Nutrition and diet need no mention when it comes to claiming its overall health benefits, but can diet affect acne? Science suggests that keeping blood sugar levels down, eating more When you consult a dermatologist the likelihood is that you will be prescribed a topical retinoid cream or possibly oral vitamin A as isotretinoid which suppress sebum, the oily substance secreted by the sebaceous glands. Since vitamin A is found in many foods, it can be said that diet does influence acne.
Sebum is controlled by hormones, particularly testosterone which is why it is more active as hormones rattle around during teenage years. Many studies have shown that refined dietary carbohydrate and some fats can also affect sebum levels as sugar influenced growth factor 1 which impacts short term spikes in hormone levels. Fats, especially processed oils used in convenience and fast foods are well known to cause inflammation in other soft tissue diseases such as osteoarthritis and add to the overall burden that might exist in teenage skin disorders.
Vitamins A and D are the first group of nutrients reported to show they affect skin health to influence hydration, clumping of skin cells and metabolism. Researchers safely assume that the absence of these important nutrients from the diet can influence skin biology allowing for cells to proliferate and become inflamed more easily. Vitamin D is at low levels in many populations while vitamin A supplementation needs to be approached with caution making Cod-liver oil supplements a safer option.
Studies also show the role of essential fatty acids and especially linoleic acid (nuts, seeds, meat and eggs) and omega-3 fats (walnuts, oily fish, flaxseed oil, omega 3 algae EFA), as vital building blocks for ceramides, one of the skins main moisturising elements and key to hydration.
Another class of nutrients influenced by the diet are minerals such as zinc known to influence anti-inflammatory enzymes and boost immunity, selenium a powerful antioxidant and magnesium where low levels can cause cortisol to rise as well as add to low-grade inflammation.
Factors associated with attributing whole food groups such as dairy, add a confusing aspect to their role in causing acne. Because milk is the first food for all mammals to support exponential growth, it is classified as a growth hormone and could well influence reproductive hormones at critical times. Adebamowo et al (2008) claimed dairy was blamed for causing acne flareups in their self-reporting (study n= 4,253 teenage boys). Whether it is the popular debate that milk from pregnant and lactating cows has higher levels of hormones which affect teenagers to cause acne, is not conclusive. What is more likely is the high glycaemic index and insulin response after ingesting milk rather than the growth factors is the cause of elevated blood glucose spikes which affect testosterone. Overall for protein and calcium, low fat dairy is a good food, albeit worth some level of control.
It is important to highlighting the association between a high-glycaemic diet causing raised blood sugar levels and acne. The flow on is raised circulating glucose stimulates sebum oil production, reduces the receptors for binding up testosterone which frees it into the system causing a surge of testosterone to affect the skins biology. Certain fats also cause increase inflammation which may be the association between skin flare ups after eating fried foods and chocolate.
Why acne is widespread in western cultures but not in indigenous societies? Diet may not be the sole reason but there are scientifically plausible reasons to believe nutrition can influence the presence and severity of acne.
Research suggests dietary control and supplements may help:
Avoid refined white cereals and sugar which free testosterone by raising insulin
Avoid drinking too much milk and especially sweetened milks
Eat more vegetables for antioxidants
Eat good fats such as nut and seeds, eggs yolk, oily fish
Eat foods high in zinc such as seafood, meat, nuts, pulses
Supplements such as vit E and D, EFA, zinc, selenium, magnesium
Keeping good hygiene