The Acne Diet Connection

By Dr. Lisa Benest, MD

Burbank, California 91506

Physician, Dermatology, Adult

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Most of us can relate to acne—who hasn’t had it to some degree.  However unlike many of us who outgrow it in our teens, about fifty percent of individuals with acne still suffer well into adulthood and sometimes even in our older years.  While many treatments—ranging from cleansers to creams to pills—help clear our skin, some individuals do not adequately respond to therapy.

We know that with acne, the skin cells become stickier and block the pores, excessive oil is produced in those pores, bacteria feed on the oil and the bacteria then multiply.  This results in inflammation surrounding the pores, seen as redness, swelling, tenderness and pus.

We have observed that in a number of populations who eat a diet free of refined grains, sugars and other processed foods, there is virtually no acne!  When those same people move to an industrialized city and adopt a more “civilized” diet, they now become subject to acne.

Here’s what happens.

A diet high in refined, processed foods, such as breads, cereals, pastas, candy, etc, creates an environment in our bodies that causes a cascade of adverse effects on our hormonal system.  These types of foods stimulate a surge in our blood sugar level (a high glycemic index*).  To compensate, our pancreas pours out insulin to “neutralize” the sugar.  The elevated insulin triggers our body to secrete androgens (male hormones), which are known to activate the oil producing glands in the skin.  In addition, these high insulin levels trigger more inflammation in our skin as well as stimulate production of IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1). This causes excess production of skin cells with further blockage of the pores, and also plays a role in aging, diabetes and cancer.

Cutting out these refined and processed foods will go a long way in keeping you blemish free.  For further improvement, we recommend avoiding artificial sweeteners (Xylitol or Stevia are ok) refined vegetable oils (they also produce inflammation) and dairy products (they add to imbalances in the hormone system).  Finally, supplementing with omega-3 fish oils helps to calm the inflammation.  As an added benefit, this type of diet will help you to control obesity, diabetes, heart disease and high cholesterol!

* Glycemic index is ranking system assigned to foods based on their effect on blood sugar (glucose).  Carbohydrates that break down rapidly and cause a rapid increase in blood sugar have a high glycemic index. Carbohydrates that break down slowly, releasing glucose gradually into the blood stream, have a low glycemic index. A lower glycemic response equates to a lower insulin demand, better long-term blood glucose control and a reduction in blood lipids.