3 Poisonous Holistic Health Ideas

Ideas are like roads. Using roads you can get to places, but in order to get to your destination, you have to choose the correct roads.

Ideas are much the same. Ideas lead to actions that lead to results. Good ideas lead to resourceful actions and eventually to positive results. Consequently, poor ideas lead to frustration and lack of results.

The natural and holistic health sphere is a perfect fertilizer for bad ideas. Recently a 16-year old reader got in touch with me. He has been on the road to ‘holistically clear skin’ for about 7 months now. He has seen some results, but just like so many others, has hit the end of the road.

He sent out an SOS for me asking where to go from here. Sadly, his email is a textbook example of bad ideas sprouted in the holistic health community. So I’ll take this opportunity to set straight some misconceptions and hopefully set him (and others like him) on the road to clear skin.

Hi Seppo,

I found your lovely blog through The Love Vitamin and fell in love with it just as I did Tracy’s blog. Anyways, I’m feeling completely stuck so I figured I’d take a shot in the dark and send out an S.O.S. 🙂

Thanks for reaching out. I’ll be happy to guide your further. Your email was very short on practical details of what you eat or how you live your life. So there’s only so much practical guidance I can give you.

You know that feeling of chill going through the spine? I got one of those as I was reading your email.

Please don’t take this the wrong way as I really don’t mean anything bad with this. It’s as if the holistic health community has treated your brain as a garbage bin and filled it with rubbish. False and illogical ideas that make it harder to get clear.

So I’m going to take this opportunity to set straight some of these and hopefully spare you the fate I had to go through. I spent 8 years of my life chasing after alternative and natural health fantasies. Had I known what I know now, I could have saved myself 8 years of living with acne. I’ll also give you practical ideas where ever possible, but with so few details to work on it’s not going to be much.

Finally, I want to say I understand where you are coming from. I know what it feels like when acne makes you desperate. You want, no.. need, to get over it, but at the same time get little to no help from doctors. It’s easy to get sucked into the holistic health world. That’s what happened to me. They promise to put the power back into your hands and show how to finally beat acne out of your life.

While there’s a grain of truth to what they say, it’s buried under a mountain on nonsense.

That’s one of the reasons I started this site. To take a rational, science-based approach to natural treatments. To figure out what really works and to avoid the nonsense found on most other holistic health sites.

With the verbal diarrhea over, let’s get to the meat of the post.

Most acne drugs aren’t dangerous

I started my “holistic journey” in July. After attempting to take Minocycline and being unable to deal with the side effects, I learned I needed to change my life – I just didn’t feel that the potentially lethal effects of prescription drugs was worth it.

Holistic and alternative health proponents love to scare people away from conventional medicine, often by making nonsensical claims of the hundreds of thousands of people harmed by doctors and drugs. The argument is wrong because without drugs many of those people wouldn’t be alive to suffer the negative effects. You can’t just point to the risks without also looking at the benefits.

But let’s focus on acne drugs here. Most of them are not dangerous. While I don’t think it is smart to use antibiotics for acne, I wouldn’t say they are dangerous. Though in very rare cases they can have rather annoying side-effects.

Even the dreaded Accutane is fairly safe when used properly. This review of 1743 patients taking Accutane showed only 2 adverse effects, both of which were contraceptive failures. Only 1.4% of the patients stopped treatment because of side-effects. Not exactly the stuff of nightmares, is it?

The Wikipedia article on Isotretinoin shows most serious adverse effects to be very rare, meaning they happen in fewer than 1 in 10’000 patients.

Accutane has been accused of causing depression, suicides and inflammatory bowel disease. And at the moment there are thousands of law suits against Roche (the company making Accutane).

But accusations and law suits don’t prove anything. When these possibilities are studied scientifically, it’s almost always found that Accutane is not the problem. In most cases acne itself causes these problems. You don’t have to be Einstein to figure out that people with acne would be more depressed than people with clear skin. Most studies on the depression-Accutane link show that Accutane treatment reduces depression.

I’m not saying that these drugs are 100% safe. Accutane has many known side-effects, some very serious, and that’s why patients on Accutane need to be monitored.

All medicine comes down to risk vs. benefits. You can’t have a positive effect in the body without potential for harmful side-effects.

