Low-Carb, Low-Dairy Diets May Help Improve Acne

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Diet has long been implicated as playing a role in causing acne, but some of the foods mentioned as being problematic are just myths. However, dermatologist Alan Shalita with SUNY Downstate Medical Center suggests that eating a low-carb, low-dairy diet may improve acne, especially in those who have hyperinsulinemia.

Acne is a common, yet complex, skin disease that affects individuals of all ages. In Western populations, acne is estimated to affect 79-95% of adolescents and 40-54% of those older than 25. In contracts, non-Westernized societies are rarely affected by the skin condition suggesting that lifestyle factors are involved in acne pathogenesis.

Dr. Shalita, chairman of the department of dermatology at SUNY, says that hyperinsulinemia – characterized by excess levels of the hormone insulin in the blood – contributes to acne, and that eating foods lower on the glycemic index (GI) will normalize this imbalance and improve the appearance of the skin. Hyperinsulinemia is linked to increased androgen bioavailability which then overstimulates the sebaceous glands causing serum to accumulate and clog pores. This causes an overgrowth of bacteria which then lead to inflammation in the follicle and surrounding skin.

Read: Study Links Sugar and Acne

A study published in the July 2007 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a reduction in carbohydrate and consumption of low-GI foods improved the presence of acne. It also stimulated weight loss which improved glucose and insulin imbalances.

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The Glycemic Index is a measurement of the effect that a certain carbohydrate-containing food has on blood sugar. Those higher on the scale include sugar, refined flours, white rice, and some fruits. Low glycemic foods are those grains high in fiber, such as oats and bran, and non-starchy vegetables. Foods that are primarily protein, such as meat and poultry, are not included in the GI database, but are low in carbohydrate.

Avoiding dairy products may also help with acne outbreaks. Milk products also stimulate testosterone and androgen, plus they may cause a rise in insulin levels. Women in the Nurse’s Health Study had higher rates of severe acne if they drank more milk as teenagers than those who had little to no milk.

Read: Could Yoga, Tai Chi or Medication Help Skin Problems?

Don’t shy away from fruits and vegetables on a low-carb diet, however. The antioxidants they contain provide anti-inflammatory compounds that can reduce acne breakouts.

What about chocolate? Research has found that it is not the chocolate itself, but the sugar that it contains that leads to acne breakouts. Dr. Shalita cites a study that compared Hershey chocolate bars with carob bars and found no difference in acne risk. “There is sugar and fat in both,” he says, “so for people that do react to chocolate, it has more to do with the sugar than the cocoa.”

Primary Journal Reference:
Robyn N Smith, Neil J Mann, Anna Braue, Henna Mäkeläinen and George A. Varigos; A low-glycemic-load diet improves symptoms in acne vulgaris patients: a randomized controlled trial American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 86, No. 1, 107-115, July 2007
© 2007 American Society for Nutrition

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