal Raw Materials, Extracts, and Dietary Supplements by High-Performance Liquid Chromatography with UV: Collaborative Study.Brown, et al. 2008.
Fish Oil refers to the naturally occurring oils in the flesh of fish. Fish Oil is extracted from many types of fish and is among the most popular nutritional supplements on the market. Fish Oil is purported to have many health benefits, such as decreasing inflammation and improving skin tone. Fish Oil supplements are commonly included in holistic Naturopathic acne treatment plans.
There have been several research studies to investigate whether Fish Oil supplements can help improve acne symptoms. Many of these studies found that regular consumption of Fish Oil led to reduction in the severity and frequency of acne outbreaks. However, these effects tend to be fairly small and Fish Oil is not expected to dramatically improve acne symptoms for most individuals. Fish Oil supplements do not appear to have a significant risk of side effects when consumed at recommended levels and they can be combined with most other acne treatments.
Fish Oil contains significant concentrations of Omega-3 fatty acids, such as EicosaPentaenoic Acid (EPA) and DocosaHexaenoic Acid (DHA).These fatty acids have been reported to provide multiple health benefits and they may be responsible for anti-inflammatory properties of Fish Oil. Fish Oil is approved by the FDA to help lower levels of blood triglycerides (fats).
The powerful anti-acne drug Isotretinoin (Accutane) can cause unsafe increases in blood triglycerides in some individuals. There has been at least one research study which found that Fish Oil supplementation can help limit Isotretinoin-caused increases in blood triglyceride levels. Because of this, some dermatologists prescribe Fish Oil supplements to patients who are undergoing oral Isotretinoin therapy.
Although Fish Oil supplements are an easy way to maintain a steady level of dietary Fish Oil, eating fish itself will accomplish the same thing. Some experts believe that part of the reason why people in certain regions of the world (eg. Mediterranean) have lower frequencies of acne is because their diets are high in fish and other foods that are rich in certain types of fatty acids.
Acne vulgaris, mental health and omega-3 fatty acids: a report of cases.Rubin, et al. 2008. Omega-3 fatty acids and acne.Logan. 2003. Effects of fish oil supplementation on inflammatory acne.Khayef, et al. 2012. Effect of dietary supplementation with omega-3 fatty acid and gamma-linolenic acid on acne vulgaris: a randomised, double-blind, controlled trial.Jung, et al. 2014. Effect of dietary fish oil on hyperlipidaemia due to isotretinoin and etretinate.Marsden, et al. 1987.
Evening Primrose Oil is extracted from the seeds of several flowering plants in the genus Oenothera, which are found in North America. Evening Primrose Oil is a popular Naturopathic treatment for many types of skin disease, including psoriasis, eczema and acne. Evening Primrose Oil is used in both topical and oral formulations.
Evening Primrose Oil is rich source of Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA). GLA is a fatty acid that is purported to have anti-inflammatory and other health benefits when ingested. Prior to European settlement, some Native Americans cultivated the Evening Primrose and it was an important component of their traditional medicine.
Many people have reported that both oral and topical Evening Primrose Oil helped to improve their acne symptoms. There have also been some studies that suggest Evening Primrose Oil may help improve acne symptoms. However, the evidence provided by these studies tends to be weak and their findings should not be considered definitive. Evening Primrose Oil, and GLA in particular, are intriguing Naturopathic acne treatment options and warrant additional research.
Evening primrose oil is effective in atopic dermatitis: a randomized placebo-controlled trial.Senapati, et al. 2008. Essential fatty acid metabolism and its modification in atopic eczema.Horrobin. 2000. A review of the clinical efficacy of evening primrose. Stonemetz. 2008. Herbal anti-inflammatory agents for skin disease.Graf. 2000. Essentialâ€fattyâ€acid metabolites in plasma phospholipids in patients with ichthyosis vulgaris, acne vulgaris and psoriasis.Grattan, et al. 1990. Topical herbal therapies an alternative and complementary choice to combat acne.Kapoor, et al. 2011.
