This is the story of how I treated my severe acne with the carnivore diet, and incidentally discovered a range of additional health benefits. By sharing my experience, I hope to inspire others to take the carnivore approach – both to spare themselves the unpleasantness of this condition and the cocktails of pharmaceutical drugs involved in the mainstream medical treatment.
For some background, I am a 27 year old male of BMI approximately 23. I had no other significant medical conditions except several bouts of non-medicated mild depression and what I would describe as mild, occasional irritable bowel syndrome.
Enjoying clear skin throughout my teenage years, I started developing acne around age 19. For approximately 1-2 years my pimples were merely an inconvenience. However, they persisted and I attended my local family doctor and commenced the standard medical treatment course. First line was topical benzyl peroxide and erythromycin antibiotic. These are creams and lotions that you apply directly to the inflamed skin. The antibiotic cream hopes to kill the bacteria that causes pimples (P. acnes). Benzyl peroxide is an industrial chemical is supposed to reduce the oiliness of the skin and reduce bacteria growth. When these didn’t work, the doctor prescribed oral antibiotics (doxycycline then minocycline). These are potent drugs with a range of side effects including increased skin sensitivity to sun, and are also used to kill a wide range of exotic bacteria causing infectious diseases.
After seeing no improvement on this therapy, a dermatologist prescribed me isotretinoin. For those not aware, isotretinoin is an adjunctive chemotherapy agent used in severe, refectory acne. It causes birth defects in pregnant women. For those who can tolerate side effects of dry skin, dry lips, and liver dysfunction it provides an effective cure. For me, it triggered a period of emotional instability and depression that was intolerable, as such I ceased my treatment course early after 6 months. Depression is a not uncommonly reported side effect of isotretnioin therapy that is often dismissed or denied by dermatologists and mainstream practitioners.
Throughout this period, none of the 3 or 4 medical practitioners recommended any form of dietary or non-pharmacological therapy. The entire approach was focused on reducing the visible problem of acne with no regard to the root cause of the problem.
I had suspected that my acne was somewhat dietary related. I made several halfhearted attempts to correlate various foods with the severity of my acne, but never performed any radical or systematic elimination of diet. My diet was never unhealthy by the conventional sense – I had always tried to eat a wide range of foods including fruits and vegetables, and rarely ate processed food or high sugar foods. Over the course of 3-4 years I cut out dairy from my diet and maybe 6 months later I completely cut out sugar. This was the extent of my dietary approach to treating my acne, until in 2017 when a shift to quasi-vegetarianism would force me into a different course of action.
In 2017 I listened to the mainstream dietary propaganda and adopted an (almost) vegetarian diet that I believed was healthier for me and better for the planet. My ‘before’ diet was typical of large amounts of grains (wholegrain breads/toasts, pastas, rice, quinoa), beans/legumes (chick peas, kidney beans, lentils both canned and re-hydrated), fresh fruits (berries, bananas, apples), vegetables (kale, spinach, sweet potato, potato, carrots, celery), plant protein (tofu), animal protein (low-fat lean meat). Olive oil and avocados were the chief source of dietary fat.
All the food was organic wherever possible. I was doing everything right, according to mainstream narrative. Describing my diet in social settings received affirmations of approval and admiration. What was the effect of this diet on health? Rather than making me feel healthier, it had the opposite effect, and was particularly provocative for my acne. Here are some of the notable health effects of the quasi-vegetarian diet:
Acne. The acne that had re-emerged since I ceased isotretinoin progressively worsened. Although it did not become cystic acne (the worse type, and most scarring), it was persistent. Manual pore cleaning with a beauty therapist provided temporary relief from symptoms by physically clearing the pores and removing bacteria. However, within several weeks my skin would erupt again, red and inflamed.
Tiredness. Waking up was a chore. I found myself constantly snoozing the alarm clock. Feeling run-down and tired, despite not changing any other factors that usually account for feelings of tiredness (caffeine intake, exercise, etc.) I would often fall asleep during the day, especially after eating a big breakfast or lunch heavy in the wholegrain bread or pasta I was eating.
Flatulence. I was constantly passing wind and in an almost constant state of gastrointestinal discomfort. Mostly this consisted of cramping abdominal pain. Despite this, my bowel actions were regular and daily. I guess I was getting enough ‘fiber’ that we are supposed to need.
Sterility (speculation) and low libido. I noticed the macroscopic consistency of my semen changed on the (mostly) vegetarian diet. It no longer had a thick, white, stringy consistency, instead was predominantly clear seminal fluid. I understand this suggests low sperm count. I was never able to definitely verify this through formal sperm count, however, low sperm count is a widely known and acknowledged outcome of vegan diets and soy consumption, so I suspect this is what was occurring. My libido also suffered under this diet.
Mood. I found myself having anxious moments, and becoming worried or concerned at small issues. Put another way, I felt like my psychological reserve with which which to absorb the trials of the world was small, and little things could push me off my center.
Nothing really clicked as abnormal – like most people, I failed to make the link between diet and my subjective feelings of health. After 18 months of severe acne, and unwilling to return to pharmacological treatments, I decided to radically experiment with diet. A big influence on my decision was the story of Mikhaila Peterson, who achieved remission of here severe auto-immune Arthritis symptoms on an exclusively animal products diet. Reasoning from first principles, if people with systemic autoimmune conditions could find relief, it is possible that acne (also an inflammatory condition) would also be amenable to the same approach.
Already avoiding dairy, I decided to cut all carbohydrates out of my diet. This was a 6 month transition period where I ceased eating pasta, bread, and other carbs as well as fruits, potatoes, etc. This lower carbohydrate diet eventually become carnivore. The final incarnation of the diet the diet was steak, eggs, (with the occasional avocado) and beef tallow.
