Askanesthetician's Blog

An esthetician explores skincare issues and concerns

Dairy, Carbs, Sugar and Acne: Is There a Connection? September 12, 2013

Filed under: Acne — askanesthetician @ 7:30 am
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I’ve written a lot in this blog about the connection between food and acne and diet and skincare in general.  (See the links at the end of this post)  This post will highlight new research that has emerged about the connection between diet and acne.

From the Skin Inc. article Long-term Research Links and High Sugar Foods to Acne we learn the following:

Review of 50 years of clinical studies indicates there may be a link between diet and acne after all. It’s been a subject of debate for decades, but it seems diet really does have an impact on a person’s complexion.

A landmark overview of research carried out over the past 50 years has found that eating foods with a high glycaemic index (GI) and drinking milk not only aggravated acne, but in some cases triggered it, too.  …

Since the late 19th century, research has linked diet to acne, with chocolate, sugar and fat singled out as the main culprits. But studies carried out from the 1960s onwards have disassociated diet from the development of the condition.

Jennifer Burris, researcher and doctoral candidate within New York University’sDepartment of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health in Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, says, “This change [in attitude] occurred largely because of the two important studies that are repeatedly cited in the literature and popular culture as evidence to refute the association between diet and acne.

“More recently, dermatologists and registered dietitians have revisited the diet-acne relationship and become increasingly interested in the role of medical nutritional therapy in acne treatment.”

Eating high GI foods – foods that are absorbed into the bloodstream quickly – is thought to have a direct effect on the severity of acne because of the hormonal fluctuations that are triggered. High GI foods cause a spike in hormone levels including insulin which is thought to instigate sebum production. A 2007 Australian study showed that young males who were put on a strict low GI diet noticed a significant improvement in the severity of their acne.

Milk is thought to affect acne because of the hormones it contains. A 2007 study carried out by Harvard School of Public Healthfound that there was a clear link between those who drank milk regularly and suffered with acne. Interestingly, those who drank skimmed milk suffered with the worst breakouts, with a 44% increase in the likelihood of developing blemishes. It is thought that processing the milk increases the levels of hormones in the drink.

Another Skin Inc. article expands on what I referenced above:

“The strongest evidence we have to date of a link between diet and acne comes from the glycemic index studies,” says Whitney P. Bowe, MD, FAAD, who is the lead author of the article “Diet and Acne,” published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. “These studies show that low-glycemic index diets may improve acne. The consumption of high-glycemic index foods appears to trigger a cascade of responses, which can lead to acne through effects on growth hormones and sex hormones,” Bowe adds.

The glycemic index (GI) is a ranking of carbohydrate-rich foods based on their potential to increase blood sugar levels. For example, high GI foods include white bread, chips and white potatoes; low GI foods include multi-grain bread, peanuts, vegetables and beans.

A study of 23 Australian males ages 15–25 who followed a strict, low-glycemic load (LGL) diet experienced significant improvement in acne severity by adhering to a LGL diet. However, the participants in the LGL group also lost weight, which means the LGL diet may not solely be attributed to the outcome. Specifically, studies have also shown that acne improves when the patients’ blood sugar levels are controlled and a low-carbohydrate diet stabilizes hormones.

In addition, a web-based survey assessing the role of a low-glycemic diet in the treatment of acne found that 86.7% of the 2,528 dieters who completed this online survey reported improvements in their skin while following this diet. Still, based on some of the flaws in the design of the study, the results must be interpreted with “cautious optimism,” says Bowe.

Although there is weak evidence that dairy also impacts acne, Bowe says there’s still a possibility that an association may exist. While there were several flaws in the studies, “Dairy does appear to be weakly associated with acne, with the strongest association being skim milk,” according to Bowe. While the exact mechanism behind this association is unclear, she suspects that hormones and growth factors in milk might play a role.

While more clinical research is needed to determine dairy’s impact on acne severity, Bowe advises patients to speak with their dermatologist to determine if certain dairy products aggravate their acne. She also says patients who choose to limit dairy products should supplement their diets with appropriate levels of calcium and vitamin D.

(From Can Eating Carbs Give You Pimples?)

Still not convinced about the connection between acne and diet?  Check out the following information about societies that ate a plant based diet and acne:

Rural cultures with diets high in fruits, nuts and root vegetables have been observed to have a very minimal incidence of acne. Communities of Kitavan Islanders of Papua New Guinea and Achè hunter-gatherers of Paraguay were observed to not even have a single comedo while eating their native diets rich in fruits, coconut, wild foods and fish, with minimal amounts of Western foods. Similar rural cultures, which have zero incidence of acne, suddenly experience breakouts when introduced to a Western culture and diet.  This suggests that the disorder cannot be solely attributed to genetics, but is likely sourced from differing environmental factors.

These studies point to whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables, as having a positive correlation with clear skin. This makes sense: Plants are, by and large, some of the strongest anti-inflammatory food sources available. By increasing daily intake of fruits, greens and vegetables, clients biologically increase their immunity and could potentially decrease signs of acne.

(From The Diet-Acne Connection – Skin Inc.)

So how can you change your diet in order to prevent breakouts?  Here are some suggestions:

Choosing low GI foods

  • Only carbohydrates have a GI rating.
  • Because low GI foods take longer for the body to break down they help you feel fuller for longer too.
  • High GI foods include sugary fizzy drinks, cakes, pastries, chocolate, white bread and potatoes.
  • Low GI foods include fruit and vegetables, wholegrain options such as brown pasta, basmati rice, couscous and pulses.
  • Not overcooking your pasta and vegetables helps lower the GI.
  • Watch for food triggers that may seem to aggravate acne.
  • Keep a food diary and share it with your dermatologist.
  • Be patient. It may take up to 12 weeks of a diet change to determine if certain foods are contributing to acne.
  • Continue following your regular acne treatment routine. Diet changes are only a small part of an acne treatment plan and are meant to be used in conjunction with proven medical therapies for acne.

Have you seen a connection between your diet and your breakouts?  Please share your experiences below.

My Related Posts:

Image from allparenting.com

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