Acne is a common yet troubling condition for a number of people. It is now understood that both hormone levels and the presence of inflammation can influence the amount of acne on your skin.
Hormones cause the skin glands to overproduce sebum and to increase skin cell growth. This leads to blocked pores that contribute to acne. Additionally, inflammation damages the sebum in the pores and results in the growth of bacteria which adds to further inflammation, creating a vicious cycle.
While there are many treatments available, paying attention to the role dietary choices play in the development of acne can be an important consideration in working to find effective treatments for the condition.
While different foods can cause skin problems for different people, there are a few foods that research has identified as problematic in contributing to acne. Sugar, milk and other dairy products, and gluten-containing foods including breads and grains all aggravate the two major influences of acne: hormones and inflammation.
Sugar and high glycemic index carbohydrates
The primary hormones associated with acne are insulin and insulin like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). Insulin and IGF-1 are both linked to blood sugar levels, and certain foods, primarily sugar, can cause blood sugar levels to rise. Studies have shown that high glycemic index (GI) foods have also been linked to acne.
High GI foods increase blood sugar levels rapidly. Sugar and refined carbohydrates such as bread and pasta are considered high GI foods. In addition to increasing inflammation, sugar can increase intestinal yeast known as candida which can increase acne.
Dairy products have also been shown in studies to increase IGF-1 levels, and those who drink more milk tend to have more problems with acne. The fact that dairy products significantly affect blood sugar (insulin) levels can be cause for concern when it comes to hormonal acne flare-ups.
Additionally, dairy is the most common food allergy and when allergens trigger an immune response it can lead to allergic skin reactions including acne breakouts. Also, those with lactose intolerance instead of milk allergy will have gut-related problems which can result in skin conditions such as acne.
The relationship between gluten and acne is a result of an immune system response to gluten. Gluten is the protein found in wheat, barley, rye, cross-contaminated oats, and other less common grains. A lot of processed foods contain gluten and it is a growing sensitivity for a significant number of the population.
As a result of this sensitivity, there is an inflammatory response in the gut. This reaction results in a depletion of antioxidants that protect the skin which can lead to an increase in acne.
Addressing food issues can be a valuable tool when working to identify the contributors to acne conditions. Reducing foods that upset hormone balance and increase inflammation, including sugar, dairy and gluten, can go a long way to reduce acne flare-ups and to promote healthier skin.