As I progressively cut out plant material from my diet, my skin progressively improved. Fewer pimples would appear, and the existing pimples healed. The skin gradually became less inflamed and red. I had not changed my skin cleaning regime, nor was I taking any pharmaceutical medication. Occasionally I would test the causal link between non-animal foods and acne by eating some pasta or pizza. This experiment would reliably be followed by a breakout. I even stopped attending the beautician therapist for pore cleaning because it was no longer necessary. The carnivore diet helped me achieve my goal of having clear skin and be acne free.
What I hadn’t anticipated was the improvement in subjective wellbeing, and general feeling of vitality that accompanied my strict dietary elimination. My sleep improved to the extent that I required less sleep (6-7 hours) and would not wake up tired. My need for caffeination completely evaporated. Brain fog disappeared, I no longer fell asleep during the day and my productivity improved as well.
The bloating, abdominal pain and flatulence that had accompanied me roughly since the age of 19 when my acne started, which worsened significantly on the plant-based omnivore diet, now disappeared. I suspect this IBS like symptoms were completely related to eating plant material to which I was intolerant.
My mood improved to a consistent 8-9/10. I felt calmer, was more patient and accepting of life and things that happened. My energy level increased significantly. Physical recovery after exercise was improved. I no longer got minor or niggling soft tissue injuries nor aches that normally occur after a long gym session. My ejaculate returned to a thick, white stringy consistence and my libido returned. Body odour almost completely disappeared. Susceptibility to viral infections and colds disappeared.
I have been exclusively carnivore for the past 9 months, and have never felt better. Here are some of my thoughts on the diet and acne:
Dietary elimination to low carb and then carnivore should be first-line for any young people experiencing severe acne. Especially before taking systemic antibiotics and isotretinoin, which are not pleasant and can potentially harmful side effects. In this way, you are addressing the underlying causative process, rather than the downstream steps of the disease process.
I suspect that for some people, insulin levels spike from carbs and high-sugar foods are directly linked to acne breakouts. Reducing the insulin level with a low carbohydrate diet is one possible mechanism by which the carnivore diet has its effect.
It is possible that you will be able to re-introduce certain foods after a the passage of enough time such that insulin spike does not provoke acne. At this point, people might become low-carb or Keto from a stricter carnivore.
Pairing the carnivore diet with manual pore cleaning and de-congestion from a competent beauty therapist is the quickest way to achieve cure. In this way, you are removing the acne stimulus (diet) at the same time as removing bacteria and dirt that clogs pores and perpetuates the condition.
Meat and animal fat are the least immune-provoking foods. For those suffering from inflammatory conditions, it appears to be the best dietary approach to control inflammation in the body.
Grains and legumes are indigestible. I could feel the undigested grains and legumes fermenting in my colon, and this manifested as increasing gas. Lacking nutrient density and bioavailability, they are not absorbed in the small bowel. Instead, they must pass all the way to the large bowel, where gut bacteria ferment and metabolise plant material in attempt to generate free fatty acids, that are then absorbed and used as fuel. This is the cause of the flatulence. This contrasts enormously with meat diet which is readily and rapidly absorbed in the small intestine. Patients with stoma bags after bowel surgery report that after they eat steak, there is nothing recognisable left in their bag. Contrast this with plant matter such as corn and other seeds that often pass out the other end undigested and still recognisable.
I must also mention the occasional downsides.
Diarrhoea might occur you neglect to eat enough fat. I got several bouts of diarrhoea, characterised as urgency, with no bloating or abdominal pain, and no systemic illness. I am unsure of the mechanism. Symptoms quickly resolve when increasing dietary fat intake. I came across this problem if eating too much lean cuts of steak (grass-fed steak with no marbling and small fat seam). This resolved quickly, and I now have no ongoing issues.
More difficult to quickly build total body mass. I suspect that totally removing carbohydrates provides the body with exquisitely, perfectly tuned satiety mechanisms. I found that the carnivore diet kept me at a stable weight, despite allowing me continuous and progressive increases in lifting strength and power. This may not be the case for everyone. If your goal is mass gain and weights training, you might stack mass on more slowly than with carbohydrates in your diet.
Increased need for electrolyte supplementation, especially in the first 6 months of carnivore as your body switches from burning glucose to burning fat. The lowered insulin level in the blood affects how your kidneys manage salt (sodium and potassium), and you will lose both salt and fluid under lower circulating levels of insulin. This need slowly disappeared as my body became completely carnivore adapted.
The overall benefit of the carnivore diet on health has been nothing short of astounding. In some ways I am grateful for my acne in that it allowed me to discover the carnivore diet and regain my health. I would highly recommend people with severe inflammatory medical conditions to try the carnivore approach, as the risk vs benefit profile is very favorable. I would also recommend carnivore to those who aren’t suffering from any disease except the consistent tiredness, low-level anxiety and malaise that affects so many in developed Western nations. Carnivore is the tool to unlock our natural vitality and healthful state. I believe Carnivore is the evolutionarily appropriate human diet and its ability to reverse disease is testament to this fact. I am now very optimistic about my future health, as I believe the best predictor of future health and longevity is current health.
My final and most emphasized advice is to listen to your body, and be in tune with you subjective feeling of health. If you wake up every morning with energy, a positive attitude and happy disposition you are most likely on the right path. Continue to trial and error with diet until you reach this state – it takes time and effort but it will be worth it.
In closing, I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to the prominent figures in the carnivore community, who have spread knowledge through articles, podcasts and public speaking. Specifically, thanks to Dr. Shawn Baker, Amber O’Hearn and Mikhaila Peterson. They continue to take the slings and arrows from various profit-driven and ideological opponents of Carnivore eating.
Thanks to all who have read my account, and best of luck as you reclaim your health on your own Carnivore journey.