Several decades ago, acne was associated with an unhealthy diet; in particular, greasy foods, such as French fries and chocolate were thought to contribute to acne. This theory was popular because teens tend to eat junk food and teens tend to have acne. In 2007, a report completed by the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) indicated that the link between diet and acne was very weak and dietary restrictions or limits were not necessary. Since then, a few studies continued to explore the possible association and revived the idea that diet does affect acne with a 2013 release from the AAD indicating: “Emerging evidence has prompted dermatologists to reexamine the possibility that certain foods can worsen or trigger acne.”
There are two food types potentially associated with acne: high-glycemic index foods and dairy products.
High-glycemic index foods
Carbohydrates are given a glycemic-index (GI) rating based on how quickly they raise blood sugar levels. The higher the ranking, the quicker blood sugar levels surge. Blood sugar levels can affect hormone production. Foods that have a high GI rating include white bread, white potatoes, chips, and sugary foods. Foods with a low GI rating include multi-grain bread, peanuts, vegetables, and beans.
Eating a diet that contains low-glycemic foods might help to decrease acne. This type of diet lowers insulin-like-growth factor IGF-1, which has previously been shown to be a factor in acne, according to a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
When looking around the world, scientists noted that acne is much more prevalent in Western countries as opposed to non-Westernized countries. In 2008, a study found that in some cultures, for example New Guinea and Paraguay, where people naturally consumed a low-glycemic diet, there was a lower prevalence of acne. This observation led scientists to explore the connection between diet and acne. In addition to low-glycemic diets, the people in these cultures consumed more fish, which introduced the possibility of omega 3, which has anti-inflammatory properties and could also affect acne prevalence.
Dairy products and acne
In a study completed in 2006 that looked at milk consumption and acne in teenage girls found that there was a connection. Girls who consumed more dairy products had a higher incidence of acne. The researchers believed that the presence of hormones in the milk, particularly androgens which are sex hormones, contributed to the increased acne.
A previous study looking at dairy consumption during the teenage years found an association between dairy products and acne. The researchers theorized that the hormones in milk and other dairy products influenced hormone production in the teens and contributed to acne. Interestingly, this study found that acne was more prevalent in teens who drank skim milk compared to those who drank whole milk.
What you can do?
The role of diet in triggering or worsening acne is still not understood. While considered a possibility, a 2016 report on acne in females indicated that more research is needed before drawing any conclusions. Even so, if you have acne, it might help to pay attention to the foods you regularly eat. There are some factors you can’t control, such as genetics and hormonal changes, but if making some changes to your diet can reduce your acne, it is worth considering. Talk with your dermatologist about working with a nutritionist or dietician to create an overall plan that incorporates your risk factors.
You can choose low-glycemic foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains instead of sugary foods and drinks, breads and cakes made with white flour, and white potatoes. Talk to your doctor before decreasing how much milk you drink. While some evidence points to a connection, milk is an important source of calcium that teens still need.
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Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.