Elderberry Supplements are produced from berries of several species of Elderberry tree (Sambucus spp.), most commonly Black Elderberry (Sambucus nigra). The Elderberry plant has been used for centuries by traditional healers to treat respiratory infections and other diseases.
Elderberry is occasionally used in the Naturopathic treatment of acne. Elderberry extracts have been reported to have antibacterial, antiviral and antioxidant properties. There have been some research reports that Elderberry extracts can decrease symptoms of respiratory infections, but the overall evidence is weak. Elderberry extracts have also been reported to have moderate antibacterial activity towards gram positive bacteria, a group which includes the acne-causing P. acnes bacterium.
In regards to acne, Elderberry extracts are often used for their perceived immune boost. The immune benefit may then lead to an improvement in acne symptoms. However, there does not appear to be any reliable evidence that indicates Elderberry extracts are an effective acne treatment when used orally or topically.
European elderberry (Sambucus nigra L.) rich in sugars, organic acids, anthocyanins and selected polyphenols.Veberic, et al. 2009. Inhibitory activity of a standardized elderberry liquid extract against clinically-relevant human respiratory bacterial pathogens and influenza A and B viruses.Krawitz, et al. 2011. Advanced research on the antioxidant and health benefit of elderberry (Sambucus nigra) in foodâ€“a review.Sidor, et al. 2015. The antimicrobial activity of elderberry (Sambucus nigra L) extract against gram positive bacteria, gam negative bacteria and yeast.Mohammadsadeghi, et al. 2013. Antibacterial activity of elder (Sambucus nigra L.) flower or berry against hospital pathogens.Hearst, et al. 2010.
Echinacea supplements are prepared from several species of Coneflower (Echinacea spp). The most common Echinacea supplements are extracts from the roots of the Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea).
Echinacea is native to the Eastern North America, and this plant was an important part of the traditional medicines of many Native American groups who lived in the region. Echinacea extracts are purported to have many health benefits and are widely used in Naturopathic Medicine to boost the immune system and to treat respiratory infections, such as the common cold. Echinacea extracts are occasionally used in the Naturopathic treatment of acne.
Despite numerous claims that Echinacea helps support the immune system, there is little scientific evidence that commercially-available Echinacea extracts have any health benefits. One reason for this might be because the composition of Echinacea extracts varies significantly between providers. It is also unclear whether the active ingredients that are present in Echinacea formulations prepared from fresh Echinacea roots are also present in the commercial extracts. Overall, there is no compelling evidence to suggest that commercial Echinacea extracts are helpful for the treatment of infections, including acne.
Echinacea extracts have been claimed to have robust antibacterial properties which may help reduce the growth of acne-causing bacteria, such as Propionibacterium acnes. However, laboratory testing indicates that commercial Echinacea extracts tend to be weakly toxic to gram-positive bacteria, a group which includes P. acnes. Overall, it seems unlikely that commercial Echinacea extracts will be helpful acne treatments. While topical or oral treatments that use fresh Echinacea extract may be helpful for the treatment of acne, more research is needed on that subject.
The potential use of Echinacea in acne: control of Propionibacterium acnes growth and inflammation.Sharma, et al. 2011. Applications of the phytomedicine Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower) in infectious diseases.Hudson. 2011. A review of phytotherapy of acne vulgaris: perspective of new pharmacological treatments.Azimi, et al. 2012. Immunotropic activity of Echinacea. Part II. Experimental and clinical data.Balan, et al. 2012. Medicinal plants for the treatment of acne vulgaris: a review of recent evidences.Nasri, et al. 2015. Echinacea: an effective alternative to antibiotics. Tierra. 2008. An Evaluation of Echinacea angustifolia in Experimental Rhinovirus Infections.Turner, et al. 2005. Evaluation of Selected Medicinal Plants Extracted in Different Ethanol Concentrations for Antibacterial Activity against Human Pathogens.Wendakoon, et al. 2012.