This applies to drugs and natural treatments alike. Every year people die from herbal treatments and vitamins. Acupuncturists are known to puncture lungs with their needles and chiropractors to cause strokes and neck injuries.

The sad truth is that holistic health gurus are usually more interested in promoting their own dogma (drugs are dangerous, natural treatments are safe and effective) than helping you. Why else would they point to dramatic but extremely rare side-effects of drugs yet remain silent on the benefits of the said drugs?

I’m all for using natural treatments to get over acne, but I also recognize that they don’t work for everyone and there’s a time and place to use drugs.

Genes don’t matter and diet can heal everything

All in all, it’s [acne] definitely remarkably better. But I just feel as though since I’ve been going at it for almost 7 months, I should be a lot closer. (Although my body has endured quite the amount of abuse, I’ll give it that)

Can I ask you why do you feel like you should be closer? Is it perhaps because?

  • You eat all the right foods and avoid junk?
  • You feel like 7 months should be enough to ‘repair’ the damage you’ve done before?

All good answers, but I’m afraid still wrong.

restart

Eating sugar and junk is not good for you, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it abuse. Bad diet choices can cause hormonal disturbances and increase inflammation that can show up on your skin, but usually it takes no more than a few months of proper eating for these to reverse.

There’s no reason to believe that you have to endure months and months of cleansing and purification before you can get over acne.

Despite what holistic health proponents claim, genes do matter. They don’t directly cause acne, but they can make your skin more sensitive to hormones and other acne-triggers. There’s nothing we can do about this. No amount of healthy eating or living will change your genes. Quacks like to abuse epigenetics to claim you can change your genes by what you eat and how you think, but they are as wrong as Deepak Chopra is in his frequent abuses of quantum mechanics.

It’s usually possible to reduce acne-causing hormones with diet, but this may not be enough to get clear. Especially since at your age (16) those same hormones are naturally elevated.

All this means is that it’s not possible for everyone to get clear with just natural treatments. And it doesn’t make sense to stress over whatever remaining acne you have.

I understand that you want to get over acne completely, and I’m by no means saying you are doomed to living with acne for the rest of your life. At the same time I also want to say that the more you stress over it, the harder it is to get over it. The stress and misery acne brings up can make it worse.

Fortunately, there are things you can do to reduce the emotional impact of acne. I recommend you check out this book How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything: Yes, Anything (Amazon affiliate link). The techniques taught in that book have been very effective at helping me get over my emotional triggers and issues.

If your diet isn’t working, then you are doing it wrong

All that said, after some trial and error, (and reading multiple books, yours included) I now mostly eat nothing but whole foods. I have green smoothies and teas daily, sometimes twice a day. I’m doing my best to stay low on stress. I workout or do something active daily. I supplement the vitamins I don’t get from my foods. And last but not least, all the external skin care stuff I use is based off of your recommendations.

Continuing on, I’m not sure what else to do. Should I just keep up at what I’m doing and stay positive? Some days I feel great about it all, but other days I could swear I’m making no progress at all.

I don’t know the specifics of your diet, but it seems like you are already doing enough. Trying to improve your diet further probably doesn’t help. It’s just going to isolate you socially and make you miserable.

The holistic folk will probably tell you that you just have to hang in there and that it takes time for your body to ‘detox‘. Or that you have to do better and cut out even more bad foods. Great advice for people striving to get an eating disorder.

It’s of course entirely possible that you have some specific triggers you aren’t aware of. My skin is very sensitive to what happens in my gut. If I eat or do something that upsets my gut I know I’ll get acne a day or two later. It doesn’t matter how perfect my diet otherwise is or what topical treatments I use.

Some other people have such negative reactions to soy, gluten or other foods. If this is the case the only way to get over acne is to figure out the specific trigger and eliminate it from your life.

Again, I don’t know what you actually eat, but I would make sure not to overdo carbs. As a general rule, it’s a good idea to keep carbs at 30 to 40% of total caloric intake.

