The Sydney Morning Herald had a nice article on the effect of food and what foods to eat to treat acne
For patients needing help to clear up acne, Melbourne dermatologist Dr George Varigos is more likely to urge better eating than writing a prescription for the anti-acne drug Roaccutane. A diet high in refined, processed foods can boost levels of blood sugar, making the body produce excess insulin, which creates the perfect conditions for pimples to appear, he explains.
Insulin effect on acne
“Over time, high levels of insulin can make skin thicker and dryer – and flakes of dried skin can clog the pores,” says Varigos, who heads the department of dermatology at Royal Melbourne Hospital and Royal Children’s Hospital.
At the same time, these high insulin levels can increase levels of free androgens – male hormones produced by women as well as men – and too many androgens have long been known to trigger acne by making the skin’s sebaceous glands produce extra oil.
“This effect of insulin can be more of a problem in adolescence because that’s when we’re more responsive to insulin,” he says.
Genes may also make some people more sensitive to insulin.
Study on Food and Acne
Three years ago Varigos collaborated on a study at RMIT comparing two groups of teenagers with acne on different diets.
While the control group ate sugary snacks, soft drinks, white bread and processed food – the kind of eating that raises insulin levels – the second group ate less refined foods: lean protein and low glycemic index (GI) carbohydrates such as whole grains and legumes that help keep levels of blood sugar and insulin down.
“After 12 weeks there was a 50 per cent improvement in the acne of the group on the low GI diet,” says Varigos who, as a result of evidence from other studies, also recommends patients with acne try reducing dairy products.
“US research has shown a link between high milk consumption and acne – it may be because milk contains substances called insulin-like growth factors (IGFs) which have similar effects in the body to insulin.
“The research showed that skimmed milk was more of a problem than whole milk – this might be because when milk contains fat it’s more slowly digested, which helps keep levels of blood glucose and insulin down. But although some dairy products are labelled low GI, I’d still suggest avoiding or reducing them if you have acne because they can still contain IGFs.”
If you’re more worried about wrinkles than pimples, tweaking your diet can help, too, says Sydney nutritionist Karen Fischer, author of The Healthy Skin Diet. You already know that UV sunlight ages skin by damaging collagen – the connective tissue that keeps skin firm – but our diet may also work from the inside to undermine elastin, the protein in skin that keeps it elastic, she says.
“There’s emerging research that suggests elastin can be damaged by a process in the body called glycation – it happens when high levels of blood sugar react with amino acids from protein foods. But there’s other preliminary research suggesting we can prevent this with more vegetables and fruit – they increase your body’s production of an antioxidant called glutathione which counteracts glycation,” she says.
Other anti-ageing foods that get her vote include fish and flaxseed.
“Their omega-three fat content can improve skin hydration,” she says.
Karen Fischer’s pick of skin-friendly foods include:
- Linseed: One to two tablespoons of ground linseed daily.
- Dark leafy greens: two handfuls every day.
- Oily fish: two or three times a week.
- Avocado: a low GI source of healthy fat and antioxidants.