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Guiding Patients Toward an Acne-Friendly Diet


In America, fast food chains are marketing their salads, restaurants are creating gluten-free menus and we are collectively starting to read the labels.  There is an increasing interest in the effects our food has on our body.  In the dermatology world, our acne patients are also interested in easy ways to improve their condition, beyond oral and topical medications.  

The question is becoming more popular: Is my diet affecting my acne? 

The answer is “potentially.”  There are certain things a patient can change in their diet to assist in prevention and control of acne.  Clinical trials and observational studies have found correlation between dairy and acne outbreak.  Prospective and migration studies have also found negative effects on acne duration from high-carb and fatty diets as they increase inflammation and insulin stimulators such as insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1).

Here are three easy ways to guide patients toward an acne-friendly diet:

1. Avoid Dairy Products

Acne patients should avoid insulin stimulators, which have been found in milk products. Insulin increases IGF-1, which catalyzes the production of testosterone and increases acne risk.  For teenage girls, all categories of cow’s milk (from skim to total) have been shown to cause acne.  For teenage boys, increase has been found only in total and skim milk consumption.  In other words, it is not the fat content, but the hormone content that will have adverse effects on the skin.

2. Choose Low-Fat and Low-Carb Options

Diets low in fat, carbs and dairy will help maintain healthy levels of sex hormone-binding globulin, a glycoprotein that regulates hormone production and lowers insulin sensitivity. Regulated insulin will lower acne lesions. Saturated fats will increase IGF-1 levels, which, just as with dairy, will increase acne outbreak. 

Our western diet is full of saturated fats while rural populations tend to eat far less processed foods.  In contrast, in rural Papua New Guinea and Paraguay, countries whose population is virtually acne free, local meals tend to be much more rich in low-carb and low-fat options.

3. Yes to Omega-3, No to Omega-6

Omega-6 fatty acids, found in olive oil, chicken, mayonnaise are pro-inflammatory and will assist in irritation and inflammation in the hair follicles and sebaceous glands.  Omega-3 fatty acids have an opposite effect as their anti-inflammatory properties help irritated hair follicles.  Again, our western diets are higher in Omega-6 in contrast to non-industrialized and rural countries where acne outbreaks are rare and few.  Diets high in Omega-3 (fish, walnuts, flaxseed) will help inflammation and lower IGF-1 levels.

[Image by Manoel Petry]

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