Putting it together

So what to do in your situation? It’s hard to get to specifics since I know so little of your situation, but here are the main points I can say:

  • Do whatever you can to reduce the stress acne causes. Having some acne is not the end of the world. After living with acne for 20 some years, I can quite confidently say that. Do check out the book How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything: Yes, Anything (Amazon affiliate link) as I’ve found the self-help techniques there really useful.
  • Stop thinking that you aren’t doing enough to get over acne and then beating yourself up for it (if you are doing it). Getting even stricter with your diet probably isn’t the right path.
  • If you aren’t already, I would try Paleo-style diet. Out of all popular diet regimens out there, Paleo seems best suited for acne. I’m not saying the paleo theory is 100% correct, just that it’s a useful template for acne patients to follow.
  • Pay attention to your gut and see if your acne is linked to gut problems. I covered how to do this in Clear for Life.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk to a doctor again if you feel like you’ve already done everything you can. Most drugs prescribed for acne are very safe.

I hope you got something out of the post.

Feature Photo Credit: Jo Jakeman via Compfight cc

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About Me

Hi, I am Acne Einstein(a.k.a. Seppo Puusa). I'm a bit of a science nerd who is also passionate about health. I enjoy digging through medical journals for acne treatment gems I can share here. You can read more about my journey through acne and how I eventually ended up creating this.

18 thoughts on “3 Poisonous Holistic Health Ideas

  1. Hello:)

    I have for the past few months weighted the pros and cons of antibiotics, and was wondering, considering this article, if you had any advice. I got bad skin about 6months ago because i had an allergic reaction to a dry shampo i used for a few weeks. following that my face started acting acne-like, 5-10cysts at all times, and alot of sebum and blackheads. Ive never had acne before, so this is new to me. I am healthy, have always eaten A LOT of greens. Im fit, workout every day, and ive never had issues with any types of foods. about 2 years ago i actually tried paelo+high fiber/grains, and i had to quit bc my stomach wouldnt have it, ive never been more bloated. Normally i eat a balanced diet, and sweets on the weekend. Now, for the past month ive tried to stay away from anything and everything that causes high blood sugar (+low carb), but i cant say i see any difference in my skin.

    I am wondering if antibiotics are the way to go for me, because the issue that started the acne isnt within me, the cause of it is gone, but the inflammation/bacteria wont let go. so when i get off them, i dont see a reason for it to continue..? Pluss these are a new kind of low dosage antibiotics, with fewer side-effects. But I am still afraid to use them, and dont know what to do. Do you have any studies on how many people successfully goes off antibiotics and stay acne free? I feel like the whole internet screams NO TO ANTIBIOTICS

    • Hmmm… yours is quite a weird situation. Normally when you remove the cause or irritant the skin gets better. I don’t know why this hasn’t happened in your case. It’s possible that the initial inflammation damaged the skin barrier function. This would leave the skin ‘open’ and more vulnerable to infections and damage.

      I don’t think there’s a need to be afraid of antibiotics. By and large they are very safe. Adverse effects to happen but very rarely. I know the ‘whole internet’ is against antibiotics, but that’s mainly because holistic health gurus and enthusiastics are far more active in writing blog posts and creating videos than doctors are. And, as I mentioned in this post, they are more interested in pushing their own dogma and scaring you than giving a balanced report of pros and cons.

      Do you have any studies on how many people successfully goes off antibiotics and stay acne free?

      I have looked and couldn’t find any. This is one reason I don’t think, generally speaking, it’s a good idea to take antibiotics for acne. While the effects of gut flora are likely to be short-term and probably not very severe, development of antibiotic resistant bacteria is a serious problem.

      When you ask people who understand these things what scares them, they usually don’t say climate change, they say the day we can’t use antibiotics again and people start dying of easily preventable and common infections.

      All this said, in your case they might be warranted. At least a short-term treatment to see if they can correct the problem. If acne comes back after the treatment, then you know there’s still something that causes acne.

      I would at least talk to a doctor about your situation.

      • thank you so much for responding!

        I recommended this site to one of my friends who have stuggled with acne for several years. She has decided to try NAC supplementation. On iHerb there are several options, and we’re thinking Jarrow Formulas or Now Foods are the way to go.

        But we have two questions if you would be so kind to clarify (we couldnt find the answer anywhere else). The NAC in Jarrow is N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine, while the NAC in New Foods is N-Acetyl Cysteine, (without the L). Do these compounds differ in any way, like how easily the body can use/absorb them or their effectiveness as antioxidants? Or are they totally the same, written differently? Also, would Jarrow be a better choice because it only contains NAC, and not Selenium and Molybdenum like New Foods? (so you dont have to worry about overdosing them)

  2. Seems like my old comment was deleted or it didn’t get published, but in your next two posts, can you please go over how to make red acne marks fade faster and why it’s okay to be acne prone? Thank you.

