Managing Acne with Diet
Acne is a controllable but not a curable disease. Only the body can cure itself of acne by reaching a natural hormonal balance. However, we can help this to occur more rapidly and reduce the severity of acne with good dietary management coupled with a well-managed skin care regimen. I will discuss acne- based skin care in another post. This blog will focus on acne management through diet.
Recently studies and a comprehensive medical article written by Mark Hyman, MD suggest that dairy products and sugar significantly contributes to acne. As consumption of refined sugar and dairy has increased over the last generation, so has the number of people with acne. Over 80 percent of teenagers suffering varying degrees of acne.
It is now more important than ever to educate acne sufferers on the importance on good skin care based on scientific studies and not celebrity infomercials coupled with an anti-acne nutritional regimen.
Only recently have clinical studies confirmed the acne dairy link. There are now safer alternatives to prescribing long-term antibiotics and drugs such as Accutane. In 2009, a review of twenty one medical studies and six independent clinical trials, found clear links between acne and dairy products. Two controlled trials found that cow’s milk increased both the number of people who suffered from acne and the severity. Large randomised prospective controlled trials (the gold standard of medical research) found that individuals consuming high glycemic load diet (more bread, rice, cereal, pasta, sugar, and flour products) had significantly more acne. It was interesting to note that dark chocolate does not increase the severity of acne.
It was concluded that dairy and sugar both cause spikes in acne producing hormones. Dairy boosts male sex hormones (various forms of testosterone or androgens) and increases insulin levels just as sugar and starchy carbohydrates spike insulin.
Other nutritional deficiencies and excesses can increase acne. This includes:
- Omega-3 and 6 anti-inflammatory fats
- Vitamin E and A
One scientist referred to milk as a “complex aqueous, suspended fat, liposomal, suspended protein emulsion”. Milk is evolutionarily designed to provide nutrition for calves. It is naturally full of anabolic hormones (the same ones that body builders use for muscle growth, and which also cause bad acne). These are mostly androgens (like testosterone) and growth hormones including insulin like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). There is no such thing as hormone-free milk.
Here’s a short list of the hormones in your average glass of milk, including organic, unprocessed, and bovine growth hormone free milk:
- progesterone (from pregnenolone)
- 5α-pregnan-3β-ol-20-one, 20α- and 20β-dihydroprogesterone (from progesterone)
- dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate acyl ester
- insulin like growth factors 1 and 2 (IGF-1 and IGF-2)
Traditional dietary guidelines suggesting we drink at least 3 glasses of milk daily for good nutrition have now been strongly criticised by many including leading nutrition scientists from Harvard such as Walter Willett and David Ludwig.
A Nurse’s Health Study examining dietary habits of 47,000 nurses found that those who drank more milk as adolescents exhibited a higher incidence of acne than those who had a low dairy intake as teenagers. Interestingly, it was skim milk that had the strongest risk for acne indicating that fat was not the culprit. Yet another studies of over 10,000 males and females aged 9 to 15, indicated a direct correlation between the quantity of milk consumed and the severity of acne.
It was concluded that it is not just the anabolic/sex hormones in milk that causes acne, but its ability to stimulate insulin production. The lactose (milk sugar) in a glass of milk can spike insulin levels 300 percent and is the equivalent sugar content of a can of soft drink.
Recent studies on adolescents show that sugar and refined carbs (a high-glycemic diet) causes acne. In addition to reducing acne, the participants lost weight and became more sensitive to insulin, resulting in less pimple-producing insulin circulating around the blood. They also exhibited reduced levels of sex hormones in their blood which contributes to acne.
It has also been discovered that women who consume excess sugar may develop acne, facial hair and even infertility. This condition, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) leads to insulin resistance and high levels of circulating male hormones. It is commonly believed that this is a nutritional, not a gynecologic disease.
Our typical Western diet is full of inflammatory fats. These are saturated fats, Trans fats, excess omega-6, inflammatory fats and processed vegetable oils (soy and corn oils). These increase IGF-1 and irritate cells in pores. Inflammation has been linked to acne. Anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats (from fish oil and flax seeds) may help improve acne and help with many skin disorders.
The typical Western diet results in imbalances of sex hormones like testosterone, IGF-1, and insulin, which trigger acne. The biggest factors affecting hormones is a high GI (glycemic index) in the diet. High GI foods and a high dairy intake rapidly increases blood sugar and insulin levels.
The Dietary Solution
There is no magical dietary cure for acne. However the best solution is to avoid sugar, refined carbs and dairy and consume an antioxidant-rich, plant-based diet with lean animal protein.
Here are some simple dietary steps to help prevent and treat acne.
1. Stay away from milk and other dairy products.
2. Eat a low glycemic load, low sugar diet. Sugar, soft drink, dried fruit, excess fructose, refined carbs and flour products all increase insulin levels contributing to pimples.
3. Make sure you get your 6-9 servings of different vegetables every day.
4. Consume ‘good fats’ containing omega-3 and anti-inflammatory omega-6 fats in the correct proportion. Fish oil and flax seed oil are excellent sources of balanced omegas and supplements are recommended.
5. The following foods have been shown to improve acne
flax seed oil
almonds, walnuts, brazil nuts (raw)
dark purple and red foods (berries, beetroot, tomatoes)
green vegetables (broccoli and leafy greens)
6. Take anti-acne supplements
Vitamin A: 25000 IU/day for 3 months (do not take if pregnant)
Vitamin E 400 IU/day.
Green Tea supplements 5000mg/day
Evening primrose oil: 2000mg/day
Zinc citrate: 30 mg/day
Probiotics as directed for improving gut flora
Omega fats if dietary intake is inadequate
There is a link between food intolerance and acne. Typical food intolerances include:
– Written By Terri Vinson (BSc Dip Ed ASCC) founder of Synergie Skin