Does Diet Affect Acne?

http://msugradwellness.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/junk-food.jpgAfter the last blog post about causes of acne, numerous patients have asked me some interesting questions which are worth exploring further.  Among the questions I’ve received, many can be lumped into one distinct category:  Does what I eat make me more or less prone to getting acne?

A common conflict between parents and teenagers with acne has been the effects of the typical teenage junk food consumption on their acne breakouts.  While conceptions and Old Wives’ Tales have abounded for many years, there has only recently been scientific proof supporting the relation between what you eat and your skin health.

Several recent studies have shown that rapidly-digested high-carbohydrate foods (e.g. candy, soda, white flour-based foods) produce a spike in blood sugar that stimulates insulin secretion.  Increased insulin triggers the release of a factor called IGF-1, which directly affects the pilosebaceous gland by stimulating oil and thickening cells within the body.

High sugar consumption can also increase the activity of androgen.  Simply put, all these individual reactions promote the formation of acne pimples.

In support of these studies, it has also been found that acne is significantly less prevalent in non-Western societies (i.e. countries outside North America and Western Europe).  Not surprisingly, people who live in these nations tend to have lower glycemic diets.

Based on current research, avoidance of junk food and other high glycemic foods should be an essential part of every acne treatment plan for both teenagers and adults. While further research is necessary to explain the exact link between diet and acne, consumption of lower glycemic foods is otherwise a good idea for general health reasons.

Luckily, for chocolate lovers, the popular belief that chocolate intake causes acne is not supported by scientific data.  Current studies point to the sugar mixed within chocolate as the culprit, as chocolate itself has a low glycemic index.

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Interestingly, there is a strong link between milk and acne as well.  The famous Nurse’s Health Study, which examined and followed the health habits of 47,000 nurses, found that those who drank more milk as teenagers had much higher rates of acne than those who drank little or no milk.  Several theories that support this phenomenon include possible presence of hormones in milk, although the lactose or milk sugar may also be a factor.

Preventing and treating acne may involve some simple dietary rules.  If you have a lot of acne, stay away from cow’s milk.  Soy milk and almond milk, which you can find at almost any grocery store nowadays, are healthier alternatives.

First and foremost, however, switch to a lower-glycemic, low-sugar diet if you are experiencing problems with acne.  Eating more fruits and vegetables, especially those with more antioxidants, can most especially improve your skin’s health.

About Dr. John Burke

John Burke M.D. has practiced medicine for over 25 years, and is the founding partner of MidMaine Internal Medicine. He established Maine Laser Skin Care in 2004 after devoting years to learning the latest in laser and dermatologic technology. Dr. Burke has treated patients from all over the United States. He is one of Maine's busiest practitioners in laser treatments, and in the use of Botox for upper facial lines and excessive sweating.
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