  3. I’m going to have to disagree on the fact that you claim that most acne medications are not dangerous. I took almost every single one of them. From antibiotics to accutane. Both made my skin increasingly worse over the years and I had many nasty side effects(while on them), especially from the accutane. It messed up my digestive system completely, messed with my periods, gave me cysts on my ovaries, gave me horrible panic attacks and anxiety, and horrible pains around my body. Honestly, saying that people have no proof of this while on accutane is ridiculous. I know the crazy anxiety/depression feeling it all of a sudden causes. Unless you experience your body going from 0 to 60 I’m pretty sure you can’t claim there is no proof. And I would like to add this is before I knew any of these side effects could happen. This continued for years after and still affects me today sometimes. (6 years later). And I am not the only case I know. Both my sister, brother, and several friends took accutane and had bad side effects. My sister being the worse, in and out of the hospital due to unexplainable colon/digestive pain right after and during accutane use. I think accutane is way too dangerous to even suggest, antibiotics okay, but I know people that accutane effects didn’t show up until later. I’m not completely convinced on going 100% natural/crazy holistic remedies either. My acne only got better when I stopped caring so much, putting tons of crap on my face. But honestly the natural solutions worked. I am talking very basic ones such as exercise, diet, lowered stress, and sun, nothing too crazy. I do agree there is a time and place to use drugs, however, all the medications were only temporary, and the side effects weren’t worth it at all. I think sometimes it’s better to be patient and not freak out and go on accutane, and possibly mess up your skin/life further. Unless you have very very severe acne.

    • I don’t think I claimed that acne drugs don’t have side effects. Of course they do, and in rare cases those side effects can be quite serious. That said, I don’t need to experience ‘my body going from 0 to 60’ to claim acne drugs by and large are safe. There’s plenty of research to support that point, research that’s far more reliable than personal experience of a single person.

      I don’t doubt that you experienced horrible side effects while on Accutane, but research seems to suggest you are an exception rather than the rule.

      I’m also not against natural solutions. In fact, this blog is all about using natural solutions to get over acne. More importantly, the site is for using science and reason to figure out what works – natural or not.

    • Hi! did the whole “My acne only got better when I stopped caring so much, putting tons of crap on my face. But honestly the natural solutions worked. I am talking very basic ones such as exercise, diet, lowered stress, and sun, nothing too crazy.” really work for you? Any tips?

  4. I am now halfway through the book “How to stubbornly refuse to make yourself miserable about anything” (I read it slowly) and it is really great! Wow, these techniques really help, maybe they will not work for everyone but they do work for me! Highly recommend it.

    • Glad to hear you found the book useful! I was surprised how simple and effective the technique is. Though it’s easy to slip back into your old thought habits, so you have to keep reminding yourself of the new, rational beliefs until they take hold.

  5. Hi,

    Finally, after wandering throughout the internet, I found someone authentic. I have fought against acne for around 2 years and my problem was not very severe. I failed fighting it through derma and natural remedies so I went to a gyno and she discovered the real problem; hormonal imbalance.

    Now my 80% of acne is gone with hormones treatment but some stubborn skin parts are still torturing me. I am 25 and I often have 2 to 3 really big acne on cheeks. Also have acne marks. I 100% follow good diet, exercise, stress-free life and other rules against acne. What should I do now?I would be really blessed if you give your kind advice!

  6. I want to know the basis for your comment:

    ”There’s plenty of research to support that point, research that’s far more reliable than personal experience of a single person”

    How can any research be more ‘reliable’ than personal experience?

    You evidently have absolutely no knowledge on how the pharmaceutical industry works in relation to clinical trials – and the UNPUBLISHED trials that are suppressed when presenting licensing for chemical components and medications.

    Read a bit more into the industry and how it actually works. Look into actual authors who actually research clinical trials and conduct meta analyses of trials and you would automatically know that the industry itself is a farce. You place an unquestionable amount of trust into the authenticity of trials conducted making assumptions that they display a true representation of the outcome of medical trials – but yet you haven’t actually taken an initiative to see/review/accept UNPUBLISHED trials of the same medications.

    Read some works by Ben Goldacre and Irving Kirsch and a handful of other authors.

