Research has shown that use of the acne medication isotretinoin significantly increases the risk of ulcerative colitis.

Isotretinoin is sold under the brand names Roaccutane, Accutane, Amnesteem, Isotane and Decutan. It is prescribed for moderate to severe acne. Isotretinoin is a synthetic compound that is derived from part of vitamin A. Vitamin A is good for the skin and helps to reduce sebum (oil on the face) production. Based on this knowledge, isotretinoin was developed and marketed by various drug companies.

It is an effective drug but comes with a host of terrible side effects, including dry skin, lips and hair, depression, joint and muscle pain and liver inflammation. Now a new side effect has been discovered: increased risk of ulcerative colitis.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina found that individuals who have taken isotretinoin for at least 12 months have a four times increased risk of developing ulcerative colitis. Ulcerative colitis is a type of inflammatory bowel disease; Crohn’s disease is another type. Ulcerative colitis causes inflammation of the inner lining of the bowel wall, in the colon and rectum. The condition most commonly develops between the ages of 15 and 30 years, (also the ages when acne is most common).

The most common symptoms of ulcerative colitis include abdominal cramps, diarrhea, urgent stools, blood and/or mucus in the stool, fatigue and weight loss. It is an autoimmune disease and typically gets better and worse throughout life. People with ulcerative colitis have a higher risk of developing colon cancer. The disease is commonly treated with steroids and immune suppressants. If these treatments are not effective, removal of the colon is sometimes required (colostomy).

Ulcerative colitis is a terrible disease, and it is not worth taking the risk with a toxic drug like isotretinoin. Thankfully there are plenty of natural alternatives for treating acne, which are effective in the majority of cases. These are my recommendations:

  • Change your diet. Acne is primarily a consequence of consuming a high glycemic load diet. That means eating a lot of sugar or foods that are rapidly digested into sugar, such as bread, breakfast cereals, pasta, biscuits, cake, soda and foods containing flour. These foods stimulate the release of insulin and insulin-like growth factor 1, which both increase sebum production in the skin and promote acne. Therefore acne is considered to be a symptom of insulin resistance in most cases. If you’d like to read more about insulin resistance, see this article.
  • Ensure you have good liver function. Your liver is responsible for breaking down and excreting hormones and toxins from your body. If it isn’t doing a good job of this the consequences will be seen on your skin. The 15 Day Cleanse is a comprehensive program designed to cleanse your liver, heal your gut and reduce inflammation.
  • Make sure you are not constipated. If toxins are building up in your bowel they will be reabsorbed and enter your circulation. This promotes inflammation and acne. Fibertone is an excellent, safe and effective laxative that can be used long term.
  • Reduce your consumption of dairy products or avoid them altogether. Cow’s milk is high in hormones and that aggravates the hormone imbalance already present in most acne sufferers. Dairy products can elicit a high insulin response.
  • Check to see if you have food allergies or sensitivities. They are a common cause of acne. It is best to seek the help of a naturopath, nutritionist or doctor to help you with this.
  •  Zinc and vitamin A are fantastic for acne. Zinc is mainly found in animal foods such as seafood, meat, poultry and eggs. Small quantities are found in nuts and seeds. If you already have acne, you will need to take a zinc supplement to help overcome it. Zinc is found in Hair, Skin and Nails capsules. Cod liver oil is the best natural source of vitamins A and D.

Dietary strategies are extremely effective in overcoming acne in the vast majority of cases. This is desirable because obviously whatever improves the health of your skin also improves the health of your entire body.

For more information about autoimmune disease, see our book Healing Autoimmune Disease: A plan to help your immune system and reduce inflammation.


The above statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.