Cod Liver Oil is oil derived from the liver of Cod fish (Gadus spp).
Cod Liver Oil has been used for centuries to treat various ailments and is widely lauded for its perceived anti-inflammatory effects. Cod Liver Oil is rarely used on its own as a treatment for acne, but it is often included as a nutritional supplement in holistic Naturopathic acne treatment regimens.
Cod Liver Oil contains high levels of Vitamins A and D, as well as many important fatty acids. There is some research that suggests Cod Liver Oil can reduce blood triglyceride levels and help improve blood pressure. The high levels of Vitamin A are one of the reasons why Naturopathic practitioners use the Cod Liver Oil to relieve their acne symptoms.
Vitamin A is a retinoid and structurally-similar to anti-acne pharmaceuticals, such as Isotretinoin (Accutane) and Tretinoin (Retin-A). Vitamin A supplementation may help reduce sebaceous gland activity, which can help reduce acne symptoms in some individuals. Vitamin D supplementation may help overall immune function, especially in the winter.
Overall, there is very little clinical research on the efficacy of Cod LIver Oil for the treatment of acne. There are some people who have reported positive improvements in their acne symptoms after starting a supplement regimen that contained Cod Liver Oil. Although the available evidence suggests that Cod Liver Oil supplements are safe when used as directed, these supplements are unlikely to dramatically improve acne symptoms for most people.
Effect on blood lipids and haemostasis of a supplement of cod-liver oil, rich in eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids, in healthy young men.Sanders, et al. 1981. Complementary and alternative medicine therapies in acne, psoriasis, and atopic eczema: results of a qualitative study of patients’ experiences and perceptions.Magin, et al. 2006. Effects of ethyl arachidonate, cod-liver oil, and corn oil on the plasma-cholesterol level: a comparison in normal volunteers.Kingsbury, et al. 1961. Nutritional skin care: health effects of micronutrients and fatty acids.Boelsma, et al. 2001.
Chromium Picolinate Supplements help raise the amount of chromium present in the body.
Small levels of dietary chromium are essential for normal metabolic function. Chromium-deficient patients have problems with blood sugar regulation and other essential metabolic processes.
Chromium picolinate is a semi-popular supplement for athletic training. Chromium Picolinate supplements are also occasionally used in Naturopathic medicine for the treatment of some skin diseases, such as acne.
Chromium is naturally present in small concentrations in many unprocessed foods and most people are not chromium deficient. There is little evidence that dietary supplementation with Chromium Picolinate has significant effects in people who already have healthy levels of chromium.
Because there is a link between blood glucose (sugar) levels and inflammation, people have attempted to use chromium picolinate to improve their acne symptoms. The idea being that an increase in the amount of Chromium Picolinate will decrease the amount of blood glucose, which leads to decreased inflammation. This would then cause an improvement in acne symptoms. However, there does not appear to be any reliable evidence that indicates Chromium Picolinate supplements are effective as an acne treatment.
Acne vulgaris: nutritional factors may be influencing psychological sequelae.Katzman, et al. 2007. The chromium controversy.Cronin. 2004. The effect of chromium supplementation on polycystic ovary syndrome in adolescents.Amr, et al. 2015. The Effects of Chromium Supplementation on Endocrine Profiles, Biomarkers of Inflammation, and Oxidative Stress in Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: a Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial.Jamilian, et al. 2016. The potential value and toxicity of chromium picolinate as a nutritional supplement, weight loss agent and muscle development agent.Vincent. 2003.
Calcium Supplements are nutritional supplements that contain bio-available forms of elemental calcium. Calcium is an essential mineral that is most commonly used to improve bone density and limit the effects of osteoporosis.
Many foods are either naturally rich in calcium (eg. Milk, Spinach) or fortified with additional calcium (eg. Breakfast Cereals). Calcium Supplements are rarely used as an acne treatment and there is no evidence that they can improve acne symptoms.