    • I get it that you hate the pharmaceutical industry, and I’m not a fan of some of their tactics myself either, but sometimes I do wish people would think a moment before unleashing their rants.

      You are making the ‘airplanes are not perfect, therefore flying carpets work’ type of an argument. The fact that some pharmaceutical companies do shady things to get their drugs approved has zero bearing on reliability of personal experience. Humans have dozens of well documented cognitive biases and fallacies that make relying on personal experience very tricky indeed. The history of medical science is littered with stories of personal experience leading people astray, the radium craze of the 1920s as an example.

      So even if all medical studies would be wrong, it still wouldn’t make personal experience anymore reliable.

      Let me be clear on one point. I’m not saying that you should automatically reject your own experience because studies don’t agree with it. I’m talking about things on a population level. There’s plenty of research showing most acne drugs are safe, and even if I suffer a horrible reaction to some acne drug, it doesn’t invalidate that research. And it doesn’t mean it would happen to other people. Perhaps there’s something unique in me that caused the reaction. Or perhaps my reaction had nothing to do with the drug, but just happened at the same time. Just because two things happen more or less at the same time doesn’t mean one causes the other.

      Finally, the fact that some drug companies hide data doesn’t really even apply to the studies I’m talking about. Most post-market safety studies are reviews are publicly funded and done independently of drug companies. Just to give you an example of some of the Accutane studies. The researchers take a group of Accutane users and compare them to a similar group of people who don’t take Accutane. The researchers look if Accutane users, for example, are more depressed than the non-Accutane users. If they are, then we can suspect that Accutane might cause the depression. Most such such studies show acne drugs are safe, and/or that serious adverse effects are very rare.

      There’s no way drug companies can affect the results of such studies, short of bribing the study authors.

      • I presently work as a pharmaceutical representative for Astra Zeneca (UK).

        I’m far from ‘hating’ the pharmaceutical industry – I wholeheartedly praise ethical pharmaceuticals and research into pharmacology. It has it’s place and I love my job, I wouldn’t trade it in for any other. But unfortunately, like every industry, I have witnessed certain unethical practises which in the same breath, i am totally fascinated by.

        But there is a lot more beneath the surface you haven’t acknowledged.

        I have taken part in trials in relation to a smoking cessation drug Varenicline, I had taken part in a 52 week trial, that at the end of each week whilst being administered the drug daily, I had to fill out a questionnaire that composed of 4 questions. 4 questions! Each with a yes or no or on a scale of 1 to 10. I was paid to take part after an assessment ruled I am a perfect candidate. This was in 2006. The incentives that were offered to me, and the personal consultations I had with the clinicians on a 4 weekly basis to assess my progress were absolutely shocking. This experience formed the basis for my dissertation in pharmaceutical science and related to the efficacy of RCT’s.

        It was only after contacting numerous participants who formed the basis of the trial 4 months after it had been completed did I learn about the aspect of the trial that pfizer chose not to disclose during its application to the MHRA for Varenicline. It wasn’t until 2010 where media reports cited interest in these other aspects of Varenicline.

        I make an assumption here in that the trials relating to Isotretinoin and the numerous anecdotal reports in relation to its safety have not been thoroughly examined or validated.

        Like I have said, I am similar mindset to Ben Goldacre, and I fully support the AllTrials Campaign.

        • If I mischaracterized you, then I apologize. Your earlier comment came across like just another alternative medicine lover getting mad at me for being critical of natural and alternative medicine.

          While I haven’t read Dr. Goldacre’s book, I’m familiar with his work and have seen videos of him speaking in conferences. And I do agree with you that pharma companies do shady things and, for the reasons you mentioned, would be skeptical of any pharma-funded research.

          That said, most of the safety studies I’ve looked at are publicly-funded and don’t rely on data from pharmaceutical companies. Usually they draw data from hospital records and other such places. And usually they are epidemiological rather than clinical studies. Unless the pharma company directly bribes the study authors, it would be very hard for them to influence the results of such studies.

          While the anecdotal reports of many Isotretinoin side effects have been investigated in detail, there are some side effects where this is lacking. For example, I recently updated my Accutane side effects post to reflect on a Mexican study that showed alarmingly high rates of erectile dysfunction among people taking it. Unfortunately it was a small study and nobody has followed it up yet. It’s an area someone should look into carefully.

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