Acne is the most common skin condition in Australia.
Up to 85% of Australians will develop acne in their life, and 5% will have severe acne. Nearly 50% of men and women will experience acne into their thirties. Severe acne affects relationships and a person’s sense of self, and can lead to anxiety and depression.
Acne is a skin disease caused by diet. Some people are more predisposed to it than others, but by changing your diet, you will be able to bring an end to it. This post tells you how.
Acne is driven by two hormonal factors: IGF-1 and insulin. These hormonal pathways must be addressed in order to prevent or reverse acne.
Usual acne treatments involve medications, creams and drugs. These are not usually successful because acne is not caused by a deficiency of medications.
What is acne?
Acne vulgaris (its Latin name) occurs when a skin pore begins to clog with old, dead skin cells. If too much oil (sebum) is produced, the dead cells can stick together and become trapped inside the pore. Bacteria can then grow inside the pore, and inflammation occurs.
This can result in blackheads (blocked pores), whiteheads (sebum behind the blockage), and infected areas behind the blockage which may lead to ‘zits’ (pus), painful cysts and scarring.
It is worth nothing that teenage acne is not found all around the world – only in Western countries – or in countries adopting the Western diet and lifestyle. There is something in our diet and lifestyle that is causing acne.
Scientific studies show diet is very important to acne.
This is because what we eat affects the hormones that contribute to oil production, excessive skin cells and inflammation.
Three main types of food have been shown to promote acne:
- dairy products,
- high GL foods and
- Omega-6 oils.
These foods raise insulin and IGF-1 levels.
Dairy Products and Acne
70 – 90% of milk comes from pregnant cows. Drinking milk exposes us to cows’ pregnancy hormones. One 3 year study of 9 – 15 year old girls showed that girls drinking or eating 2 or more servings of dairy products daily had a 20% increase in acne. The same was found with teenage boys drinking skim milk and in adult women who drank milk during their teenage years.
Dairy foods are high in protein, particularly skim milk. (When the fat is removed the protein is concentrated.) Animal protein intake is the major factor that determines circulating insulin-like growth factor – 1 (IGF-1).
Removal of all dairy from the diet usually results in an almost miraculous end to acne. It can take up to two weeks for the body to clear dairy from the body however, so be patient.
The Oil Connection
Excessive oil production by the skin is one of the causes of acne. Vegetables oils increase omega-6 intake, which causes inflammation. High omega-6 intake is associated with the development of acne The effect of these oils is exacerbated by high GL (glycemic load) foods such as baked goods. Higher Omega 3 fatty acids is associated with reduced likelihood of acne because omega-3s counteract the inflammatory processes driving acne. This means that eating fried foods like
- KFC or Krispy Kremes,
- most fast foods, as well as
- salads doused in vegetable oils including olive oil
is putting you at risk for acne. People with more extreme cases of acne often find that cutting ALL oils out of the diet, even in cooking, is needed to stop the acne inflammation process entirely.
Avoid High Glycemic Load Foods
GL measures the effect of a certain food on blood glucose. High-GL foods, like refined carbohydrates, produce spikes in blood glucose leading to excessive insulin levels in the blood. These high insulin levels promote inflammation in the body, including diabetes, heart disease and some cancers – as well as acne. And yes, there is a link between acne and breast cancer. That doesn’t mean that everyone who gets acne will get breast cancer; however, the same inflammation processes are seen in both. Avoiding high-GL foods, such as sugar and white flour products, and substituting low-GL foods has been shown to improve acne symptoms.
An Anti-acne Diet
An acne-protective diet is high in micronutrients, especially green and orange fruits and vegetables. These high nutrient foods eventually concentrate under the skin, giving the skin a healthy glow. An anti-acne diet is low in baked goods like cakes and biscuits, soft drink, doughnuts and desserts. It also contains next to no dairy products and is low in fried foods.
In other words, to avoid acne, you need to eat as close to a dairy-free, low oil, low junk food vegetarian diet as you can possibly manage.
Are there any supplements I could take for acne?
Some people have found that taking a zinc supplement or Vitamin A has helped reduce the number of acne lesions. Other find an omega 3 supplement is also beneficial (that is, fish oil, or DHA/EPA). My preference is to encourage your teen to pile their plates up with legumes, vegetables, whole grains and fruit, and develop not only beautiful skin, but a healthy body throughout – and save your money for other things.
If you need help in putting together an anti-acne diet, please contact me through the Contact Me form on this website.