- Published on Tuesday, 18 January 2011 16:00
- Written by Patricia Wong, M.D.
New research shows that diet definitely plays a role in acne. If you take antibiotics, use an exfoliating cleanser and diligently apply topical prescription medications but acne continues to be a problem, your diet could be the reason. Pizza and coke, anyone?
Compelling evidence from a number of recently published medical studies links a high glycemic diet to acne flares. High carbohydrate intake increases insulinlike growth hormone levels, causing an increase in androgen production from the adrenal gland and other organs in the body. The androgens bind to receptors located on oil glands, stimulating the glands to overproduce sebum, causing skin pores to become sticky and clogged.
Eventually, the pores become so distended with dead skin cells, oil and bacteria that they rupture, resulting in red, raised pimples, pustules or acne cysts on the surface of the skin. Because the majority of sebaceous glands are located on the face, chest and back, it is not surprising that this is where the majority of acne develops.
A rating known as the glycemic index provides a relative measure of how a particular carbohydrate food influences the glucose levels in the body. Foods are ranked on a scale of 0-100. The higher the rating, the higher the blood glucose level after ingesting the food, and the more dramatic the insulin levels rise as a physiologic response.
Diets based on a high glycemic index not only contribute to acne, but also increase the risk for Type 2 Diabetes, obesity and coronary artery disease.
Low glycemic diets provide a more stable and slower rise in blood sugar and lower and more even insulin levels, and thus are a more healthful choice. Foods with a glycemic rating of 55 or less are considered low glycemic, foods with a rating between 56-69 have a medium glycemic index and foods with a rating of 70 and above should be avoided.
Unhealthful food and snack choices provide a nutritional breeding environment for pimples and nourishment for already-existing acne. Ideally, you should have a good supply of nutritious snacks so that you don’t succumb to sudden urges for sweet, salty or fatty foods.
The main dietary acne-causing culprits to avoid are:
• Highly processed carbohydrates such as white rice, white bread and white sugar.
• Trans-fats and saturated fats, which may masquerade on the label as partially hydrogenated oils or vegetable shortening. Fried foods and baked goods are high in trans-fats.
• Soda, diet soda, fruit-juice drinks and energy drinks. Artificially sweetened drinks can prime the appetite for more sugar. Corn syrup is often added to these sugary drinks.
• Processed meats such as hot dogs, bacon, baloney and salami.
• Dairy products, including milk, cream, cheese and butter.
All of the above foods cause insulin and insulinlike growth hormone levels to spike.
Although there are many factors that play a role in whether or not you develop acne (genetics, hormones and medications, to name a few), following an anti-acne diet is within everyone’s power – and it may decrease the need for medications.
Foods that help maintain clear skin
•Oatmeal; flaxseed; whole-grain oats; wild, brown and Basmati rice; quinoa; barley
• Agave nectar
• Cinnamon, turmeric, ginger
• Beans, lentils
• Green tea, unsweetened soy milk, hemp milk, unsweetened ice tea, water with fresh lemon juice
• Low-fat yogurt
• Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, including oils such as olive, canola, peanut, sesame, sunflower
• Dark leafy greens such as Swiss chard, spinach, collard greens
• Vitamin C in the form of fresh fruit – mandarin oranges, blueberries
• Sweet potatoes, squash
• Salmon, rainbow trout, sardines, barramundi, mackerel, Arctic char. Avoid farm-raised fish
• Avocadoes, tomatoes, oranges, apples, pears
Dr. Patricia Wong, a dermatologist in private practice in Palo Alto, specializes in cosmetic and medical dermatology for youth and adults. Contact her at 473-3173 or visit www.patriciawongmd.com.