Acne is the most common dermatological condition. It doesn’t only effect teens, even adults can struggle with unsightly acne from time to time. You may have heard that there is a connection between food and acne. Chocolate, sugar, fat, and dairy products have been blamed for causing acne, but does any of these stand up to the research?
Acne is a complex condition and the exact cause are not clearly understood. It is believed that the inflamed pustules seen in acne are related to the colonization of the skin cells by a bacteria called, P. acnes. This bacteria increases inflammation in the skin, and leads to an increased production of sebum, a substance which blocks the skin follicle leading to a pustule. Sex hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone, also play a role in increasing the production of sebum and therefore increasing acne. Insulin may also play a role in increasing sex hormones in the body, therefore controlling insulin levels may result in less acne.
Successful dietary interventions to help reduce acne have focused mostly on helping decrease insulin levels. A 2007 study, found that a low glycemic diet helped reduce the total number of acne lesions after 12 weeks. The group who followed the low-glycemic diet also lost weight and had improved insulin sensitivity during the trial period. Although further research is needed, this study suggests that a low glycemic diet may help reduce acne symptoms by improving insulin sensitivity.
There is some good news in the area of chocolate and acne. Although this is a commonly held believe, there has not been an extensive amount of research in this area. One particular study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association fed subjects with acne 1200 calories worth of chocolate daily. They found there was no significant increase in acne pustules, even after consuming an enormous amount of chocolate daily. Wouldn’t we all want to be a part of a study like that?
Dairy intake has also been reported to increase acne. A correlational study, published in 2005, examined the connection between dairy and acne, using data from a large study called the Nurse’s Health Study II. It examined the link between physician- diagnosed severe acne in adolescence and reported milk consumption. A positive association was found between dairy consumption and acne. This finding was not just limited to liquid milk, but also to other products such as cream cheese and sherbet. Researchers believe that dairy intake may increase sex hormones which are linked to an increase in sebum production and potentially acne pustules.
So what should you do if you are struggling with acne? Based on the research discussed above, current recommendations for acne treatment should focus on decreasing the intake of high glycemic foods, which are generally high in sugar or refined carbohydrates and low in nutrient content. Instead, focus on consuming low glycemic foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Considerations may also be made to eliminate or reduce dairy intake and instead consume alternative sources of calcium. Lastly, don’t worry about chocolate and acne, it is ok to enjoy a small quantity of high quality dark chocolate as a special treat.