There are various reasons people use Calcium Supplements. They may be trying to prevent osteoporosis or even heal acne scars. However several research studies have questioned the therapeutic validity of Calcium supplementation for those ailments.
Some research studies have even linked calcium supplementation to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attacks. The increased risk could be due to the important role Calcium plays in maintaining cardiac rhythm. Hypercalcemia, or an excess of blood calcium, can even cause an ECG finding known as an Osborn Wave, which is also seen in hypothermia. Excess calcium may also cause other problems such as kidney stones or gallstones.
Calcium is involved in many cellular processes and signaling pathways, and it is a necessary mineral. So some acne sufferers do feel that calcium supplements can maintain their skin health, control acne or even help heal acne scars. Although there is no evidence that Calcium Supplements will improve acne symptoms, they are considered quite safe when consumed at recommended levels.
Diet and acne.Bowe, et al. 2010. Hypercalcemia associated with oral isotretinoin in the treatment of severe acne.Valentic, et al. 1983. High school dietary dairy intake and teenage acne.Adebamowo, et al. 2005. Vitamin D and calcium dysregulation in the polycystic ovarian syndrome.Thys-Jacobs, et al. 1999.
Alpha Lipoic Acid (aLA) is a compound that is important for the function of many enzymes involved in aerobic (oxygen) respiration. Alpha Lipoic Acid supplements are widely available and are purported to have antioxidant properties and other effects that are beneficial for overall health.
Alpha Lipoic Acid is rarely used for the direct treatment of acne. When used as an acne treatment, Alpha Lipoic acid may be ingested orally, or incorporated into topical anti-acne formulations.
Most people consume a significant amount of Alpha Lipoic Acid as part of their normal diet and it is unlikely that most people have Alpha Lipoic Acid deficiencies. There are a handful of research studies that indicate that consuming oral Alpha Lipoic Acid supplements can increase levels of Alpha Lipoic Acid in the blood, and that this might have beneficial effects. However, the connection between Alpha Lipoic Acid supplements and improvements in specific health conditions and diseases is largely unproven, and the evidence that does exist tends to be weak. There is no direct evidence that Alpha Lipoic Acid supplements have any effect on acne symptoms.
Perhaps the most important role for Alpha Lipoic Acid in relation to acne is its ability to raise Vitamin E levels. Vitamin E helps maintain skin health via its antioxidant properties. Some acne sufferers like to apply Alpha Lipoic Acid as a way of preventing or treating acne scars and others feel that it can reduce the occurrence of acne breakouts. However, neither oral nor topical Alpha Lipoic Acids are likely to dramatically improve acne symptoms for most individuals.
Alpha Lipoic Acid was first discovered in the 1950’s and became a nutritional supplement shortly thereafter. The biologically active form of Alpha Lipoic Acid, RLA, is an essential cellular anti-oxidant. Unlike many other supplements, oral ingestion of RLA rapidly leads to increased levels of bio-available RLA in the blood. While there is not an abundance of research on the role of Alpha Lipoic Acid in the treatment of acne, the research that does exist indicates that Alpha Lipoic Acid may be helpful in decreasing inflammation and improving the immune response to acne. Alpha Lipoic Acid is also available in topical formulations. Alpha Lipoic Acid is approved for use in Germany as a medical treatment for diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage), although it is unclear how effective it is.
alpha-Lipoic acid treatment decreases serum lactate and pyruvate concentrations and improves glucose effectiveness in lean and obese patients with type 2 diabetes.Konrad, et al. 1999. Modern approach to topical treatment of aging skin.Puizina-Ivi, et al. 2010. Stability, Cutaneous Delivery, and Antioxidant Potential of a Lipoic Acid and alpha-Tocopherol Codrug Incorporated in Microemulsions.Thomas, et al. 2014. Cosmeceuticals: an evolution.Preetha, et al. 2009. d-chiro-Inositol and alpha lipoic acid treatment of metabolic and menses disorders in women with PCOS.Cianci, et al. 2015.