One-half of teenagers have heard that foods can worsen acne, but results of previous medical studies have lead physicians to say that there is no link between diet and acne. Now, more recent studies suggest that there may be a connection. However, the relationship is not clear, and changing one’s diet is not going to “cure” acne.
Acne and Diet. Recent Study Results
The relationship between the foods we eat and the development of acne has been debated for many years.
47.7% of acne patients that completed an online acne survey believe that eating some foods can make acne worse.
The acne-diet connection was generally accepted by physicians and the public until the 1970’s after a few small medical studies failed to show a relationship. One study evaluated the relationship between chocolate intake and acne. It showed no connection between the cocoa levels in chocolate and the development of acne. (It did not, however, evaluate the effects of sugar, milk, or fat in the chocolate bars).
Since those studies were published, considerable effort has been spent educating the public about the “acne myth” of diet playing a role in acne.
However, this controversy is heating up again as more recent studies indicate a potential role of diet, contradicting these historical studies.
One 2002 study, “Acne vulgaris: a disease of Western civilization” was published in the Archives of Dermatology. The researchers studied indigenous tribes of hunter/gatherers, including near Papua New Guinea (Kitavan Islanders) and in the remote jungle of Paraguay (Ache people). Individuals in these groups, including teenagers, showed no signs of acne. It was hypothesized that the lack of acne was related to their low carbohydrate diet. (Since the people there hunt for their food they do not have easy access to carbohydrates and simple sugars as found in fruits, breads, sodas, candies,..etc.) However, it is difficult to determine whether these findings were due to their unique diets or genetics.
Another 2007 study on high-protein, low glycemic-load diet and the development of acne studied changes in glucose and insulin levels in the blood due to diet and the resulting changes on the skin. One group of teenage boys was given foods with a low glycemic index, such as whole grain breads and pasta, beans (legumes) as well as high protein foods. The second group was fed a more “typical” teenage diet consisting of white bread, potatoes, and sugary drinks and snacks. After 12 weeks, the boys in the high protein-low glycemic index group showed a significant reduction of acne.
Another study announced at the 2009 American Academy of Dermatology annual meeting show that more than 80% of adherents to the South Beach Diet noticed improvement in their complexion within three months of starting the dietary regimen.
The results of these studies suggest a link between diet and acne development.
The “low glycemic-load theory” suggests that high carbohydrate diet leads to increased levels of insulin in the blood, which results in a series of hormonal changes, including increased levels of IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor) and androgens (male hormones). Increased IGF-1 levels can lead to blockage of the pores and the development of comedones, the precursor of acne lesions. Increased androgen levels increase sebum production that results in oily skin and swelling of acne lesions.
Meanwhile, the role of milk consumption and acne continues to be explored.
A 2008 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (JAAD), “Milk consumption and acne in teenaged boys” showed a positive association between intake of skim milk and acne.
Overall, further studies are needed to further understand the relationship of acne and diet, determine the specific factors in food that might be controlled, and measure the additional impact that weight loss and exercise might have on acne.
Take Home Message
So, is diet alone going to clear your acne? Probably not.
People with moderate acne or severe acne may still require acne treatment to keep acne under control and prevent acne scars.
However, eating a low carbohydrate (low glycemic diet) may reduce the severity and frequency of acne break outs.
This means keeping to a diet that emphasizes vegetables, fruit, beans and whole grains (whole wheat bread, wheat pastas, brown rice, oatmeal, etc.) over processed or “junk foods” that are high in sugar, such as pastries, soda, sugary snacks.
You have nothing to lose, and a healthy body to gain. And possibly clearer skin, too.
© 2010 Vivacare. Last updated June 21, 2010.
This information is for general educational uses only. It may not apply to you and your specific medical needs. This information should not be used in place of a visit, call, consultation with or the advice of your physician or health care professional. Communicate promptly with your physician or other health care professional with any health-related questions or concerns.
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